Long Beach: A beautiful day for a race
It was a windless, cloudless, matchless 71-degree Sunday of bright images and ironic story lines in Long Beach's most sacred sporting event that once again cast the city in a glistening light of gladness. It was a day when the 29-year-old gentleman with the hyphenated surname, Ryan Hunter-Reay, whose six-race deal with the Andretti Autosport team expires in less than two months, methodically emerged victorious in a Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach competition that made up in ambiance and weather for the 65,000 spectators what it lacked in drama.
|A happy Ryan Hunter-Reay|
It was a day when the boss of the big show, Jim Michaelian, was actually caught smiling as early as 9 a.m. - "the sun is now out and there's no threat of rain" - and still was joyful six hours later when he said after Hunter-Reay had received the checkered flag, "I couldn't be more delighted how smoothly everything went and how Long Beach's greatest assets - it’s wonderful weather, its picturesque downtown and its panoramic ocean vistas - were showcased both to a national and international television audience."
Foster smokes Shoreline
It was a day when the beaming Long Beach mayor, Bob Foster, kept echoing Michaelian's words and also kept talking about the noontime lap he took around the 1.968-mile course in his 1998 C-5 Corvette, "What a great experience. It was just so much fun. Opened it up to about 130 miles an hour on the Shoreline straightaway. Maybe I should have been a race driver."
It was a day when the venerable Long Beach banker, Jim Gray, noting the paucity of lead changes - after all, Hunter-Reay led 64 of the 85 laps - cracked, "You'll see more passing on Shoreline Drive in one minute after they take down the concrete barriers than you did in this race that lasted almost two hours."
It was a day when the owner of Andretti Autosport, Michael Andretti, was quite noncommittal afterwards when I asked him what he thought Hunter-Reay's status would be after his contract is up with the team after the June 5 race in Ft. Worth, saying, "I really can't say at this time. I just don't know."
It was a day when the new CEO of the IZOD IndyCar Series, Randy Bernard, on the job for a mere seven weeks after a big run with the Professional Bull Riders, marveled at what he had witnessed, saying, "I'm blown away how such a big event can run so smoothly. And what a great atmosphere. There's just so much to do for the fans here during the three days. I'm very, very impressed with this race."
It was a day when the great Long Beach swimmer, Jessica Hardy, was seen on the grid with her long-time boyfriend Dominik Meichtry enjoying the sights and saying, "This is just great. Tremendous people watching. It's all so different from swimming. Much louder."
It was a day when parachutists dropped from the skies and when F-18 Hornets roared overhead and when the actor Mark Wahlberg served as the grand marshal and when a lot of people drank too much and ate too much and partied too much in the climax of a three-day civic bacchanal that Michaelian estimated drew more than 170,000.
Oh yes, the 36th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach turned out once again to be a stirring success on this most majestic day, even in the tough economic climate that now pervades the nation.
The race itself didn't exactly leave you nervously perched on the edge of your seat wondering who would be triumphant, although that was due more to the skillful ride dispensed by Hunter-Reay, who, on the Andretti Autosport pecking order, is the No. 4 driver behind Michael Andretti's son, Marco Andretti, as well as the well-publicized Danica Patrick and Tony Kanaan, who has 13 Indy Car victories to his credit.
But Hunter-Reay was the best one Sunday, as Kanaan finished fifth, Andretti 14th and Patrick 16th.
Actually, it's known Hunter-Reay wouldn't even be a part of Andretti Autosport if it weren't for the title sponsor of the Indy Racing League, IZOD, kicking in some money on his behalf.
Both Michael Andretti and Hunter-Reay afterward made it a point in their spiels how grateful they were for the support of IZOD, which is a subsidiary of Phillips-Van Heusen, whose president/COO Allen Sirkin happened to be present Sunday.
Indeed, a thrilled Sirkin even accompanied Hunter-Reay with the other podium finishers, Justin Wilson and Will Power, on the post-race victory truck tour around the track.
The overwhelming feeling here is that Hunter-Reay will be re-upped by Michael Andretti-with further financial assistance from IZOD -- and finish out the season.
How can he not be, since he happens to now be the only American-born driver -- the only other Indy car ones from this country are Patrick, Andretti and Graham Rahal-in the Top 10 in the IZOD IndyCar standings, as he's in third place with 129 points behind leader Will Power (172) and Helio Castroneves (130).
No matter what happens, Ryan Hunter-Reay won't soon forget Long Beach, nor will Michael Andretti.
"I love this town," said Andretti, who won his first Indy car race here in 1986 and last one in 2001. "I've always done well here. I get inducted into the city's Motorsports Walk of Fame on Thursday, and my driver wins the race on Sunday. How much better can it get? Long Beach definitely is my favorite city."
It definitely was a favored destination for a lot of people over the weekend, and the old hamlet next to the Pacific Ocean once again responded with a flair, getting itself all spruced up in its finest Sunday attire with the skies clear and the temperatures mild and the offerings plentiful for the multitudes who happily savored the experience. Press Telegram