Blue skies greeted big crowds at Long Beach Grand Prix

Big crowd and blue skies
Big crowd and blue skies

Three immutable laws of mankind: death is inevitable, taxes are inevitable, and it will never rain on the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

This year, rain threatened, and even sprinkled on the downtown street race course in the early hours of Saturday, before the marine layer burned off and the blue sky covered the historic race as usual. Sunday, too, the sky was overcast as the IndyCar drivers were introduced to the sold-out grandstands on Shoreline Drive, but by the time the national anthem was over there wasn’t a cloud in sight.

“The weather is cooperating as always," cracked GPLB president and CEO Jim Michaelian, who boasts about his event’s famous fair weather history every year with no worries of a jinx. “To be truthful, I’d just as soon keep that record alive for as long as I’m here."

The beautiful spring weather made for yet another postcard-perfect backdrop, as Long Beach’s clear skies were broadcast for more than 10 hours on live television this weekend on Fox, NBC Sports Network, and CBS Sports Network.

“The weather was perfect for the race and it clears up like this every single year," said mayor of Long Beach Robert Garcia. “The Lord clearly loves Long Beach."

Final attendance numbers weren’t available Sunday, but Michaelian said around 182,000 attended last year’s event.

Among those excited to come back next year was IndyCar winner James Hinchcliffe, who took the checkered flag in Sunday’s big race.

“To win here, finally, at this place, at a track I love so much, it’s very special," he said. “It’s a race everyone knows, that everyone wants to win."

That’s not just because of the weather, of course. Blue skies are just one of many hallowed traditions at the Grand Prix. It’s the second longest-running race in IndyCar, behind the Indianapolis 500.

“This is the Indy 500 of street racing," said Hinchcliffe. “It’s 43 years running, and just the history of it. The who’s who of racing have won here. There’s no other three-day event with this kind of attendance. We love putting on a good show for the fans here."

Michaelian has meticulously preserved the continuity of the event, while making sure to tweak things and keep them fresh each year. The average member of his staff has been with the Grand Prix Association for 15 years.

One of the institutions of the race is announcer Bruce Flanders, who has been calling the race for the fans in the stands for 40 years now. During a pause in the race, Flanders surveyed his surroundings and did a little pro bono work for Long Beach’s real estate industry.

“To those of you who are here from out of state, the weather is like this every day in Long Beach," he said. “You should buy property."

As usual, pit lane was a red carpet before the race, with USC football coach Clay Helton, two-time Super Bowl champion Julian Edelman, Mayor Garcia, actress Chloe Moretz, and even Mickey Mouse on hand to drop the green flag.

Some things stay the same and some things change, of course. It was the first year without the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, which was replaced by the window-rattling, 1,000+ horsepower Can-Am Challenge, a showcase throwback race for classic cars from the 60s and 70s. Michaelian was proud of how that race ran and also of the Saturday concert featuring the Kings of Chaos, which he felt was as significant as any that the Grand Prix has hosted.

By Sunday evening, it was all starting to close down. More layers of burned rubber had been added to the checkered finish line on Shoreline, more coats of champagne soaked into victory circle, and another 180,000 or so racing fans had basked in the sun and taken in the show that is the Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Now that the three-day celebration is over, the drivers and out-of-state racing fans are headed home. Michaelian’s group doesn’t get any time off, however. By Monday night, the safety structures along Pine Ave down to the Aquarium of the Pacific will be removed, and there will be a total teardown within three weeks.

“It never stops," said Michaelian with a weary smile. In 43 years, neither have the blue skies for the city’s signature event. Mike Guardabascio/Long Beach Press Telegram

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