Photo: Chris Owens/INDYCAR

BARNES: The Long Beach Experience

By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief

There are few races that draw the desire out of race drivers more than the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

The same could be said for the journalists covering the sport.

I’ve been privileged to cover several events across NASCAR, IndyCar and even Formula 1, but what was experienced this weekend was a one of a kind moment in my still relatively young career.

Covering the 100th Indianapolis 500 last year, the enormous crowds and interest wasn’t all that surprising – especially considering the milestone event that added to the value of being the grandest event in the history of motorsports to date. It was through that weekend, however, when many colleagues told me that if I enjoyed everything going on throughout the month of May, then I needed to make a go at Long Beach.

So I did.

Landing into Los Angeles Airport (LAX) on Thursday, everything started off in slow motion. From features to chase down and event recaps, it all came one at a time before rapidly speeding up.

But those are the normal things.

As I pulled up to the area, I was immediately in awe of the backdrop and everything surrounding the 1.968-mile temporary street circuit. Scenic and beautiful, the port beside it that showed off a glimmering blue ocean was only matched by the architecture of downtown.

Walking towards the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center, music began to tremble and a crowd of people were walking around and enjoying themselves.

Note that this was just Thursday.

To slightly speed this along so it doesn’t end up being something as long as War and Peace. The weekend came along and the attendance continued to intensify, so did the media obligations for drivers and teams, not to mention the hospitality events.

The competition on track was versatile and had something for everybody.

From the Verizon IndyCar Series, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Pirelli World Challenge, Stadium Super Trucks, Can-Am and more, it was incredible to see how it was all coordinated to fit every series on track for their respective requirements. Oh, and there was an expo and green technology exhibits.

Every series that hit the track put on a stellar (and sometimes confusingly dramatic) show.

I’d be a fool to not add how great it was to see James Hinchcliffe make his well deserved and overdue return to Victory Lane.

California also provided some of the most comfortable weather to be found on a race weekend, too. Celebrities and athletes also made it a point to get out to the 43rd edition of the race, including New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman.

I recall leaving pit road as the Grand Prix was about to get underway, and I looked up at saw a mass of people looking on from the balconies of their apartments, condos and hotel rooms.

It was absolutely stunning, but as amazing as that is, it isn’t even the best part.

Masses of fans could be seen from every direction, but that never stopped the drivers from walking among them and engaging in the camaraderie and pictures. Over 182,000 attended last year’s event and this year was estimated to once again break 180,000.

Drivers walked among the crowds of people without a seconds care in the world, signing autographs and talking with everyone that came across their path.

People were in control of themselves because the drivers genuinely showed a care to reach out to them. So there was no riot of upset fans that suffered through an autograph session or appearance that was cut short. Despite a wealth of commitments which included those things already, the drivers went above and beyond in showing their appreciation for the ones that appreciate watching their talents out on the race track.

It was, without question, the coolest moment of the entire weekend.

Unlike any other race, the Grand Prix of Long Beach is truly an event. I am positive that every track in America should be trying to replicate everything that the famed event has done and rightfully so.

Perhaps no other event in North America’s racing circles is meant to be anything like it, but it warrants the attention of what can be learned from it and how to grow the racing world to become a healthier and more accepting sport once again.

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Joey Barnes is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Motorsports Tribune. He has covered auto racing since 2013 that has spanned from Formula 1 to NASCAR, with coverage on IndyCar. Additionally, his work has appeared on Racer, IndyCar.com and Autoweek magazine. In 2017, he was recognized with an award in Spot News Writing by the National Motorsports Press Association.