Long Beach is one of the most picturesque stops on the IndyCar calendar, with the grand prix event featuring fried chicken, Patron, taco trucks, bands, drifting, IndyCar, IMSA’s sports car championship, and historic F1 cars. Run on a winding selection of city streets, cars weave around a manicured bed of roses that surround a water fountain featuring a statue of a dolphin. Cars streak past a movie theater and a Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Nearing 180 mph, they blast through the shadows behind the Long Beach Convention Center before emerging into sunlight and sky-high apartment buildings. This year’s grand prix will be the 48th time it has been held.
Long Beach is a worthy addition to the roster of events that need to be experienced at least once in a sports fan’s life. Unlike Formula One’s marquee street race, Long Beach isn’t nestled into the coastal hills of the French Riviera and it’s definitely lacking in opulent casinos and black-tie affairs. The event is geared more toward the surfers and tailgate crowd. The grand prix offers visitors the opportunity to get up close to the cars and drivers in the IndyCar and IMSA paddocks, pose for photos, get autographs, and do so for the price of good seats at a Major League Baseball game.
Long Beach also ranks as the second most important stop on the IndyCar tour. “This is the 48th year of the Long Beach Grand Prix, which is just incredible,” says 1986 Indy 500 winner and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing IndyCar team owner Bobby Rahal. “That’s a lot of time, and it’s clearly the most successful street course in North America that we’ve ever had, whether it was Formula One in the earlier days or IndyCar, it’s become an amazing event that only comes second to the Indianapolis 500 for us on the calendar.” Having used Long Beach as a professional springboard that led to F1, Rahal returned to the U.S., and by 1984, made his first IndyCar start at the venue that transformed his career.
Long Beach isn’t reserved as a bucket list item for fans. Sunday’s 85-lap contest is another opportunity for those who’ve come up short or never had the chance to win the big race to settle a score. “It’s massively iconic, my hometown race,” says McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown. “Unbelievable history between Formula One and IndyCar, and I actually told our [IndyCar] drivers that there are two races I really want to win: Indianapolis and Long Beach.” Long Beach is the Monte Carlo of IndyCar racing, and it’s always been that way to me.