The Grand Prix experience: Somewhere between steak tartare and a Bubba Burger

A couple of years ago Chris Pook, the man who brought the Grand Prix to Long Beach, and introduced the city to international Formula 1 racing before dropping F1 in 1984, took a stab at bringing it back to town. He succeeded only in causing Long Beach to throw $150,000 into a Dumpster by paying that much for a study to determine if the idiotically expensive F1 would be feasible to run again in the city.

In a breathtaking absence of surprise, the study found it would not make any sort of sense to bring F1 back, so Grand Prix of Long Beach’s CEO Jim Michaelian was allowed to keep the IndyCar race in Long Beach.

And the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach is a fine event, but each year I go—and I reckon I’ve been to about 30, which has to be close to a record for a person who couldn’t pick an IndyCar out of a line-up—I remember all over again how different the IndyCar Grand Prix races are from Formula 1.

The F1 races were huge international affairs, with Gulfstreams jamming the runways at Long Beach Airport, local hotels overflowing with billionaires and their trophy husbands, and everybody chattering in some sort of phony exotic language, while today’s IndyCar race fans travel from as far away as the Inland Empire and the trackside vibe  has all the elegance, grace and savoir faire of a West Virginia Trump rally.

The food is not worth comparing. In 1981’s F1 race you’d have to use heavy chains and a powerful truck to drag me out of the Moet Champagne Club on the top floor of the Convention Center, where guests chatted up (or stood sorta near) Paul Newman, Christie Brinkley and Paul Williams while eating steak tartare, liver pate and artichoke hearts and watching Jean-Marie Dubois slice the cork off a magnum of Moet, which was poured into crystal flutes for the chosen few.

On Friday, I had a Bubba Burger, a bag of Ruffles and a bottle of water.

But let’s not swirl into bitterness whining about the inevitably good old days, which are destined, as good old days always are, not to return to Long Beach.

The Grand Prix, as it closes in on half a century, certainly has legs as it remains the city’s top crowd draw every year, delivering everything a motorsports fan could possibly want, from exotic sports cars, to steroid-muscled pony mobiles to flying trucks and IndyCars all roaring and screaming around the street track making a nice, satisfying racket, all thrown together in invariably perfect weather.

Once you get into it, you may even forget the old days. And, anyway, even if they did bring back the F1’s Moet Club, you probably couldn’t get in; that was one tough ticket to get.

And, we’re not suggesting a Bubba Burger is the best food you can get at the track this year. It beats a turkey leg, but you should aim higher. Here, have a churro.

Long Beach Grand Prix: Everything you need to know


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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.