Photo by Keeley Smith.
The traffic started around 5:00AM.
Cars, cramming Ocean Boulevard, looking for a place to park as the first official day of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach kicked off. The gates, it turned out, opened at 7:00AM. Parking lots centrally located were sold out by noon.
Residents of downtown are used to the ruckus every year. They’re probably relieved, however, when the noise from the cars whizzing past spectators on the track dies down by 9:00PM. And they’re probably content with the knowledge that the Grand Prix pours a sizable amount of money into the local economy, through restaurant, hotel and retail visits.
Day one of the Grand Prix is a bit lower-key than the rest of the weekend’s extravaganza, as any local knows. The people flocking to the stands likely have to take a day off of work, and the rounds of racing are purely for the sake of practice or qualification. But the spectators are every bit as passionate as those who turn out on Sunday, the day of the big IndyCar race.
Ben Simpson, 25, and retiree Norm Morgan, both originally from Signal Hill, were two such people. Simpson took a day off of work to join Morgan at the track.
“It’s a very visceral experience,” said Simpson, who attended his first Grand Prix at the age of six, of the race weekend. “Just the noise, smells, sometimes it rains...and that makes the races more difficult. Sometimes [the main Indy Car race] is a boring race, and it makes the other races that much better.”
Morgan has attended every Grand Prix since it started in Long Beach, with Formula One cars.
“Formula One used to race along Ocean Boulevard, then they used to come clear around,” he said.
His experiences there fed a lifelong passion for car racing, especially regarding the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
The Post caught the two while watching the Stadium Super Trucks practice, complete with air time and jumps. Simpson was quick to point out the trucks’ addition two years ago to the race as an example of the ever-evolving spectacle.
This year, one of the more notable moments is likely in regard to the last ever Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, which has attracted the likes of Stephen Baldwin, Frankie Muniz, Brian Austin Green, Dara Torres and last year’s overall winner, Alfonso Ribeiro, among 20 other participants from film, television and sports for this year's race.
The celebrities were gathered in a break room at the convention center, as captured by Toyota Racing’s Twitter feed Friday afternoon:
The mayor was in on the action as well:
Pro/Celebrity race pole winner Jimmy Vasser was on the Grand Prix's social media account, looking prepped and ready for Saturday’s race:
The final race will be decided tomorrow, along with further qualifying rounds of the IndyCar race, and initial Stadium Super Trucks race. The Drift Challenge qualifying round is slated to take place later tonight, with the finale scheduled for tomorrow.
For a list of the full race weekend race schedule and a map of the premises, click here.
For a list of street closures, click here.
Photos by Melitza Beltran.
Photos by Keeley Smith.