Column: Think you hate racing? Long Beach’s Grand Prix is still a sight to behold

Whether you love or hate the Grand Prix, you should try to check it out at least once. Here's why.

Column: Think you hate racing? Long Beach’s Grand Prix is still a sight to behold
Scott Dixon, #9, races around the streets of Downtown during qualifying for the 49th annual Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach Saturday, April 20, 2024. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Aside from writing about food and this city’s wonderful web of small businesses, I also moonlight as a racing fan.

This year’s Grand Prix was the first year I attended as credentialed media, but I’ve been watching the race for years now. Fellow Watchdog Brandon Richardson and I spoke with a couple who live in Florida but happened to be staying in Long Beach for work and decided to buy tickets to the event. Others we met came from Palmdale or the Inland Empire and it struck me once again just how big and far-reaching the Long Beach Grand Prix is.

The NTT Indycar Series only races in 18 cities, one of which is in Canada. It is wildly cool that Long Beach is in such exclusive company and transforms its Downtown into an iconic track that many of the drivers genuinely enjoy being at. The nearly 2-mile track runs along the harbor’s edge, with 11 turns.

Let’s say this column convinces you to buy a ticket next year. Great! What’s the best way to enjoy the weekend-long affair? Simple, watch the race; but before you do, you can get up to speed by checking out the results of the previous races here. Long Beach’s race is almost always at the beginning of the season, so it’s never too difficult to quickly recap a previous race’s highlights.

I know it’s tempting to just wander around the whole time, but the race is actually fun to watch if you know enough to have context for what’s happening. Getting into a new sport is at worst intimidating and at best time-consuming — but I promise, this one is worth it.

Rinus Veekay, #21, takes the hairpin turn during qualifying for the 49th annual Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach Saturday, April 20, 2024. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Here are the basics.

First off, it’s just sort of an insane sport. Drivers get into a vehicle that can go up to 200 miles per hour exposing them to spikes of 5Gs (that’s five times the force of gravity). Reaction times are milliseconds; every move from braking to steering has to be spot-on — and the slightest misstep can put a driver in the wall (which did happen this past weekend).

Every race is an opportunity for an individual driver to earn points toward the championship awarded at the end of the season. Currently, there are 27 full-time drivers on the grid. Long Beach race winner Scott Dixon earned 50 hard-fought points on Sunday, placing him in second in the championship after the season’s first three races.

Each driver is part of a team — Dixon is part of Chip Ganassi Racing, which has four other active IndyCar drivers. Ganassi’s engine manufacturer is Honda. Since 2013, there have been only two engine providers powering the series, Honda and Chevrolet. Chevy has been the more dominant manufacturer in the Engine Manufacturer Championship over the past decade.

Long Beach is Honda’s home race and Acura, a Honda brand, is the title sponsor of the event. The manufacturer has the most wins at the track there with 21 including Dixon’s. It always brings a warm, fuzzy feeling to see a team win at home.

Sunday’s race order was determined by a qualifying event on Saturday where drivers and teams maximize their car’s performance to produce the fastest lap. Pole sitter (first place) Felix Rosenqvist (Meyer Shank Racing, Honda) beat out Will Power (Team Penske, Chevrolet) by just 0.004 seconds.

Ultimately, I fell in love with racing for moments like that. A nail-biting, down-to-the-wire feat of talent, perseverance and technical achievement. And neither of them won! Instead, a 43-year-old Dixon, who has been driving for Ganassi longer than some of the younger drivers have been alive, took the crown to extend his streak of winning at least one race in 20 consecutive seasons.

It’s stories like these that make sports so much more than wins and losses.

But the weekend doesn’t just include the NTT series — several other leagues and races pack the three-day event. For real gearheads, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship pits two sports prototype categories and two grand tourer (GT) classes against one another. This year’s event also featured a historic IndyCar race, Super DRIFT Challenge, high-flying Stadium Super Trucks and more.

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Aside from the roar of the race, attendees can explore the convention center which is packed with vendors; brands like In-N-Out and Mission Foods (an Arrow McLaren sponsor) do giveaways and games to win merchandise. And you can get up close to different race cars on display.

It’s also one of the most affordable events. Reserved seating for all three days ranges from $131 to $185 (kids’ tickets are slightly cheaper).

Admission without seating for all three days is $120. I’ve spent more at dinner at one of Long Beach’s most critically acclaimed restaurants. For comparison, my Formula 1 race weekend in Austin, Texas cost me a little over $600.

Roughly 194,000 people attended across all three days of the event this year but I truly hope a good chunk of them were Long Beach residents.

I’m not saying every Long Beach resident needs to go each year for all three days, but I do think it’s a shame to miss the opportunity to see your own backyard transformed into a professional racetrack — if nothing else, it’s quite the spectacle.

Here’s my other argument: If you went from not knowing Formula 1 to suddenly seeing it everywhere, it’s because the sport underwent a major PR facelift. Now, IndyCar is attempting to do the same. So, as the sport continues to grow (this year’s event had the highest attendance since 2008), it’ll only become more difficult to snag a ticket.

PHOTOS: The scent of fuel and burning rubber fills the air in Downtown during day 2 of the Grand Prix

Brandon Richardson • Apr 20, 2024

Tens of thousands of race fans flocked to Downtown Long Beach Saturday for day two of the 49th annual Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. The action-packed day was filled with speeding sports cars, flying trucks, IndyCars, food and booze — as well as plenty of family-friendly fun.

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