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42nd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach the debrief

The day after arriving home from the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas in Texas I was back on the plane heading west, this time to California for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Unlike the Texas trip this wasn’t a last minute deal, I had booked my flight a few months in advance though knowing now that I’d be going to Texas the weekend before it would have made more sense to continue on to SoCal from Texas than going back and forth to New Jersey.

As far as the flight goes I was pretty excited about getting a deal but another one came up shortly after I booked mine that made me regret losing at least $75 bux on my deal. I thought I had frankensteined an awesome deal. Direct NY-LA flights were over $100 bux each way. But I found that by booking LGA to Chicago and Chicago to LAX, I could get the trips for $35 apiece. I had padded the trip to give me a few hours between the separate bookings in case something went wrong, but the weather was perfect and everything went as scheduled. On the way back I booked Burbank to New York via San Francisco for $131 bux… which seemed like a good idea because it flew on the day I wanted to fly namely Monday after the event, but a few weeks later I saw United offering $64 each way fares from NY direct to LA, which would have saved me a ton.

Luckily the car rental worked out perfectly. I pre-paid for a car at Dollar for about $120 all inclusive for a week. And when picking up the car I was offered a free drop off at Burbank instead of bringing it back to LAX which saved me a good $20 bux. The car proved really useful around Los Angeles and Long Beach… I was able to pick out a nice Toyota PriusC which after about 400 total miles done only cost me $18 in fuel where Cali fuel runs for $3+ per gallon.

Except for the first night which I spent at a hostel in Venice Beach, I had a neat place to stay in Winchester which is just 10 miles south of Long Beach in neighboring Orange County. The place we got to stay at was organized by my buddy James from Hawaii who invited me to go to Long Beach when we worked together at Bathurst 12 hour.

For the race itself Cal Club SCCA was very welcoming. I got to work turn 8 which turned out to be a really busy station, lots of cars bouncing off the tires in the apex of the turn, many smashing into the concrete just past the tire wall. The thuds of cars smashing into the concrete not only made the cars leave on a flat bed, some left the event altogether… like the Gainsco #99 McLaren.

While the IndyCar race itself was pretty tame and borderline boring, the rest of the series were far more exciting. The celebrity race though was over the top stupid with people recklessly ignoring yellow flags which would have cost someone’s life if they weren’t as lucky. Station 8 was also close to the convention center which meant I managed to go check out what was on display there. Part of the building was used as the paddock for PWC, part was displays for vendors among them was a nice set up for Mazda, which had an Owners Lounge I got to visit and walked away with a nice t-shirt too.

Long Beach, Southern California in general and Orange County specifically is one of my favorite places to visit in the world. It’s like a combination of Singapore and Dubai where you don’t need a passport to visit. I would love to go back again in the future.

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My Least Favorite Moment from the Grand Prix of Long Beach: Drivers Ignoring Yellow Flags!

This year’s Grand Prix of Long Beach gave me the opportunity to see a lot of action at Turn 8. I got to flag some pretty massive impacts from several McLarens in the PWC race hitting the wall. Alexander Rossi in the #98 IndyCar was our first customer with a major whammy into the concrete barrier just past the tire wall exiting Turn 8. Several Stadium Super Trucks went in as well, but all drivers left the turn unhurt… except for one of our guys, a fellow marshal.

The incident during the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race was absolutely absurd and completely avoidable. Yet we had one of our marshals leave the track in an ambulance because of injuries sustained as a result of “drivers” completely ignoring Yellow flags.

Now the marshal was released quickly and returned to the track to carry on his duties for the rest of the weekend. But it was thanks to dumb luck that things ended the way they did, it could have been much worse and potentially fatal.

What happened?

Well, have a watch for yourself:

The video (courtesy of Gazette Sports) shows the replay of the incident as well as the post-race driver’s interview, which is especially chilling showing how little regard for human life (other than the driver’s own selfish well being) there is on display.

I don’t really know who this celebrity is, but he certainly isn’t a race car driver. Worse, the “real” or “pro” race car drivers that this douche was following, aren’t much better than him either. For the whole group to so blatantly disregard the waving Yellow flags (and believe me, I was waving mine frantically being the closest person to the incident working Turn 8 Apex station, and basically waving the hell out of that flag right in the face of the drivers as they turned in) is pretty disheartening and very much appalling.

The only reason racing works worldwide is because there are rules in place that most racers follow. If you disregard the rules you can injure or kill someone on the track, including yourself. Disregarding yellow flags is about as bad as it gets because you willingly put someone in danger by not following the rules.

To me, the pro’s in this situation were as guilty as the celebrity that nearly chopped the legs off of a marshal against the tow truck. Nobody in that final group lifted when going into the turn. The dumbass causing the final crash was only following the “pro’s” going flat out through the turn, just like he admitted in the interview. And things shouldn’t be that way. He’s thankful he had a sturdy car like a Toyota with it’s five point harness and all, but the marshal standing on track he sent flying over the hood of the car only had the fucking Yellow flag for protection, a yellow flag that everyone ignored.

This…. is tremendously disappointing!

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The screen grabs above show the final incident in detail. Certainly no laughing matter when the camera captures the whole incident so clearly. I know we, as volunteers, accept a certain level of risk when marshaling because being in dangerous situations is inevitable, but finding yourself faced with blatant disregard for the only thing that is designed to keep you “safer” is pretty bad.

Racing Beat Shop Visit in Anaheim, California

The first time I heard about Racing Beat as a Mazda tuner was when I was searching for my Miata to buy and a guy in Connecticut was selling one with the Racing Beat exhaust. (He was also selling the car with two sets of wheels for summer/winter which I ended up doing myself so maybe the guy was onto something).

Having some time to kill before my flight home to the East Coast post-Long Beach Grand Prix I decided to pay Racing Beat a visit, and check out their facility and products. And to my surprise the guys behind the counter were more than willing to show me around, both in the sales office and the manufacturing facility a few buildings down the street.

Racing Beat specializes in Mazda rotary performance parts but is also one of the few American tuners to offer stuff for the MX-5, and for that I support them.

Check out the pix;

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Oh and while in Anaheim do visit Roscoe’s Fried Chicken n’ Waffles restaurant about 10 minute drive from the shop. The food was pretty fantastic…. and much like Racing Beat I learned about it thanks to Motorsport advertising… the #54 Dodge Viper in PWC had a very colorful paint scheme advertising Roscoe’s during the Long Beach Grand Prix race… what a place!

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Mazda North American Headquarters Visit in Southern California

So the highlight of my trip to Southern California wasn’t marshaling  Long Beach Grand Prix, it was instead a side trip further south to Irvine, Orange County to visit the North American HQ of Mazda.

I can’t say I planned the trip there in advance, it sort of just happened. I was hoping to meet up with some local SoCal MX-5 Miata owners during the event but for some reason that meetup never materialized, and since I had some time to kill on Monday before the flight home I decided to do a few Miata related things. After a quick Google search I had a list of three places to try to check out if the California traffic would allow it. Mazda HQ was stop #1 (a visit to Racing Beat and Roadster Tuner followed).

While I tried not to get my hopes up for the actual visit, I was excited. I kept my expectations low because having both Mercedes-Benz of North America and BMW of North America Headquarters just minutes away from me in New Jersey I knew there wasn’t much to see there for random visitors other than an office building. But what’s the worst that could happen? Right…? I figured at the very least I’ll get to check out the lobby. And so it went, the lady at reception confirmed my speculation that there wasn’t much to see and nothing to buy in a gift shop because there wasn’t one. So I mozzied on out, took a few shots of the building, many more shots of the countless MX-5’s in the parking lot and was ready to leave.

And then as if a God-sent, I see three pristine red MX-5’s of various vintage rolling into the parking lot and heading straight for the Visitor Center… I later found out that the NA Miata in the group was the original car unveiled at the Chicago? auto show when the car was first introduced in America in 1989. There was a gorgeous Mazdaspeed NB that followed it, not sure about it’s history. But the red NC in the group was the 25th Anniversary edition of which there were only 1,000 made. I started chatting with the Mazda guys driving the cars into the building and the fella tried to stress the importance of the rarity of the NC… while I countered that I saw three or four of them show up to my little Sydney MX-5 fish & chips run just a few months ago…. how rare could they be? Ha!

It was by dumb luck that I stumbled upon these cars and the guys working there. But boy did that make my day! I shamelessly asked for some Mazda swag referring to the Long Beach Grand Prix Mazda Owner’s Lounge running out of hats by the time I was able to make it there on Sunday as an excuse, and  the guy come through… big time!  I got a whole swag bag full of key chains, lanyards, a Zoom Zoom magazine and some other trinkets and knick-knacks. Not that I actually need more of that stuff, but bringing home souvenirs like that was pretty awesome. I’m really grateful for the opportunity!

Of course I couldn’t help myself and took a million pictures:

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So for all you Mazda / Miata fans out there visiting Orange County, California thinking about a visit to the North American HQ… is it worth it? Hell yeah! Granted unless you luck out and stumble upon something similar to what I did, you’ll have a blast… on any other day though the visit may be slightly more mundane… but you never know until you go for it!

PS. after visiting Racing Beat the fella there suggested to check out the Mazda R&D facility where they store all kinds of goodies like the 787B race car…. that would have been nice to know about had I had more time to kill (and not rush for a flight!)

PPS. a few days after I got home pictures and videos surfaced on facebook from the same lobby I visited featuring a fourth vehicle… one I would have been really keen on seeing had I had the time (which I didn’t) the vehicle was the ND MX-5 RF targa prototype… D’oh!!!!

Post card from the Grand Prix of Long Beach

Greetings from sunny Southern California! Los Angeles, Long Beach and the home of the Grand Prix of Long Beach along the streets of downtown and the beautiful waterfront.

My station was at Turn 8, on Pine Ave between Bay St and Seashore Drive directly across from the Long Beach convention center and along the row of restaurants which turned out to be very handy when the Cal Club provided lunches started losing their appeal.

This time around the station assignment was a little less pretty than my stint at Turn 2/3 a few years ago next to the beautiful fountain featuring a roundabout with a dolphin that made it’s way on TV every time the cars went by. Although sitting at Islands Burger Joint for lunch on Sunday and watching the replay of the PWC race, the track still looks magnificent. Definitely hues of Singapore here stateside.

We were lucky enough to have a bunch of incidents to deal with. Many cars smashed upon exit of our turn somehow magically managing to miss the tire wall. Several McLarens crashed, including the Gaisco Red Dragon which was basically written off for the weekend. The K-Pax black McLaren with a baby blue roof crashed twice. Once bouncing off the tire wall and second time being put into the wall by a passing Porsche 911 which wrote that car off too, the rescue guys had a hard time towing it. Speaking of rescue guys we had a major fuck up during the celebrity race where one of the rescue guys was sent flying over the hood of a crashing car. No good!

I will do a more detailed debrief later, but for now enjoy some pix:

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grand prix of long beach indycar imsa pwc 2 cadillacs on city streets

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Stay tuned for more…