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Long Beach With Fast Eddie

The Taylor brothers, perfect in 2017. [Photo by Eddie LePine]

The Taylor brothers, perfect in 2017. [Photo by Eddie LePine]

By Eddie LePine

This year, for my annual trip to Long Beach for the IMSA and IndyCar races I wanted to see how much I could fit into my quick trip to the west coast.

As it turned out, I fit in quite a bit. The trip started Wednesday when I landed in Los Angeles at 10am and I made my way to my first stop – The Italian American Museum. They recently held their grand opening and had a special Mario Andretti exhibit complete with a Mario Alfa Romeo Formula One driver suit that I was able to obtain for the museum. Marianna Gatta, the director of the museum, kindly gave me a personal tour of their great facility. I was able to repay her kindness by introducing her to Mario at the track later in the week.

Then if was off to the Peterson Museum, which is an incredible place which you should make a point of visiting the next time you are in the Los Angeles area.

Then it was on to Long Beach, where I attended the RRDC dinner, which this year honored Emerson Fittipaldi. It was great seeing Emmo, and not only was he there being honored, but A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney were in attendance as well, reunited with their 1967 Le Mans winning Ford Mk IV. It was quite the evening and even after all these years of being involved in motorsports, it was quite awe inspiring to be able to meet and talk to the legendary drivers in attendance.

I interviewed Mario Andretti, and as usual, he was accommodating and gracious. Mario is always in great demand at these events, and I really appreciated him taking some time to talk with me. He has very fond memories of Long Beach. As he told me: “Obviously, I have been here from the beginning – 43 years ago. This has grown to be a classic event over the years and it is always something I look forward to.”

Mario continued: “This is not just a race, it’s an event and it has so much to offer. The Andretti’s have had such good fortune here, with me winning four times. Also, Michael won his very first IndyCar race here, and his last one as well. When you have that kind of success, Long Beach becomes a very special place for you.”

At the track, I caught up with my old friend and legendary driver George Follmer, who was in the paddock inspecting his old CanAm ride –the UOP Shadow DN4.

“People love CanAm cars. They’re viscous, they’re nasty – all the good stuff.”

“The CanAm cars will put on a good show here at Long Beach. Today the engineers are more in control of the car – determining what it does and doesn’t do. Back in my day, we had to figure out what was wrong with the car and what we wanted to do to make it work right. The more experience you had doing that, the more success you had.”

About the UOP Shadow: “It was an extremely good race car. It was as fast as the Porsches. It was a nice car to drive – you could just push it and push it and it would always respond. It was the kind of race car that a real race driver really likes. It was fast and had a lot of horsepower. It was quick.”

George was correct. In the HMSA Historic CanAm race, UOP Shadows finished first and second. And in an outstanding comeback from a horrible accident last year at Road Atlanta, Craig Bennett won the race, besting his brother Kirt in a similar car. They gave the crowd quite a show, trading the lead back and forth before Craig finally took the checkered flag. You have to love racing.

In the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar race, the Taylor brothers once again took top honors, winning the race in their Cadillac DPi. They are now perfect for the season – three races run, three victories.

In GTLM, Corvette took top honors after a wild last lap traffic jam in the hairpin, which robbed the sister Corvette of Antonio Garcia of a sure win. As they say, it isn’t over until it’s over.

In GTD, Gunnar Jeannette and Cooper MacNeil took top honors for Mercedes, leading a Mercedes 1-2 class finish.

I flew out on the red eye flight on Saturday night, which of course was about four hours late in getting airborne, so I didn’t arrive back in Florida until late in the morning on Sunday. I took a quick nap, went to the go-kart track to meet with Emerson Fittipaldi (yep, he was back in Orlando as well), and then watched the Long Beach Grand Prix IndyCar race on TV. James Hinchcliffe won and put on a great show, with an excellent drive.

All in all, it was quite the weekend – non-stop from start to finish.

However, I am a little tired now and am going to rest up a bit before my next racing adventure. Stay tuned for more.

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Eddie has been involved in motorsports for over 30 years as photographer, columnist, and driver. Eddie also is now a retired racer (well, retired unless a good ride pops up).