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On The Road With Fast Eddie – Long Beach

Mario Andretti, Randy Owens and Johnny Rutherford at the RRDC dinner. [Photo by Eddie LePine]

Mario Andretti, Randy Owens and Johnny Rutherford at the RRDC dinner. [Photo by Eddie LePine]

By Eddie LePine

Every year I look forward to my trip to the west coast to take in what is accurately described as “America’s Monaco”, the Toyota Long Beach Grand Prix weekend. This year was no different, and as usual, the organizers crammed the weekend’s schedule full of activities from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, to Pirelli Challenge, Robby Gordon’s off-road trucks, historic TransAm and of course, the Verizon IndyCar race.

There was literally something for everyone and once again, the southern California weather was picture perfect and the organizers announced record attendance for the event (180,000+ over the three days). If you haven’t yet made the trip to Long Beach for this outstanding race weekend, make plans to do so in the future. It should be on every race fan’s bucket list.

I arrived on Thursday morning, where the weekend began with Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya being honored with their addition to the Long Beach Walk of Fame. From there it was visiting new and old friends in the paddock and preparing for one of my favorite events of the Long Beach weekend – the RRDC dinner on Thursday night.

This year the dinner honored Johnny Rutherford and MC Jeremy Shaw did his usual outstanding job of hosting the event. Famed motorsports artist Randy Owens was on hand and presented Rutherford with a painting he did of JR’s Pennzoil IndyCar. Racing legend Mario Andretti, along with Randy, made the presentation. It was quite a night.

With Friday morning, on track activities began with both IMSA and IndyCar practice and the sound of those machines echoing through the streets of Long Beach were music to my ears. IndyCar is drawing a lot of fan interest this season with their new outstanding rookie driver Robert Wickens and their new generation of cars, while there was also a lot of fan interest in seeing the IMSA machines and drivers up close and personal. The new IMSA DPi prototypes made quite an impression on everyone. It was obvious that the crowd was going to be at record levels, for even on Friday the paddock was packed.

I ran into A.J. Foyt in the paddock, and it was good to see he had recovered after missing his Hall of Fame induction at Sebring due to bee stings he suffered on his ranch.

I also spent some time with a couple of real racing legends – Parnelli Jones and George Follmer, who were on hand as Grand Marshalls for the historic TransAm race and waved the green flag for the start of that race. George commented to me that the cars looked much better now than they did when they were racing them, a testament to the quality of the restorations that have been done on these historic machines. Both George and Parnelli commented how back in the day you had to really drive these cars, no electronic assistance, no traction control, no paddle shifting – it was truly a different era of racing.

General Motors was victorious in both classes of the IMSA race, with Cadillac winning overall and Corvette taking GTLM honors. In IndyCar, it was fan favorite Alexander Rossi taking the win in dominant fashion for Andretti Autosport and Honda.

All in all, a whirlwind weekend in California for me and everything I saw and did is just now sinking in. It was quite the event.

I can’t wait until the 2019 edition rolls around.

In the meantime, see you at the races.

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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).