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Edited by Ronna White
Art: Welcome to Straight Talk. We have a great show for you focused on the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach with our friend Jim Michaelian. Jim, welcome back to our show.
Jim: Always exciting to be back with you, Art. This is about the 18th or 19th time I’ve been here and it’s always a pleasure.
Art: And the timing’s always great because springtime is breaking out and we have this wonderful race in Long Beach, 42nd Annual Toyota Grand Prix, and I call it the annual spring break for our city.
Jim: It certainly is, and hopefully, for the 180,000 people that are expected to come out on race weekend, which will be, this year, April the 15th through the 17th, we hope that they get a tremendous experience here at Long Beach like they have in the past 41 years.
Art: I know a lot of you have been to the race, but some of you haven’t, and even those who have, let’s get everyone in a racing frame of mind. What’s new for this year, Jim?
Jim: We have an exciting array of events. We have the six races there, including the Verizon Indy Car Series, but one of the real cute and neat editions that we have this year is the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race is celebrating its 40th anniversary. So we got together with [indiscernible] and we said, “What can we do to make it something special?” And what we’ve done is we invited back only past winners to come back and compete in this 40th anniversary race. So we’re going to have 20 past winners of the race who will be there competing in both the pro and the celebrity category. They’re all going to be lumped into one.
Art: You want to give us one or two names?
Jim: Sure. Keanu Reeves is back. Alfonso Ribeiro, Allen [assumed spelling] DuJunior [phonetic], who’s obviously won both in Indy cars as well as in the celebrity race, and Dara Torres, the Olympian swimmer is back. In fact, back in 2002, she won the race and the pro winner that year was Danica Patrick. That is the only time in the history of the race where we had two women on the podium.
Art: Over the 40 years of this race, at the beginning, there weren’t that many women, if any, in the race, and it’s increased and increased like in so many other fields.
Jim: Absolutely, in the beginning, it was more focused on some of the celebrities and now we’ve expanded it into music and into sports and into the media, so it’s a great opportunity for a number of people to come out and really have some fun. It has a great charity component. The Racing for Kids has raised millions of dollars, donations to local hospitals and other entities and so that aspect of it is certainly very attractive.
Art: It’s more than racing over these three days. There are lot of things, and you continue to build in more value each year, but I know Fiesta Friday and Rock-N-Roar Saturday are important components.
Jim: We have two concerts. Friday night is Fiesta Friday. This year will be Bostich and Fussible who will be doing a Hispanic concert, and then on Saturday night, we’re bringing back Cheap Trick. They were there in 2010, got a tremendous ovation from our fans, they loved it, and we thought what would be more appropriate than to bring them back again this year, just sort of highlight our concert program for the weekend.
Art: Sure, and then there’s the Lifestyle Expo which is a very important part of this. It’s free. It’s included with the ticket.
Jim: It’s a great way to get everybody involved. There’s activities for kids. There’s simulators that people can go and participate in and test their racing skills, and there’s great demonstrations that go on, and we have a K1 speed go-kart track where people can actually go out and demonstrate how inept they might be in terms of actually being race car drivers. And this year we’re also adding to our racing program, because we have drifting at night on Friday and Saturday night, but Robby Gordon’s Trucks have been a tremendous hit. Those cars flying – trucks flying through the air have been a sensational draw for people, and this year we’re bringing it back for all three days. So they’ll be there on Friday, run a race on Saturday and run another race on Sunday. So what we try to do between all of those various elements, the sports cars from the IMSA program and the Pirelli World Challenge, is create a whole sort of a smorgasbord of racing activities for people to enjoy, and then, as you say, when they’re not looking at stuff on the track, there’s plenty of things happening off-track to keep them entertained.
Art: There’s a lot of great food there and people watching. As you were just suggesting, it’s a party weekend, and you’ve told me many times that probably half the people attending of the 180,000 are not necessarily that much into racing, but they want to have a good time on a spring break weekend.
Jim: Then that’s one of the advantages doing this race in Long Beach. When you think about it, what a great venue. Look at how it’s developed over the years and continues to do so. It’s a tremendous attraction, and we’re really very fortunate to be able to play, if you would, in that backyard, because a lot of people come to the race not just for the racing activity but for all the amenities that go along with it, and Long Beach has a lot to offer.
Art: The television shots in the show is seen throughout the world, Chamber of Commerce shots of the racetrack and the Queen Mary and the downtown skyline.
Jim: Ten and a half hours of national and international television, and what you see is a postcard of what downtown Long Beach is all about, and as its improved over the years, people are witnessing that evolution and it really is a tremendous asset.
Art: So that’s really millions of dollars of free publicity to the city of Long Beach that’s an offshoot of the race.
Jim: Right, but that’s one of the things that is part of the contractual agreement that we have with the city is not only brings economic impact but also that we provide a tremendous amount of television and media coverage that will extend not only beyond the borders of the city and the regional area but also nationally and internationally.
Art: I know economic development and the Convention and Visitors Bureau arranged to have representatives of other cities and potential conferences come down this weekend so they can see how Long Beach has its act together, it can put together an event of this magnitude.
Jim: Steve Goodling and the folks over at the CV do a tremendous job, and every year they bring that group and the mayor and myself and some of the others go and talk to them, but they see firsthand the coordination that goes on in the city, so when they come back when planning and developing their own conventions, they see how easy it is to work with this city in terms of getting things accomplished.
Art: The race is great for promotion not only of outside conventions but right here in Long Beach. Businesses can take advantage of this race, Jim, the Committee of 300, the Red Coats, how mightily in your race weekend.
Jim: Absolutely, they do it all year long because they participate in a number of promotions and activities not only in town, but there are various areas where we have cars on display and are conducting various events, but they really are the ambassador arm of the Grand Prix Association. They’re the people that a lot of our guests contact first when they come to the event, and this year, in addition to the Committee of 300, opportunity to serve in that area, why, we’ve done a deal with the Long Beach Boy Scouts who will be assisting in terms of the ushering, and I think it’s going to be a great opportunity to provide some exposure not only for the Boy Scouts but for them to represent the city in a very positive way.
Art: And it puts that personal touch that everyone who comes to — most people who come to Long Beach sense and like. It’s not just a commercial transaction in the sense of hospitality, and you have the Committee of 300, the Red Coats, taking the tickets at each grandstand, and now you’re going to have the Boy Scouts ushering. It’s a nice combination.
Jim: And some of those representatives have been in those areas for years and years and get to know the customers, personalization kind of a thing.
Art: A lot of fun. Now, the aquarium this year for the first time is open to the public. The fish are always there, but now the public can come in race weekend.
Jim: In the past, the aquarium has been encompassed within the fence lines of the Grand Prix, but we’ve had discussions with Jerry Schubel and the staff down there and we are now going to provide the opportunity for people to attend the aquarium and it will be located outside the fence lines of the Grand Prix and there will be selected parking places and shuttles that’ll deliver people from their parking spot to the aquarium and back and we’re hopeful that those who want to come to Long Beach and attend the aquarium but don’t want to be involved with the Grand Prix will take advantage of this opportunity.
Art: Well said. It’s another example of cooperation within the community. Now, one of the important events in the lead-up to the Grand Prix is the Motorsports Walk of Fame.
Jim: This will be the 11th year we’ve inducted into that Walk of Fame, some famous names, Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, Phil Hill, and this year we have some more famous names going in. We’re very delighted that Roger Penske, who is an icon in the sport has accepted our offer to come down and be inducted into the Walk of Fame. This is his 50th anniversary in motor sports, so there’s a lot of significance to it. And then the other inductee is somebody that everybody has heard that’s been to the Grand Prix. They might not recognize his name and his face, but Bruce Flanders has been the voice of the Grand Prix for the last 39 years. We thought it was an appropriate time to honor him for all his efforts, so he’ll be inducted.
Art: And the Motorsports Walk of Fame is right in front of the Convention Center on their brass plaques for each of the inductees. The ceremony is open to the public and it’s on Thursday, April 14th.
Jim: Eleven o’clock. You’re welcome to come down and join us then and then go on to your celebration.
Art: Well, let’s get up close and personal with you, Jim. You’ve been doing this for 40-plus years. You don’t seem to have missed a beat and you love this field.
Jim: I do, but, I really have the advantage of working with a great staff, a great team, and it’s rejuvenating after a while when you see everybody come together and meld all their efforts and produce an event that everybody can be proud of, and that’s really what our objective is. When people are leaving the event on Sunday night and they give you a thumbs-up, they’re not necessarily saying the racing was great, but their experience was great, and that’s what we’re really trying to do, have people come, have a great enjoyment in terms of what they’re doing and what they’re experiencing, and when they leave, that’s the best calling card we have not only for the event but for the city, too, because hopefully, those people will now come back in June and October and in February and take advantage of all of the amenities that the city now has to offer, which, really are very significant in terms of what’s been developed over the last 10, 15 years.
Art: I’ve always found a way to add something each year, to give a little more value into it, and the tickets are still very reasonably priced.
Jim: Well, that’s one of the challenges when you do something 42 times. You have to make sure there’s an element of surprise and additional excitement to it, and we’ve had great partners. You know, when you talk about partnerships in terms of sponsors Toyota has been with us from the very beginning.
Art: That’s amazing.
Jim: That’s the longest running continuous sponsorship.
Art: Many marriages don’t last 42 years.
Jim: Come and gone in seconds and thirds, too, in that realm. So we’re very delighted to have been involved with Toyota and others, too. Coca-Cola has been here. Firestone/Bridgestone has been here in the 25 and 30-year categories. That says something about not only the event but the way that they view that whole participation in this Grand Prix in Long Beach, and I think it speaks very well for all of the people who have made a contribution over all these years.
Art: We’re just very fortunate to have an event of the quality of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. I think it’s a match made in heaven. Jim mentioned earlier the long-time relationship between Toyota and the race, but think also of the relationship between the race and the city. Forty-two years ago there wasn’t much happening in downtown and the race started and it kept building and building and building, and now we have this vibrant downtown, 40th anniversary of the Pro Celebrity Race, 42nd anniversary of the Toyota Grand Prix, doesn’t get much better than that, Jim.
Straight Talk airs in Long Beach and 70 surrounding cities on Saturdays and Sundays at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on LBTV 3 and FiOS 21 and at 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Charter Channel 188. It will be repeated the following weekend at the same times. Straight Talk is also viewable on demand at http://www.StraightTalkTV.com