Advertisement

Long Beach Grand Prix gave me a once-in-a-lifetime experience I couldn't resist

Los Angeles Times sports columnist Arash Markazi tries out the 2019 Long Beach Grand Prix track.

I’m not a very good driver.

It was important for me to warn the fine folks at the Grand Prix of Long Beach of this minor detail before they fitted me for a driver’s helmet and put me behind the wheel of a 2019 Acura NSX, a hybrid supercar that has a top speed of 196 miles per hour and goes 0 to 60 in three seconds.

Advertisement

“You’ll be fine,” said Jim Michaelian, the president and chief executive of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach. “There’s no one else on the road. Part of the mystique is racing a car on a city street. For 362 days per year you drive these streets and observe the speed limit but for three days each year mayhem erupts and you have cars going over 100 miles per hour and sometimes going the wrong way.”

I don’t recommend driving over 100 miles per hour on the wrong side of the road, but it’s hard to pass up the chance to do it legally. The length of the track is 1.97 miles and the lap record of 1 minute 6.225 seconds was set by Helio Castroneves two years ago. My goal was simply to make it back in one piece and successfully navigate through all 11 turns, which took me through Shoreline Drive and Seaside Way, past The Laugh Factory and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

“This is one of my favorite courses,” said Dane Cameron, an Acura Team Penske driver who will bepart of the field next weekend. “There’s nothing like a street course where you can bring an event to people. We’re literally racing past people’s front yards.”

The Grand Prix of Long Beach, which began in 1975, is the longest-running major street race in North America and one of the longest continually running events in IndyCar racing. Michaelian has been here since the beginning and has had a front row seat for everything, from Al Unser Jr. winning the race six times in eight years to watching me make a fool of myself on the track.

“I’ve seen it all but it never gets old,” Michaelian said. “It’s a whole different sensation when you get to the track and feel the vibration and speed of the cars. It’s something else.”

Long Beach and the Grand Prix have grown together and race officials are bracing for more possible changes if talk of the Angels building a new stadium along the waterfront comes to fruition. The city’s Grand Prix contract extends through 2023 with an option for an additional five years.

“As the city has grown, we have made revisions to the course,” Michaelian said. “We have changed the course eight times to accommodate new hotels and buildings. We got off Ocean Boulevard. When the aquarium was built 20 years ago we changed the course then. The fundamental concept of running a street race in downtown Long Beach hasn’t changed and won’t change.”

::

When Clippers owner Steve Ballmer envisions what he wants his proposed arena in Inglewood to look like, he isn’t looking at newer arenas that were built to house basketball and hockey teams. He is looking at basketball-specific arenas such as the home of the Utah Jazz, which opened in 1991 and is considered one of the louder arenas in the NBA.

“I want energy in the building,” Ballmer said at the CAA World Congress of Sports. “We need the best theater we can build. We want a tighter bowl. There’s going to be no hockey in our building. We’re not trying to get a hockey team so it will be designed for basketball with an intense, noisy, home court advantage. I like Utah quite a bit. It’s very condensed and very noisy. The closer you can get, the more you can feed the energy. Fans feed fans and fans feed the team. That’s what we want to do.”

The arena is projected to open in 2024 but The Madison Square Garden Co., which owns the nearby Forum, has filed a lawsuit against Inglewood in L.A. County Superior Court regarding construction of the arena. MSG was countersued by the Clippers for trying to prevent the construction of a competing arena. MSG is headed by James Dolan, who owns the New York Knicks.

“It’s not clear to me why it’s important for an NBA owner to get involved with another NBA owner in that regard,” Ballmer said. “Madison Square Garden would like to have less competition for the music business here in Los Angeles but competition is a good thing; I respect competition. We’ll win those lawsuits and build our arena.”

::

The Lakers will finish their sixth consecutive season without a trip to the playoffs Tuesday and owner Jeanie Buss has read and heard all the criticism directed at the front office, players and coaches. She doesn’t mind taking the blame herself.

Advertisement

“I can take it but it’s disappointing when it’s directed at our front office and our players,” Buss said. “I try to be the leader and put my arms around them and cheer them on and let them know how tight our circle is and not to let that narrative get them down.”

A healthy amount of blame has been directed at LeBron James, who will miss a career-high 27 games this season after signing a four-year, $153.3-million contract with the Lakers this summer.

“As soon as he came here fans painted a mural of LeBron on the side of a building and other fans ruined it and defaced it,” Buss said. “It was so disappointing to think that there were people out there that wanted to deface maybe the greatest player right now joining the team. To have something like that happen was really disheartening. The higher profile you have, the more hatred it brings out and it’s disappointing. I want to protect our players, especially our young players, from having to deal with that.”

Advertisement
Advertisement