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Official Review by Drew Cieszynski, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The 38th edition of the Grand Prix of Long Beach took place on April 13-15, 2012.
The history of the race dates back to 1975, when Christopher Pook led the efforts to bring an annual race to Long Beach. It started as a Formula 5000 race and just a year later would become a Formula One race. In 1984, it would become a CART Indycar/Champ Car event until 2009, when it became part of the Izod IndyCar Series.
The event is now the most tenured major street race on all of the North American continent and the largest annual event held in the city of Long Beach.
The 1.968-mile circuit is a favorite of many racers, being situated on the Long Beach waterfront with palm trees lining the track. Drivers pass by many landmarks on the course, including the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center, the Pike, and the Queen Mary.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The Grand Prix circuit had a rather overwhelming number of options when it came to food and beverage, all situated close to the grandstands.
There are far too many options to list in this review, but some of the more prominent ones included the Juicy's Outlaw Grill, which offers giant western sausage ($9.75), ˝ lb. Outlaw burger ($9.75), and the "texas-sized" turkey leg ($10.75).
The most popular stand appeared to be King Taco, which had soft tacos ($1.75), burritos ($7-$8.50), and nachos ($7 or $8 with meat).
The nationally known California Pizza Kitchen offered pizzas ($12) and salads ($10) with a slew of different varities.
Common sporting staples such as kettle corn ($7 for medium and $10 for large),roast beef sandwiches, burgers, cheesesteaks, chili cheese fries, pastrami, sausages and hot dogs were available.
Most beverages were priced at $4 and included energy drinks, sodas, teas, and water. Those seeking alcohol would not have to go far as the stands were easy to find. Beers offered Tecate, Dos Equis, and Heineken ($5.75 for a 12 oz and $9.75 for a large).
Of all of the options, the artisan ice cream sandwiches (two oven warm chocolate chip cookies with ice cream in the middle) were easily my favorite.
Location. Location. Location. Situated on the shores of Long Beach, this event creates excitement unlike any other in Long Beach. The beautiful marina with views of the Pacific Ocean, the Long Beach skyline, the sunny blue skies, vast array of vendors just minutes and the Queen Mary towering quietly in the distance all make for one thrilling event.
As fans approach the circuit, they'll notice the smoke rising from the barbeque pits, the cheers of the crowd, and most notably the roar of the engines.
Throughout the weekend, there is just one event after the next, from the Miss Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Pageant to the celebrity race to the Mother's Exotic Car Paddock. It's all simply a fury of excitement that has fans going from sunrise to sunset.
Long Beach is loaded with things to see and do, and the location of the track is perfect for visitors to take many of the attraction in during a single trip.
In the downtown area, fans can take in the Aquarium of the Pacific or walk around the Rainbow Harbor and admire the lighthouse in Shoreline Park. One of the world's most famous ocean liners, the Queen Mary is harbored in Long Beach and offers tours daily.
There is certainly no shortage of restaurants and night life surrounding the track. One might say it's rather overwhelming to choose just one. Many restaurants are fenced in with the track, while others are just a short walk away. Some of the popular eateries include Café Sevilla, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Beachwood BBQ & Brewery, Famous Dave's BBQ Pit, George's Greek Café, Island's Burgers, Hooters, and King's Fish House. If fans are in search of drinks in the evening, some popular choices include Mai Tai Bar, Auld Dubliner, Tequila Jacks, and Congregation Ale House.
If fans are willing to take a short drive or cab ride, the Belmont Shore also offers many options in terms of shopping, restaurants, and bars.
Aside from the annual races at the Auto Club Speedway, opportunities for Southern California race fans are few and far between. Therefore, there is buzz of the event weeks prior to the event in not only Long Beach, but also in Los Angeles, Orange County, and the Inland Empire.
This year's event brought an estimated 170,000 fans through the turnstiles, which was slightly down from the year prior, but also had inclement weather on Friday that held back many fans.
This event offers likely the most diverse fan group that can be found at a sporting event. There are loads of corporate tents and private boxes for the "bougie" fans, as well as the die-hard race fans that cannot be pried from the pits or their seat on the grandstand. Of course there are other fans that are simply there for the fanfare. The food trucks, the Tecate and Patrón tents, the concert, the crowds, and the car shows are show additional reasons that pull fans into the circuit.
This is another case where it's rather difficult to denominate fans into words. Regardless of age, gender, or interests, this seems to be one event that can draw from fans of all types.
Long Beach is accessible via the 405, 110, and 710 freeways. Just a short drive south from Los Angeles and less than two hours from many population centers in Southern California, the grand prix certainly reaches a large crowd.
On sight, there is a combination of permanent toilets scattered throughout the course. Fans never seemed to walk too far to find a restroom and I did not notice any substantial lines during the event.
Public transportation to the event is plentiful. The city has 38 bus routes that can get fans from Long Beach to the event with relatively inexpensive means. The Metrolink allows fans from Los Angeles and other surrounding areas to get to the event via the Blue Line. For just $10, fans can get a weekend pass that allows them to utilize the Metrolink for a flat rate.
Another interesting item for fans commuting to the event is Bikestation Long Beach. The first such location in the United States, it offers supervision of bikes for those who ride to the event, as well as rentals and repairs.
Parking is scattered throughout the city via lots and parking garages. Fans should expect to pay around $15 for a day's parking and some locations offer the three day weekend for just $40.
While the event provides thrills and excitement, it is far from inexpensive. The best choice for most fans would be the general admission options. A three day pass is $70, but if time allows only a single day there are options available as well. Friday ($26) provides the least appeal and is priced appropriately, while Saturday ($44), and Sunday ($54) are tiered a bit higher.
Reserved seating is also a convenience that gives fans a guaranteed spot, but also comes with a higher price. Depending on age and date attended (or weekend pass), prices range from $70 to $130.
Food options and parking did seem a bit above average, so fans can certainly expect an expensive outing when attending the Grand Prix. It is however, a one of a kind event for the western half of the United States and fans should expect higher prices to come with it.
Covering such a vast area and several days, it is difficult to keep track of all of the "extras" that come with the Long Beach Grand Prix.
Throughout the review I've already mentioned the Queen Mary, the marina, the Pacific Ocean, Rainbow Harbor, and Shoreline Park are all free scenery to visitors.
Other notable items throughout the weekend include the Lifestyle Expo in the Long Beach Convention Center, which featured BMX and skateboarding demos. The Finals of Tecate Miss Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Pageant and Mother's Exotic Car Paddock are also big draws during the downtime of the racing.
Throughout the circuit, there is a scattering of cars, video games, simulators, go-karts, and informational booths for all to enjoy. Of course, the biggest draws of the weekend are definitely the free concerts.
North America's longest running street race appears to be holding onto its record for years to come. If you're in the Southern California area during the month of April, be sure to make accommodations to attend the event!
Follow Drew's journeys through Southern California on Twitter @Big10Drew
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