What an action packed weekend! Coming straight off a flight from Chicago, I drove to the Long Beach Grand Prix. The week kicked off Thursday with the Road Racing Drivers Club dinner to honor George Follmer, an F1, INDYCAR, NASCAR, Trans-Am, and Can-Am racing driver. I arrived a few hours early to help with setup, and I have to say, it is incredible how much work goes into putting on one of these events. Jeremy Shaw and Tamy Valkosky along with the Doug Mockett and Company crew did a stellar job getting everything organized for the event.
Come 7 p.m. it was time to take our seats and listen to some of the amazing stories that Mr. Follmer, Mr. Roger Penske, and Mr. Bobby Rahal had to offer. The room was filled with my racing idols. The likes of Parnelli Jones, Bryan Herta, Joel Miller, Arie Luyendyk, and Mike Hull were attending just to name a few, all of whom were accessible and willing to talk after the event had concluded. It was a very enjoyable experience that benefited the Team USA Scholarship and SafeisFast and as someone who has been a part of these programs, I can’t thank everyone enough those who attended and those who made this event possible.
If I had to describe Friday in 3 words, it would be Mazda, Mazda, and Mazda. I arrived at the track around 9 a.m. right after the No. 55 Mazda Prototype car put it in P1 in practice while the No. 70 car was tied for P3. It was a great showing for Mazda in the first on track session of the day. I was then fortunate enough to be brought into their pit to see the inner workings of what it takes to run the BEST prototype team in paddock (no, I am not biased in any way). It was an amazing experience and I thank Mr. Tremblay and all the guys at Mazda Motorsports for taking me in. In the middle of the day, I had an opportunity to sit down with some of our local media outlets that support our grass roots Mazda drivers. We were able to chat over lunch at the Hard Rock Café.
After this, I went to the convention center where the Mazda Factory drivers were briefly hanging out (what a coincidence…). They were playing around on Mazda’s virtual pit stop screen (check out Mazda Motorsports’ Facebook page for the shenanigans). Next stop was to visit something that is an interest of mine as a college student. A group of students participating in Formula SAE, a college level program that promotes careers and excellence in engineering as it encompasses all aspects of the automotive industry, had a booth set up. They were very passionate about the engineering aspect of the automobile and even build their own racecars. Seems like a pretty great program to me.
The following two days I was able to meet with friends and fellow racers and watched a few of the races. The INDYCAR qualifying was very exciting as it seemed like the entire field were within tenths of each other. Directly after qualifying was the start of the 100 minute IMSA race where the Mazda Prototype cars would start 3rd and 5th. It was a nail biter the entire race. Tom Long made a great start and did everything he could to fend off the pack, while Tristan Nunez worked his way up through the field. At one point, the pair of Mazdas were 1 and 2 which was extremely exciting. At the end of the day, the Mazda boys finished with two top 5 finishes and left the event with some serious pace.
Leading into Sunday, I watched an action-packed, white knuckled battle in the Pirelli World Challenge race. Lots of passing, lots of contact, and a great finish completed their race weekend. The final race of the weekend for me was the INDYCAR race. It was crazy to say at the end of the race there were no cautions for the entire 80 laps they were racing. I don’t want to spoil any results for those of you who haven’t watched the broadcast, but it had a mix of everything - a good start, passing, weird pit strategies, and a bit of drama at the end of the race just to add that final touch.
All in all it was a great, sun-filled weekend that I am extremely grateful that I was able to experience. Long Beach always brings out great racing and passionate fans and I can’t wait to head back next year.