For a short time each spring, streets in Long Beach, California are blocked off for an action-packed racing weekend fit for one of the largest entertainment markets in the world.
One of two street-circuit races on the schedule, and coming on the heels of the two longest races of the season, the annual International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) WeatherTech SportsCar Championship visit to Southern California is a 100-minute street fight known as the BUBBA Burger SportsCar Grand Prix. The race is part of North America’s most prestigious street circuit event, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, which features the Verizon IndyCar Series.
“I think 2017 is going to be especially exciting for IMSA here,” said Grand Prix of Long Beach President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Michaelian. “We will be introducing the GT Daytona [GTD] category for the first time as a part of the IMSA program here. That whole class will be new to our viewers and I think that will certainly enhance the show.”
Continuing to enhance the show each year is one of the goals for the Grand Prix, as Michaelian considers the event to be largely part of the entertainment business, being so close to Los Angeles.
“What we do is afford someone an opportunity to come down for one weekend and see a broad spectrum of all these various types of racing, and one of the ways we’ve continued to maintain popularity is to increase the entertainment portion of the experience of fans that come to this event,” he explained.
Over the course of the weekend, nearly 150,000 fans will visit the circuit to a variety of racing action, along with additional displays such as the Lifestyle Expo, Mothers Exotic Car Paddock and concerts on Friday and Saturday evening that keep fans engaged through the night.
“Most attendees are coming out to Long Beach in April to have a good time in the sun,” Michaelian said. “That’s what they expect and that’s what we hope to deliver every year. The fact that we’ve been doing this for 42 years is an indication of the level of success that we’ve had.”
In 1975, over 46,000 fans gathered to watch the first Grand Prix in Long Beach, won by Brian Redman in a Boraxo Lola T332.
Formula 1 took to the track the following year with some success but Chris Pook, organizer of the Grand Prix of Long Beach (GPLB), was eager for more. In 1977, his circuit found that success when Mario Andretti crossed the finish line first, becoming the first American to win an F1 United States Grand Prix race.
F1 races continued to be held at in Long Beach until 1983, after which CART races were added to the schedule. Andretti also won the first CART race held at the circuit in 1984.
The course configuration itself has changed almost 10 times over the 42-year history of the track, but has remained the same since 2000 at 1.968 miles. Toyota has also been the longtime sponsor of the event, first putting its name on the GPLB in 1980.