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Pedley: IRL Takes Major Step Forward At Long Beach

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, April 15 2009

longbeachgrBy Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Kansas City, Kan. – The weather was unseasonably cool when the day dawned on a recent IndyCar test at Kansas Speedway. Because of that – the series has a rule that cars can not run until the temperatures reach 55 degrees – the track was silent.

And because of that, you had unhappiness in the garages and in team haulers and even back in the shops in Indianapolis because time and money were being flushed.

And in addition to that, a couple of teams were not so thrilled with the way they unloaded after they were able to get some morning runs in.

So, when the lunch break began, it did so with joviality on hold for some.

But there was one topic which squeezed some love into the situation. It was the topic of the addition of the Long Beach Grand Prix to the IndyCar schedule this year.

Driver Dan Wheldon, a past series champion and Indianapolis 500 winner, did not call the addition of Long Beach good or great or super. He called it something much more definitive.

He called it, “important”.

Everybody associated with the IRL, it seems, is doing flips and twists about the series taking ownership of the Long Beach event this year.

And as well they should be.

Because Wheldon was not not just being rhetorical when he called Long Beach important to the IRL, he was being accurate. 

Adding Long Beach represents nothing less than the next big step in the IRL’s long march forward.

Since, basically, Day One on the IRL timeline, the series has been viewed not so much as a series but as one big month-long event surrounded by a number of test sessions which were called races.

You had the 500 in May and you had relative silence before and after.

When the series went to places like Chicago or Miami or Kansas City, it put on nice races with good racing.

But what the IndyCar series had just one time a year was an event. 

There’s a big difference between a race, or, for that matter, a game or series or playoff, and an event.

Events transcend the sport. They make the sport relevant, if not essential, to people who are not ordinarily considered fans.

And the Long Beach Grand Prix, the 2009 edition of which is scheduled for the upcoming weekend, is an event.

Especially on the West Coast. For decades, the Long Beach Grand Prix has been a place where Californians have to be in order to be considered proper Californians. 

The interest level in Long Beach dwarfs the one produced by NASCAR at Fontana, a couple dozen miles to the east.

At Long Beach, fans turn out by the hundreds of thousands. The media in the West turns out. The buzz is deafening. If you weren’t there, taking it all in, then you simply weren’t.

Now, the IndyCar series will be, and it simply is.

And that, as Wheldon said, is important.

“I think everybody recognizes the value of Long Beach and the value of being back on the West Coast again,” driver Danica Patrick said. “Long Beach is one (event) which has been around now basically 35 years. You get such a draw. And there are similarities Long Beach to Indy and other races that are very big. It’s cultural. You have the celebrity race that draws people in and you also have a downtown atmosphere. It’s a party. A lot of people go for the party and the uniqueness of the event.”

In a way, auto racing is like golf. It’s events feature no home teams and little geographical affiliation.

And that can cause the popularity of the sport to suffer.

When that popularity does spike upward in golf, it is on the weekends of its majors.

With the addition of Long Beach, open-wheel racing now has a second “major”. And that’s all good.

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, April 15 2009
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