I grew up in Southern California not far from Long Beach, so you would think I would have spent a considerable part of my youth around the Long Beach Grand Prix. Nope. Not even once have I gone to the race. I had seen and been around some form of racing since I was two when my Sainted Mother, an avid auto racing fan herself, took me to Laguna Seca for my first race. In the years that followed, I spent most every weekend at the old Ascot Park Speedway in LA (technically it might have been Gardenia). I remember it like it was yesterday. Seeing my racing heroes like Doug Wolfgang and Sammy Swindell go wheel to wheel on the dirt oval was the best way I could think to spend a Friday night.
Even my Grandmother had even gone to the Long Beach Grand Prix. Actually, in the early years of the race, she accidentally took a wrong turn and ended up on the circuit, delaying the start of the race for several minutes while they guided her and her powder blue AMC Rambler off the course. She swears she was led astray by an unknowing corner worker. I’m not sure that really counts as attending, but still, she had gotten closer to it than I had.
It took me until I was 44 to make my first Long Beach Grand Prix, and I’m glad I finally made it. I knew, from covering Formula Drift here and from seeing the race on TV, that it was going to be an incredible, sensory overloading experience.
I was not disappointed.
To get the whole extravaganza kicked off properly, I had to find adequate lodging. The weekend prior, while covering Formula Drift, I took a chance and stayed at the “probably hasn’t been renovated since the late sixties” Vagabond Inn. It served it’s purpose, but for the Grand Prix I knew I wanted something a bit more…better. So I ponied up the extra ducats and found a room at one of my old standby hotels, The Double Tree by Hilton. I had long since lost my Platinum status with Hilton, but I didn’t care. I knew the beds would be awesome and the AC would be working, and that’s what really matters after a long day of nearly 14 miles of walking the circuit.
My agenda was all set: Get up early Saturday morning and head to registration to pick up credentials, then get over to the Dan Gurney Media Center and get my gear planted in the photo press room before heading over to the morning photo meeting. No problem. A couple minor hitches at the registration office, but nothing so terrible that it made us late.
The mandatory photo meeting was full of the standard info: don’t do anything stupid over here, and don’t do anything stupid over there, either. That sort of thing. I was confident I could make it through the weekend without getting hit by a race car, trespass in an area that would be off limits, or get slapped by a grid girl.
All in all I felt ready to tackle the event.
Since this was my first Long Beach Grand Prix, I did some research trying to determine some reasonably interesting shooting locations. Even so, I was still going to look to some of the veterans for advice on where to go. And I had a quartet of the finest at my disposal, including Speedhunters Larry Chen, LifeBlasters Andrew Bohan, Freelancers Alex Wong, and Camden Thrasher, each willing to provide some sound guidance.
In the end I think I managed to hit some of the standard good locations, and a few that were somewhat less traveled. Although, I did leave the truly exotic locations (rooftops and the like) to those that had ventured there before. Perhaps I’ll try some of them next year. I was content to get my feet wet, and make the most out of the locations I had been guided towards. I hope you’ll all agree.
Here are some of my favorite photos from the 2014 running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. – Ken Stouffer
Stay tuned for a gallery archive with over 200 photos from the Grand Prix.
Anxiously awaiting the 2015 Grand Prix.