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Grand Prix View: Walking the race track with a former pro




Race car driver Tommy Kendall and Mazda Motorsports communications officer Dean Case.
Race car driver Tommy Kendall and Mazda Motorsports communications officer Dean Case.
KPCC/Jesus Ambrosio

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The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach returns on Friday, April 7 - Sunday, April 9.

Once a year, usually a week before the anticipated races, the public is invited to walk, cycle, jog, and skateboard on the Long Beach Grand Prix track. The annual track walk lasts about an hour and a half.  The up close and personal look at the racetrack also aims to replicate the real techniques racers use to understand every corner, twist, and turn of the course.

Tommy Kendall speeds off on his scooter to enjoy a lap on the Gran Prix track.
Tommy Kendall speeds off on his scooter to enjoy a lap on the Gran Prix track.
KPCC/Jesus Ambrosio

"When I was starting, not a lot of people did track walks," veteran racer Tommy Kendall says about divulging track secrets to the public. "Street races were relatively new at that point. It was something I always did, but now everyone does it.  You’re looking for painted lines because paint usually has less grip than non-paint. Usually concrete has less grip than asphalt, although sometimes that is reversed."

In 2015, Tommy was inducted to the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. He has raced in the Long Beach Grand Prix of Long Beach on eight occasions.

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“I have seen this race from every perspective," Tommy says. "As a fan, driver-- I have done some broadcasting as well, and its part of L.A. culture.”

Long Beach Grand Prix guide from 1976. The inaugural Grand Prix dates back to 1975.
Long Beach Grand Prix guide from 1976. The inaugural Grand Prix dates back to 1975.
KPCC/Jesus Ambrosio

Mazda Motorsport communications officer, Dean Case has been to almost all of the races of the Long Beach Grand Prix. His childhood is filled with memories at the races. In fact, he was at the inaugural race in 1975.

"There was the adult movie theater above the marquee of the start and finish," Dean remembers. "It was kind of notorious. You could see the Ferrari F-1 team taking the checkered flag and you see an x-rated movie titled in the background… It was an area in need of revitalization. This race helped revitalize the neighborhood."

A layout description of the Grand Prix track from 1976 via the program guide of that year.
A layout description of the Grand Prix track from 1976 via the program guide of that year.
KPCC/Jesus Ambrosio

Dean is an avid collector of all things Grand Prix. He brought a copy of the program guide from 1976 to the track walk and explained the differences between the current track layout.

"There were some similarities, but it started at Ocean Boulevard-- the craziest turn went down Ocean and did a hard 90 degree right down Linden," Dean says. "It was called the Linden drop, and an immediate left at the bottom of that."

Tommy first raced the Grand Prix track when he was 19 years old.

"At that point you are nothing but trouble if you drive too fast," Tommy says. "The thought of driving on public streets and having the police hold the crowd back rather than write me a ticket was so odd, and so wonderful."

Once a year, for about two hours the public is invited to walk, cycle, jog, and skateboard on the Long Beach Grand Prix track.
Once a year, for about two hours the public is invited to walk, cycle, jog, and skateboard on the Long Beach Grand Prix track.
KPCC/Jesus Ambrosio

He added, "It’s as much adrenaline as you could probably experience. A lot of it has to do with speed. But the real action isn’t the miles per hour; it’s making the car dance on a limit.  That’s really what gets you going after you have been exposed to it."