Views From America’s Favorite Legal Street Race: The Long Beach Grand Prix
Photography by Geoffrey Knott
It can be difficult trying to articulate to someone how searingly fast an Indycar is without resorting to expletives or putting excessive emphasis on the word “really.” It’s like trying to explain how large a mountain is; without everyday scale to resort to, you kind of have to experience it for yourself in order to understand it.
The Grand Prix of Long Beach is one of the main events on the Indycar calendar, and draws around 200,000 people in attendance each year, which is quite a lot, considering that no car is visible from the exposed grandstand on the two mile course for more than perhaps half a mile at a time. Consider also, that NBC’s broadcast coverage includes helicopters, onboard cameras, and TV cameras stationed all over the course. The information isn’t just visual, either. Among other, when a driver presses the “Push To Pass” button on his steering wheel to overtake another car, broadcasters are able not only inform you of it, but let you know how much remaining boost he has left.
The view from your seat, even if you paid for a really good one, will come nowhere close to what those watching at home will see, and yet watching a race in person reflects a desire to sort of anchor the knowledge from all the bios and camera angles and technical facts thrown at a viewer during a televised broadcast. It doesn’t feel like entertainment in the same way when you’re at the track. You’re innately aware that a lot of money is at stake, and the consequences of a serious mistake are always right there. Even garden-variety cut-to-commerical-grade frustrations take on a new weight when watching firsthand; when Simon Pagenaud is knocked out of the race before the first turn, you might find yourself considering everyone who worked on the car for the last seven days, and trying to work out what it costs to keep an Indycar team on the road each week, and how everyone is able to mask the frustration of working on something that was over before it started.
There’s a lot going on, and witnessing the noise and the speed and the chaos firsthand gives context, a baseline, to everything else you know about the sport, even if it never gets any easier to describe to anyone else. Some things need to be experienced to be understood.