Friday, April 18, 2008

To Take A Walk On The Honor Side

LONG BEACH MOTORSPORTS WALK OF FAME: Racers Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones and Gary Gabelich are inducted. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (The EDJE) 2008

To Take A Walk On The Honor Side

On Thursday, April 17, 2008, at 11:00am, the kick-off event to the four-wheel Grand Prix speedfest through the streets of Long Beach was held on the western sidewalk in front of the Long Beach Convention Center and not one engine rev was heard.

The event was the third time in three years where the city of Long Beach honors the motorsports stars that have either lived in Long Beach or have graced the oceanside city with their talent, along the way to a pinnacle career behind the wheel in sporting competition. A one-of-a-kind, two-foot in diameter medallion was cast, listing the name and accomplishments of the honoree, and then set in cement for all race fans and visitors to see as they walk down the east side of Pine avenue in front of the Convention Center.

This year was witness to the honoring of three towering legends of motorsports in Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones, and Gary Gabelich and, to be honest, while these men were honored through the ceremony on Pine Avenue, Long Beach became the biggest winner in the exchange.

The Long Beach Motorsports Walk Of Fame induction ceremony helped to put aside the fact that this year is the last year the ChampCar World Series cars and management will be putting on the event of the race (as some of the people involved have) for over twenty years. It is a melancholy year, in that the cars will race but only nine drivers will be awarded points that matter to them for the balance of the year – twenty cars and drivers to honor ChampCar, but only nine with skin in the game.

The Indy Racing League has provided a path of unification where two open-wheel racing series merge into one, but this year, the IRL Management (other than season points recognition for the transitioning drivers) is nowhere to be found. No visibility, no public relations, no official status. This lack of interest extends all of the way to the non-recognition or listing of this 34th edition of the Grand Prix in Long Beach to their website where the race is not mentioned.

The Long Beach Motorsports Walk Of Fame for 2008 was a breath of fresh air and a walk on the honor side. The honor of the accomplishments of sportsmen inducted, the honor of a valiant legacy of American open-wheel racing, and the honor of a city, spirit, and a venue that have no equal. Long Live the Grand Prix of Long Beach … from Shoreline Drive to the short shute along Pine Avenue.

Now let’s go racing and make some history. Let the “fine nine” go immediately to the front of the pack and have a Grand Prix race for the Indy Racing League ages.

This excerpted from the Press-Telegram (Long Beach, CA)

Cementing their legacies
WALK OF FAME: Racers Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones and Gary Gabelich are inducted.
By David Felton, Staff Writer

LONG BEACH - The man synonymous with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach - Mario Andretti - is now a permanent part of the community.

Andretti, who drove in the very first Grand Prix in 1975 and won the race four times, was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame on Thursday, along with Parnelli Jones and Gary Gabelich.
They were honored in an hour-long induction ceremony attended by city dignitaries, family members and racing fans.

Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (The EDJE) 2008

"(Coming to Long Beach) is like coming back home," said Andretti, who won in Long Beach in 1977, 1984, 1985 and 1987. "I don't know anywhere on this planet I feel more welcome than Long Beach."
Andretti said he wasn't confident race founder Chris Pook's idea for a street course in Long Beach would work.

"I thought it would never fly," he said. "But I could see it would have a chance when I saw how the city of Long Beach got behind it. The city fathers saw this as a tremendous opportunity to bring this city to the attention of the world.

"Look at this town now," he continued. "This city is a destination."

Grand Prix Association of Long Beach CEO Jim Michaelian said Andretti's thrilling 1977 victory over Jody Scheckter and Niki Lauda "put the stamp of authenticity on this event."
Andretti, now 68, won four IndyCar titles and was honored as United States Driver of the Year in 1967, 1978 and 1984, the only driver ever chosen in three decades.

Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (The EDJE) 2008

Jones won the Indy 500 as a driver (1963) and as an owner (1970-71) and also earned four NASCAR victories in 34 starts. He won numerous midget and sprint car races and is a legend in off-road racing as a driver and owner.

In 1975, Jones owned the Formula 5000 car Andretti drove.
Jones, 74, was remembered by one speaker as the fiercest competitor he ever faced on a track.
Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (The EDJE) 2008

Gabelich, perhaps more than any of the inductees, had the need for speed.
The San Pedro native began drag racing at 16 and won the first-ever jet-powered drag race in 1959 - topping 200 mph - at 19 years old.

He's best known for the Blue Flame, his 37-foot, 5,000- pound car powered by a liquid gas-hydrogen peroxide rocket engine that broke the land speed record in 1970 at 622.287 mph. The record stood for 13 years.

Gabelich later developed a love for powerboats and set the National Drag Boat Association record at 200.44 mph in 1969.
Gabelich was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1984.

His widow is Long Beach Councilwoman Rae Gabelich, who spoke on his behalf. Gabelich's son Guy and mother Rae also attended. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (The EDJE) 2008

"It is beyond an honor for Gary to be recognized with two legends of racing," Councilwoman Gabelich said.

While preparing her remarks for Thursday, Gabelich randomly chose one of about 20 books she has on land speed records, trying to find the words to explain why some choose to race the clock instead of each other.

The book she grabbed was "Land Speed Record" by Cyril Posthumus, published in 1971, with a forward written by Gary Gabelich.

In it, he wrote land speed records are "the measure of man's assault ... on speed and time." He also wrote he still looked upon the Blue Flame as "a beautiful woman."

"Today is the most special of all," said Rae Gabelich. "To be recognized in the city he called home ... is an honor."
Reference Here>>

The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is set to be televised live on ESPN2 - The race is scheduled to start on the track at 1:00pm PT.

... notes from The EDJE

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