Above it All

April 22, 2013—I received my pass for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and wasn’t expecting too much. I love street circuits, but to me street circuit means Monaco. Frankly, I enjoy American Le Mans Series but wouldn’t call myself a big fan and Indy Car barely registers on my racing radar. I love racing in general, but don’t follow ALMS or Indy like Formula One. Still, a day at the track beats a day watching TV.

So I drove down Saturday morning anticipating a fun time but nothing too out of the ordinary. It was a stereotypical Southern California Saturday: the sky clear, a gentle breeze and the sun beaming. It was perfect. Small aircraft circled above pulling banners and shapely Tecate girls roamed the grounds. The action in the pits during Indy Car practice was laid back (or as laid back as racing pits get) and the paddocks were buzzing with activity. But, throughout the area everyone was enjoying their day and wearing a smile.

ALMS Corvette GT

The Corvette team preps

As the Le Mans race was the one I was most interested in, I made my way to the pits in order to get some good action shots of cars lining up on the grid. In preparation for the parade lap the cars lined up on the front straight, Le Mans style. Now, in order for the journalists to get on the straight, we had to walk from the paddock to pit lane, then over the short retaining wall separating the pits from the straight, via four or five stairs up then down the other side. On either side of the stairs were more stairs leading to a photographer’s podium on one side and the starter’s podium on the other. I made a mental note.

Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

The Start/finish line just before the national anthem

I walked the front straight snapping pics and talking to journalist friends while spectators whistled and cheered their favorite drivers. In my mind the most interesting storyline didn’t regard the prototype cars, rather the GT Corvette and brand new GT Viper. After all, here are two American icons duking it out on the track. That’s good for both brands and spectators. Also, I love the new SRT Viper (yes, I am biased).

Inevitably, as the hour approached, the stewards started shepherding all the people who weren’t in cars off the front straight. I climbed the stairs back over the dividing wall and hey!... Wait a minute!... a couple of people were climbing up the taller stairs to the starter’s podium. Well, it surely wouldn’t hurt if I took a look.

ALMS Corvette GT

Honoring our country

I put on my best “of course I belong here”-face and climbed the stairs knowing that it was only a matter of time before I was booted. I reached the top and took my place among the starter, official photographer, celebrity starter, celeb entourage and race officials. It was like surveying heaven. Beneath me was the start-finish line, across the track were the eager crowds, and now zig-zagging down the track were the race cars warming their tires. Then the short stairs were pulled away from the dividing wall.

SRT Viper

Told you the Vipers are fast...

The celebrity starter received the word as the cars accelerated toward us and she waved the green flag frantically. Somehow, I was still up there. How was it possible? The cars roared to Wide Open throttle and flew under us. It was deafening. I asked the celebrity (Kim Raver, I think) for a picture. She assumed I meant with her and actually seemed put off when I handed her the camera and beamed happily. It's on our Facebook page. Meanwhile, the cars continued turning lap after lap below us. A few laps in, the support staff brought the small stairs back and Ms. Raver and her entourage climbed down. I remained, it was a hell of a vantage point and I certainly wasn't leaving without being asked (and maybe arrested).

Kim Raver

Thought it was Kim Raver, who knows?

The Vipers and Vettes were running close to one another in an exciting display of good ol’ ‘Merican horsepower. The best sounding car, though, had to be the BMW Z4 GT’s. They sound like an angry buzzsaw chewing through hyperbole. The entire time I was up in the starter’s podium I marveled at the fact that I was still there and how viscerally exciting the sound and speed of each car were.

BMW Z4 Ferrari GT

Sadly, I was eventually ‘discovered’. A marshal turned to me and asked, “I’m sorry. Who are you?” I replied, “Yoav,” as if I was genuinely surprised that he’d ask and that my name alone should explain everything. It didn’t and he answered with an annoyed, “Yeah. I’m sorry you have to leave. Now.”

It didn’t matter, I still felt triumphant. I climbed down the taller stairs like a conquering hero and jumped down from the retaining wall to pit road and sprinted across. A few seconds later, the Muscle Milk prototype whizzed past. Eventually, a BMW Z4 won the GT class but a Viper beat the Vettes. Yeah, it was a good day. [kiWO]

Muscle Milk prototype

The eventual overall winner