The Race On Two Feet
My IndyCar Experience In Long Beach
All the information on Kyle Kirkwood’s first IndyCar victory at Long Beach is interesting, but I want to give you the feel of the race. Let’s call it “the race on two feet.”
By Brian Kennedy
Mon, Apr 17, 2023 02:20 PM PST
Featured image by Albert Wong
I decided to walk the course all the way around and get glimpses of what the fans see in a street circuit like Long Beach. I’ll cut to the conclusion: it’s exciting and revealing of things that TV can’t show you, but if you really want to know what the narrative of the race is, what happens in a global way, you need to watch on TV. Lucky for you, if you pick the right grandstand seat, you can watch the little bits of action that zoom past you and see a giant screen so that you can understand what’s going on outside of your view. But that’s a top for next year.
So here’s the look. I started off on the front straight. Two military jets flew over as I checked out of a couple of vantage points that showed just about nothing except drivers’ heads and roll hoops. The sound was good, but the cars went by so fast it was hard to recognize who was who.
I headed to the end of the front straight and had a look at what used to be called the fountain turns, turns 1-5 including a little kink that happens between turns 3 and 4. Not a bad view, but the cars are slow, as you might expect—they’re essentially turning around a box-shaped obstacle.
I briefly looked at the short straight section that leads to turn 6. Not many people were looking on from this vantage point, but again, all I could see was driver’s heads as they zoomed by in a straight line.
I walked up towards turn 8, the one that goes 90 degrees onto the long back straightaway and sits at the intersection of Pine Avenue and Seaside Way. As I headed there—action! An orange car—I would later realize it was Scott Dixon, spun. He got going again after the field went by. A corner worker sprinted out onto the track to retrieve some debris. The crowd roared for him.
I don’t remember if there was a caution, but it seems like there was, and two laps after the race went green, there was another incident at this same spot. By this point, I had walked up close to the turn. All I saw was the flash of color of orange and green. Did it matter that I didn’t know who it actually was? After the race I would realize it was Dixon again, mixed up with Pato O’Ward.
I decided to stay here for a while. As the cars came screaming through this corner, I could see the rear tires jump up off the track because they took turn 8 on a “turtle”—a bit of red and white pavement meant to keep drivers to the outside, which they actually obviously ignored. Each time those tires jumped, I would hear a mechanical whine—the wheels spinning? The exhaust just pointing briefly upward in a way that changed the auditory experience? Anyway, this was a moment that would never translate to TV.
I looked back down the track to turn 7, watching as cars came through that corner, and I saw something else that’s only apparent live. The road has a gentle upward slope, and a slight curve. When I walked back to the middle part of this little straightaway, I noticed two things. One—the drivers came way outside and almost touched the wall three feet from where I was standing. Two: turn 8 looks very, very tiny from this point of view. It must be blind faith the drivers go on just to find that corner open up, rather than swallow them up, time after time.
I crossed back to the inside of the track by taking a bridge over turn 7 and went to the inside of this famous turn 8 where I had just seen the incidents. Great idea, except that a Porta-Potty blocked the view of the track right through the turn.
I went back through the lifestyle expo to eventually make my way to the backstretch and turns 9-11, expecting no action indoors. Wrong. There were people doing pull-ups in order to impress Marine recruiters and other doing sit-ups for the Army. People were talking to the solar panel salesperson. Didn’t anybody know there’s a race on?
There were TV screens in some of the areas, and people were following along on those. I walked toward the press room, and there was the monster TV wall—and dozens of people standing around watching the race there. Why not watch on television at home? Is beer $17 there like it is here? Not likely.
I went outside, to perhaps the best-kept secret of the track—you can watch cars going down the back stretch and really hear the sound, because it bounces off the walls and the ceiling above the built-up terrace roof that is above that straight. (Kind of hard to explain the architecture.) It reverberates, and doesn’t stop until the cars are well gone. Plus, since you’re above the track by about 20 feet, you see almost the whole of the cars. Of course, you don’t see any passing, because that normally takes place in the turns. Still, for visceral thrill, this is the spot to be.
From there, it was a walk to one of my favorite parts of the track—turns 9-11. I crossed a bridge back to the outside, and from there, I could see the whole of the cars as they came out of 9, took the tiny sweeping space between 9 and 10, and went through 10 to disappear. From there, it’s literally a few feet to where you can almost see them slow down to 35mph to take turn 11 and go back onto the front stretch. In this spot, people were watching the race on a giant screen as it was finishing up. No sound of course, but you could get that larger view that TV affords. When winner Kyle Kirkwood went by, people were clapping. They kept doing that as all who followed took the final turn of their race.
A lap of Long Beach. Doing all of this watching and walking, I suppose I walked at least two miles, since that’s the length of the circuit (just shy of two at 1.968). It took the whole hour and 43 minutes of elapsed race time. But there were lots of pauses to take in the atmosphere and smell the racing fuel exhausted by 27 IndyCars. All of this in perfect weather—sunny and 70-something degrees. Some years, it’s hot at this race, but this time, it was ideal.
Having a seat in a grandstand in Long Beach would be good. But walking the track has its charms, especially if you’re in the right spot when something exceptional happens, like I was in turn 8.
About The Author
Brian Kennedy always wanted a ’66 Mustang. 10 years ago, he bought one – and he’s been restoring it ever since. Brian extended his passion for cars by covering events for magazines like Grassroots Motorsports, Sportscar, and Victory Lane – e.g., events in Cart, Pro Rally, Formula Atlantic, the SCCA Runoffs, Trans Am, SVRA, VSCDA, and VARA. He’s also profiled a number of cars and interviewed a number of personalities – among them: Gene Felton (IMSA), Hurley Haywood, Jerry Seinfeld, and Nigel Olsson.