Will the battle for Long Beach destroy its Grand Prix?
by Mark Cipolloni

 April 6, 2005

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Will the battle for Long Beach destroy the event?

There has been a lot of speculation in the media since last weekend about the future of the Long Beach Grand Prix, a fixture on the Champ Car calendar since 1985.  AutoRacing1.com has learned that Tony George recently tried to buy the race out from under Champ Car by throwing a lot of money at it.  His goal was to announce Long Beach was in the IRL's hands on Monday.

As we understand it, Tony's offer was rejected by Dover Motorsports, the owner of the race.  Dover, being a public company, can't simply sell an event to an individual or a company.  There are laws that protect the shareholders that require a certain process be followed.

Dover can do one of two things, they can renegotiate an extension of the existing contract with Champ Car and that remains a possibility.  Alternately, and the route they are likely to take because they may want to get out of the street racing business and focus on oval racing events I hear, is to hire a firm and auction off the event to the highest bidder.

On the open market, the race could fall to the IRL, to NASCAR, to Champ Car, or to just about any other sanctioning body that is deemed fit to put on a street race in Long Beach.  While Champ Car is willing to bid on the event, there comes a price whereby it's not economically feasible to ever turn a profit.

Champ Cars races on the streets of Las Vegas (above) and Los Angeles are in the works

AutoRacing1.com has learned that the rumors of Champ Car having an alternate venue should they lose the race are true.  Talks are in advanced stages for a street race in Los Angeles and a street race in Las Vegas,  one week before and one week after the Long Beach race through 2010. 

Champ Car knows the dates of every Long Beach race that far in advance and have made contingency plans to make Long Beach the meat in the sandwich.  Champ Car wants to maintain a presence in the Southern California market and they want to have two events instead of one for their loyal Long Beach fans to attend every April.

With all the Champ Car fans following their beloved series to LA and Las Vegas, the result will effectively destroy any chance of Long Beach turning a profit and another great American racing tradition destroyed because of the actions of Tony George and his desire to take away everything Champ Car has worked to build.  As we understand it, Toyota is worried that their marquee event may be destroyed because of this battle.

While Champ Car fans may be emotional about this whole topic, we doubt Kevin Kalkhoven, Gerald Forsythe and Paul Gentilozzi are. They are businessmen, smart businessmen, who do business deals all the time.  They have learned that it's better to do a smart business deal than do one certain to fail because the asking price was too high.  There's no place for emotions in these high stake games of poker.

If Champ Car does lose the race it will not play well in the media for them.  More importantly it will not play well with the legions of fans who have had enough of Tony George trying to undermine their racing series at every turn. 

Perhaps even more important than all that is the fact that open wheel racing in the USA will be further damaged, the fan base even more polarized, and NASCAR that much stronger.

Tony George wasn't smiling when he learned his attempt to buy Long Beach was rebuffed

So why would Tony George risk further damage to the sport for one race?  A simple answer - desperation.  Apparently getting the Long Beach race into the IRL fold is his last chance to keep Toyota in the series. With no American manufacturer to compete against, and with Toyota's plan to go NASCAR racing, the chance of Toyota staying is apparently slim to none, but they do value the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.  If Toyota leaves the IRL like everyone is predicting, the IRL would be left with just Honda and some doubt Honda is in racing to just beat themselves.

Over the next month or two this story is likely to generate a lot of media, especially if the race goes up for auction.  That process is likely to take quite awhile.  It's all in the hands of the Dover Board.  If they renew with Champ Car, the Long Beach race can be saved quickly and the city can breathe easy.

If it goes up for auction, I predict the price will be bid so high that Champ Car will walk away, go to Plan B and hold the two races mentioned above.  At that point I doubt the Long Beach race will have much of a future because the financial deal will be cost prohibitive and the race mired in red ink.

A sad day for racing.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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