First of two parts
Jim Michaelian, President and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, was checking the track build progress when his thoughts wandered to the sound of the twin turbo engines as the Verizon IndyCar Series cars bust the speed limit four times over on Shoreline Drive.
“That sound sustains the excitement of the experience of the Grand Prix,” says Michaelian, whose group this week hosts the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach featuring the Verizon IndyCar Series.
It’s the 40th annual event on the picturesque streets of the beachfront city, and Michaelian has been part of each in one formal capacity or another. He initially was the promoter group’s comptroller for the first event in 1975 – a Formula 5000 race.
“I love racing. When the concept of holding a race in my hometown came around I wanted to be involved,” said Michaelian, who graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in physics and has a master’s degree in Business Administration. “It was more than a curiosity about the sport, and once you get integrated into all that activity then the momentum carried forward. It has been an exhilarating ride.”
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A late-blooming race car driver, endurance racing has enhanced his avocation, too. Michaelian has competed in the Rolex 24 At Daytona more than a dozen times since 1998, when he was 55 years old. In January, he co-drove a Porsche 911 to 20th place in its class and 47th overall. This week, Michaelian will be driving his scooter from Point A to B -- with multiple stops in between to chat with vendors, series officials and volunteers.
Michaelian is woven into the event's fabric, though he contends that its sustainability and success through the years mostly correlates to the Grand Prix Association’s relationship with city and regional government. Last week, City Council proposed a contract extension through 2018 with the Grand Prix Association.
“We were the first modern street race in North America and one of the keys to the success of street racing is really the selection of the venue at which it takes place,” he said. “We were fortunate that when we were looking for a home that Long Beach was receptive to bringing street racing to their city.
“At the time, the venue itself doesn’t look anything like it does now, but that was one of reasons they were receptive to the idea of running the race in the first place. If it had been all developed it conceivably would have been much more difficult for us to impose a race into an environment that already was developed.
“So, as a consequence of that, the race and the city really grew together over the last 40 years. There have been administration changes over the years, but the overall reaction has been positive to maintain that relationship. The event has changed over the years. The course itself has had nine changes because of developments. We made those adjustments and we try to accommodate each other.
“The success of the event and the cooperation of the city are linked in a very substantial way.”