Chris Pook's countdown to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach--the annual race through the streets of the seaside city--will begin today with the start of the 10-day, 10,000-mile One Lap of America.
Thirty-four vehicles, ranging from a Chevrolet panel truck to a pair of Lamborghinis, will leave at 11 a.m. from the Grand Prix pit area along Shoreline Drive, hoping to complete their nationwide odyssey Sunday, April 16, before the start of the $800,000 Indy car race.
In 10 days, they will pass through 50 checkpoints in 30 states, designed to keep them moving at a quick pace day and night, including seven high-speed performance tests at race facilities such as Ascot Park, Indianapolis Raceway Park, Florida's Sebring International Raceway and Colorado's Pikes Peak.
The serious part of the trek will end the afternoon of Saturday, April 15, at Ascot with each of the cars doing a fast lap around the half-mile dirt oval before the evening's sprint car program. Sunday morning, the cars will parade to Long Beach for the formal finish.
John Buffum, a two-time One Lap winner and many times pro rally champion from Colchester, Vt., is entered in a sponsor-backed Toyota Celica. Buffum's two victories, however, were in Audis. Other former winners include defending champion Jim Atwell of Virginia Beach, Va., in a BMW, and 1986 winner Karl Chevelier of Williston, Vt., in a Buick Electra station wagon.
Rocky Aoki of Hawaii, a former offshore powerboat racer, will be in the oldest entry, a 1966 Mercedes-Benz.
Most of the cars will be 1989 models, but as promoter Brock Yates says, "We make used cars out of brand new cars in a hurry."
The One Lap is a descendant of automotive journalist Yates' brainstorm of the early 1970s in which he, Dan Gurney and a group of other daring friends raced pell-mell across the United States in the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash. The race was later glamorized in the Burt Reynolds movie, "Cannonball Run."
"Those first couple of races were great, running flat out across the country, but when the state highway patrols began to get wind of us, we had to think of something different," Yates said. "And the One Lap is it."
This will be its sixth running, but this year it was stretched to 10,000 miles for the first time. From Long Beach, the marathon rally heads to Bend, Ore., and Billings, Mont., before crossing the northern portion of the country. The only overnight stop will be Sunday in Detroit, where the race started and stopped last year.
From Detroit, the pilgrimage will zigzag south through Washington, Augusta, Ga., and Chimney Rock, N.C., until it reaches Florida for track appearances at Gainesville and Sebring. Then the thousand mile-a-day rally will work its way west via Dallas, Pikes Peak and Las Vegas before rolling into Ascot Park a week from Saturday.
Other events leading to the Grand Prix include a Wine & Dine d'Elegance and a comedy concourse Saturday at Shoreline Aquatic Park, a 10-kilometer run, the Tecate Chili Cook-Off and an ugly-dog contest on Sunday, and a PPG charity golf tournament next Tuesday at Recreation Park.
Next Thursday, there will also be a downtown Concours d'Promenade at noon and a Motorsports Expo preview in the Indy car garages at 4 p.m.
Competition on the 1.67-mile street circuit will begin Friday, April 14, with qualifying and practice. On Saturday there will be a pro-celebrity race and an Escort Trans-Am championship race, with races for the American Racing Series and the Toyota Atlantic series on Sunday sandwiched around the 95-lap Indy car Grand Prix.
INDY CARS--Sunday's Autoworks 200 at the Phoenix International Raceway will open the 15-race, $17-million PPG Indy Car World Series with a near-record entry of 26 cars. Mario Andretti is the defending champion in the $450,000 200-lap race around the mile track. Challengers will include Championship Auto Racing Teams champion Danny Sullivan, Indy 500 winner Rick Mears and Al Unser Jr., who will be defending race champion a week later at Long Beach.
SPRINT CARS--Who will be the California Racing Assn. winner this Saturday night at Ascot Park? Five races in the Parnelli Jones-Firestone series have produced five different winners. Lealand McSpadden, last week's winner, will be trying for another win at Ascot in Frank Lewis' wingless car instead of racing on his home track, Manzanita Raceway in Phoenix, in a United Sprint Assn. winged-car main event Saturday night.
Veteran Doug Wolfgang, who won three of the first four races in the new USA season, has defected to the World of Outlaws, but the Manzanita field is expected to have Outlaw champions Steve Kinser and long-time rival Sammy Swindell.