Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach brings party back for second time in 6 months – San Bernardino Sun

The gates are open. The cars are flying. The beer is flowing — and it’ll keep flowing for the rest of the weekend.

Friday, April 8, marked the tapping of the keg for the three-day Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, with upwards of 180,000 people expected to flood the city’s downtown to watch races, see exotic cars, gnosh on grub from an array of food trucks and, on Saturday night, attend a live concert.

The Grand Prix opened its gates at 7:30 a.m. Friday. The crowds came out in full force for Day 1, despite Friday typically being the Grand Prix’s slowest day — and even as they arrived under a beating sun.

Long Beach has not been spared the regional heatwave that has set heat records throughout Southern California.

And with the Grand Prix being Long Beach’s biggest party, it’s perhaps not much of a surprise that one solution to such heat on Day 1 — for many racegoers at least — was alcohol.

Adam Pineda, 46, started his day at 10 a.m. with a 24-ounce Modelo, a single squeezed lime wedge floating inside.

“It’s a great day to be off work and enjoy the races,” said Pineda, a Long Beach resident who was at his 10th Grand Prix.

Pineda was served by Phillip Martinez, a bartender at the Grand Prix’s lifestyle expo. By 10:30 a.m., Martinez said, he has sold about 60 drinks — lower than he’d actually expect.

At the lifestyle expo, guests walked around — beers in hand — to check out cars, buy snacks, such as kettle corn or cotton candy, or peruse the booths of various vendors, ranging from the likes of the U.S. Army to Earnity, a cryptocurrency start up.

There was even a portable Botox bus. Yes, really — a bus where folks could buy shots of the anti-wrinkle toxin or receive other cosmetic procedures.

This is the second Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach in about 6 1/2 months.

The 2021 race, held in September, was pushed back from its traditional April time slot because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While folks were happy to have the Grand Prix return last year — after the 2020 iteration was canceled altogether — it did take place with myriad safety procedures, with masks mandates, and proof of either vaccination or a negative test required.

The 2021 Grand Prix took place a couple of months before the omicron variant of the coronavirus surfaced, bringing with it a second consecutive winter surge — one that led to tightening health rules.

Fortunately for the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach — and race fans in general — the surge waned earlier this year.

Cases and hospitalizations dipped low enough for the county and Long Beach, which has its own health department, to repeal mask and vaccination mandates — just in time for the Grand Prix.

While masks were “strongly recommended” by several posters throughout the Grand Prix grounds, few people wore them.

The smattering of masks and posters, in fact, were among the only signs of the pandemic at all.

Instead, the crowds enjoyed all the Grand Prix has to offer.

Outside the lifestyle expo, the Grand Prix also boasts a kids zone, exotic cars on display and multiple food options, including smoked barbecue, tacos and XL-sized hamburgers.

Outside the indoor area, on the way to the paddock where pit crews were prepping IndyCars, Joel and Perla Reyes, both 28, sipped on margaritas at an outdoor Don Julio-branded bar.

They hail from Long Beach and grew up going to the Grand Prix. Joel Reyes, a racing fan, said he’s been going to the race annually for 15 years.

“It’s a Long Beach tradition every year,” Perla Reyes said Friday. “Locals like us are so proud of Long Beach for having an event like this.”

While it was just the two of them on Friday, 10 more family members will hang out at the Grand Prix on Saturday, when more races are on the schedule, Joel Reyes said.

“It’s my favorite event of the year,” Joel Reyes said.

Some fans at the Grand Prix, however, weren’t there for the booze or the food or the lifestyle expo.

Steve Zantos, 67, was there Friday for one thing: the cars.

A real “gear head,” as he described himself, Zantos has been to all 47 Grand Prix events, he said.

Day 1 is his favorite of the weekend — despite only a few qualifying races and practices on the schedule — because, Zantos said, he can watch the mechanics prepare the cars for the competitions and see how they might strategize for Sunday’s race.

“I have the whole schedule,” the Huntington Beach resident said. “I know where to be at what time and when to break for lunch. I have a complete method to my experience.”

On Friday afternoon, Zantos was at the IndyCar paddock taking a video on his phone of Chevrolet mechanics preparing a car for the track.

Later, he said, he would watch the drivers practice and take more videos on his phone.

But even after he compiles his footage and edits his clips, Zantos won’t post the video anywhere. Instead, he’ll send it to his car enthusiast friends.

“I’m a car guy,” Zantos said. “I’m not here to party.”

Several tents away, there was another person there for the cars and not the party: Ryan Deluso was there to work.

Deluso was polishing the chrome of racing tires on Friday. Like Zantos, Deluso is a lifelong racing fan, having grown up watching NASCAR with his dad.

He now works as a transport driver for Team Penske, driving a truck that carries a race car. On Friday afternoon, Deluso polished wheels and monitored tire pressure.

On hot days like Friday, Deluso said, he needs to under fill the tires to compensate for how they’ll expand under the heat.

As for the polishing, that’s more aesthetic.

“We like things shiny,” Deluso said.

Deluso, at 24 years old, is a relative newbie at the Grand Prix.

Andy Massey, for example, has worked the weekend event longer than Delusio has been alive.

Massey, a race manager who handles security for the Grand Prix, has worked the event for 28 years.

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