Auberlen, Zanardi inducted into Walk of Fame – San Bernardino Sun

Kicking off the festivities for this Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, as usual, was Thursday’s Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame induction ceremony on the west side of the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center off Pine Ave.

Two drivers – Redondo Beach native Bill Auberlen and Italian great Alex Zanardi – joined 33 others whose medallions adorn the sidewalk there.

Auberlen, 53, is an IMSA driver who has won more races – 63 – in that series than anyone else. He twice was a class winner in Long Beach in 2013 (GT) and 2015 (GTLM) and has nine top-5 finishes there in 14 starts since 1990. He’s also a two-time class winner at the 24 Hours of Daytona.

He is still active and will be racing this weekend on the streets of Long Beach.

Jim Michaelian, CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, sang his praises.

“As of today, Bill Auberlen holds the record for the most victories in IMSA history at 63,” Michaelian said, as onlookers braved the mid-90s, late-morning temperatures. “That’s a phenomenal achievement, especially when you think about how many great drivers have come through the IMSA ranks over the years.”

Auberlen was not shy about what the induction meant to him.

“First off, what a total honor to be inducted into the Long Beach Walk of Fame,” he said. “It’s beyond words to express my gratitude for this honor. I’m totally humbled; it’s crazy. Who would have thought?”

Auberlen recalled his first taste of the Grand Prix.

“It was 1975 and I stood right there,” he said, pointing across Pine Avenue. “I was 7 years old, I was at this track and I had a tape recorder in my little hand and I would record the sounds of every race car.

“And then I would take it home and I would listen to these sounds. And if we played ‘Name That Car,’ in two notes I could hit it like that.”

Auberlen spoke like he almost couldn’t believe how things have turned out for him.

“At 7 years old, I couldn’t even have had a dream big enough that would have somehow put me in a race car in this beautiful, symbolic track,” he said. “This goes to show that even the biggest dreams do come true.”

Zanardi, 55, won at Long Beach in 1997 and 1998 during the race’s CART days. He also won the series championship those two years.

After a brief return to Formula One – where he raced from 1991-94 – in 1999, he returned to CART in 2001. In the 15th race of the season, he was in an accident at the American Memorial in Germany, resulting in the amputation of his legs.

Undaunted, Zanardi returned to racing less than two years later – driving a car with hand controls – and earned four wins in the World Touring Car Championship between 2005-09. He wasn’t done. Zanardi eventually became a gold-medal winner in handcycling in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio De Janeiro.

Zanardi is recuperating from a handcycling accident in 2020 in Italy and was not in attendance Thursday. Former teammate Jimmy Vasser, also a member of the Walk of Fame, accepted for him.

IndyCar owner Chip Ganassi was Zanardi’s boss during his first three seasons in CART.

“Alex is the type of person that strung together a life that any 10 men could call lives; he strung it together in one life,” said Ganassi, who lauded Zanardi’s ability to move forward after he lost his legs.

“The point I want to get across to everyone this morning is I think I talked about Zanardi and his accident, his legs, I think I talked to him one time about it and then his life moved on from there,” Ganassi said. “We never mentioned his legs again, or lack of legs.”

The medallions that get embedded in the concrete were delayed, so “pseudo medallions” – so named by Michaelian – were unveiled after each driver was enshrined.

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