Commentary

The stars come out at Long Beach

Updated: April 16, 2011, 5:49 PM ET
By John Oreovicz | ESPN.com

Editor's note: John Oreovicz previews this week's race festivities at Long Beach via a postcard to his 4-year-old son, Patrick.

Dear Patrick,

Wish you were here. It's another beautiful day in Long Beach. This is the 37th year for the Long Beach Grand Prix, and they've NEVER had rain on race day. Can you believe that?

I've been to 20 of those 37 races, and while the city and the racetrack have changed, the Long Beach Grand Prix has not. It's still one of the most popular social events on the Southern California sports calendar, a great place to see fast cars and beautiful people.

You'll want to bring your noise reduction headphones when you come to this race -- maybe next year! The sound of the race cars bounces off the buildings and through the parking garages; it starts at 7:15 on Friday morning and it seems like it doesn't stop until Sunday evening. No wonder some of the locals who live in the tall buildings near the course get out of town for the Grand Prix weekend!

[+] EnlargeBrian Austin Green
Ryan Miller/Getty ImagesActor Brian Austin Green is just one of the stars participating in the 2011 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race at Long Beach.

I went to a nice dinner on Thursday night where the guest of honor was Roger Penske. You remember Mr. Penske, right? He's the man whose cars won the Indianapolis 500 15 times. Well, before he was a businessman and a team owner, he used to be a very good race car driver and that's why he was being honored by the Road Racing Drivers Club.

Many of the IndyCar drivers you like to watch on TV were there -- Dario, Will, Helio, Ryan (both of them) and TK. It was fun to see them in a relaxed atmosphere, wearing designer suits instead of fireproof driving suits. You know Mr. Penske is a serious man, but we learned that he can actually be mischievous. He told us a story from a long time ago about how he convinced another race driver named Augie Pabst to drive a car into a swimming pool. That's like when Jeremy Clarkson drove a Rolls Royce into a pool on "Top Gear." Crazy stuff, huh?

On Friday, I walked around the famous street course with my friends John and David and Robin to watch from a few different corners. I'm always amazed to see race cars going 180 mph down streets where passenger cars usually go only 30 or 40. Could you imagine cars racing through our neighborhood?

Indy cars aren't the only cars racing here at Long Beach. A few years ago, they added a three-hour American Le Mans Series sports car race on Saturday afternoon. Those are the cars you and I watched on the computer on ESPN3.com a few weeks ago when they raced in the 12 Hours of Sebring. Those Le Mans prototypes sure are sleek looking. And I was impressed by the way you pointed out the Porsches, Corvettes, Ferraris and BMWs that race in the GT class. There's even a couple of Jaguars this year!

One of the cool things about the ALMS is that the cars all sound different. The Porsches wail, the Corvettes Rumble, the Ferraris howl. It's not like IndyCar, where all the cars use the same engine and sound exactly the same. That should change next year when there are three competing engine manufacturers.

Another fun thing to watch at Long Beach is the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race. They all drive colorful Scion coupes and sometimes they have some pretty big crashes. Today a man named Stephen Moyer flipped his car over! I don't recognize many of the people driving in the race this year, but they've had some pretty famous names in the past, like Keanu Reeves. A couple of years ago, the man who does the voice of "Handy Manny" was in the Pro/Celebrity race and I told him how much you like his show.

Long Beach is a fun place even when the Grand Prix isn't here. There's a big aquarium nearby that you would love. Disneyland isn't too far away -- I went there a long time ago when I was about your age. And there's a big ship called the Queen Mary that you can visit and walk around. Your grandpa traveled to America on the Queen Mary about 60 years ago when he came to live in this country -- you should ask him about it sometime.

One of my favorite things about Southern California is the car culture. Everywhere you look is an interesting car. If you go for a drive on the Pacific Coast Highway, you might see a Lamborghini or a Bentley. But you might also see a mint-condition old VW Kombi or a tired old survivor like a Dodge Dart and find it just as interesting. I know you would have fun car-spotting.

Well, I have to get back to work now. I hope you're having a good time back home in Indiana while I'm gone. I sure do miss you, but in just 29 days we'll be able to watch Indy cars together at our home track when practice for the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500 opens on May 15.

Be a good boy. I love you!!

Daddy

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for ESPN.com.