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Guest Commentary

Straight Talk: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 9

Edited By Jeremy Matusow

Art: Welcome to Straight Talk. We have a great show for you tonight, focused on the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Our guest is Jim Michaelian, the President, CEO of the Grand Prix As-sociation.
Jim, welcome back to Straight Talk.

Jim: It’s always a privilege being with you Art. This is getting to be an annual affair. Not only the race, but appearing on your show.

Art: Thank you. It is Long Beach’s Annual Spring Break, as I like to call it. The weather is almost always glorious. It’s a great party weekend.

Jim: What could be a better advantage to invite 175,000 of our best friends to Long Beach in the middle of the springtime, when the weather’s been great and the atmosphere is delightful. Peo-ple come down to really enjoy themselves and go away with a very strong and favorable impression about what Long Beach has to offer.

Art: As you’ve mentioned many times, it’s more than just a race. It’s a party. It’s food. It’s music. It’s camaraderie. It’s crazy dress outfits. It’s kind of letting loose a bit.

Jim: It’s really a week of entertainment that culminates in some racing events. But people come. If they have an enjoyable experience here, that’s really what we’re trying to achieve.

Art: You continue to build in added value, year after year. You always find something. You have the Lifestyle Expo that has 100,000 feet of exhibits, motor and non-motor activities.

Jim: Actually, it’s 275,000 square feet, and it fills the entire convention center. It’s an exposition where everybody goes through at least once during the weekend. Incorporated into that is our family fun zone, which we started a couple of years ago and proved to be extremely interesting to families. Kids can come down and drive little electrical carts around, which is always one of the real attractive parts of it. There’s other activities for kids with simulators. It’s a chance for everybody to come down and have some fun.

Art: How’s the interest in the race this year? The economy’s coming out of the ditch a bit. Are sales going pretty well?

Jim: We’re seeing that, not only from an individual perspective, but also from a corporate account. A lot of our hospitality options are now gone. We’re constantly looking at ways in which to create new opportunities for people to come down and enjoy the event at whatever scale they want to.

Art: There’s a big economic benefit of the race to the city. I know one of the benefits is the national and international television, the Chamber of Commerce shot of the race and the Queen Mary in the background. It puts Long Beach in a very favorable light.

Jim: We’re an outdoor event. When those cameras pan around, they not only capture the cars on the track, but all the surrounding environment. What could be more picturesque than seeing ei-ther the harbor or the city landscape of Long Beach.

Art: It is a great look.

Art: Continuing this special edition of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Straight Talk show, joined now by Jim Liaw, the president of Formula DRIFT. Welcome to our show.

Jim: Thanks for having me.

Art: Tell our audience what drifting is all about.

Jim: Drifting is a combination of traditional racing, which is done in racecars, and action sports, which is a judged sport, like snowboarding or skateboarding. It’s a combination of those things, on track, for an exciting show.

Art: It’s a controlled skid into concrete barriers, where the drivers turn at the last second and miss. I went on a press day ride, which was the e-ticket ride of my life. You smell the rubber, hear the drifting and the fans just love it.

Jim: Yeah, sensory overload. The misconception is that the cars are out of control. It’s all about driver skill, keeping the car within the limits of control, and at that boundary before it spins out, before it hits a wall.

Art: Yes, hopefully before it hits with the press in it. It looks real close, and at the last minute they make that turn. I had a great driver and now, you brought this sport to America.

Jim: We did. Ten years ago, the sport originated in Japan. It was the first time that it left Japan. We organized a professional exhibition competition here in 2003. From there we launched For-mula DRIFT as a US-based series. Since then, we have a global footprint. We have an Asia championship, U.S. championship and various exhibitions and demonstrations across the world.

Art: You’ve been part of Grand Prix weekend for several years now, with a gated exhibition the weekend before the race. But this year, you have something special.

Jim: We’ve definitely stepped it up this year. For the last six years, seven years, we’ve done a full-course exhibition. It’s exciting for the fans to see. There’s a little bit of a disconnect between what traditional competition is and what was done during Grand Prix weekend. It’s the Motegi Super Drift Challenge. It’s an invitation of 16 of our top drivers to compete on Grand Prix weekend.

Art: This is one of the value-added things you’ve built in.

Jim: Absolutely. It’s a great addition. The affiliation we’ve had with Formula DRIFT has been exemplary over the years. We’re delighted to have this as an added part of our program.

Art: If you see Formula DRIFT in this exhibition, you will never forget it.

Jim: At night, it’s even more spectacular.

Art: You’re a UCLA graduate, but you always liked cars. You had this idea of making a career of this series.

Jim: Yeah, my partner Ryan and I had a marketing agency, and we were doing projects. We came across this opportunity. We brought it here. I think the cars just kind of fell in our lap. We had to seize it. In 2004, we launched Formula DRIFT.

Art: Now you’re nine years into your history, and it’s fan responses that dictate whether this thing is going to succeed. The fans have responded.

Jim: It has. We’re not as long-running or as large as the Grand Prix. But in our nine-year history, our attendance has continued to grow. Even in economic downturn, we’ve had increased ticket sales every year.

Art: And these Formula DRIFT competition races are elsewhere besides Long Beach?

Jim: Right. We go to Atlanta, New Jersey, Florida, Seattle, Texas, and back here to Southern California to Irwindale Speedway.

Art: How old are you, by the way?

Jim: I’m 37.

Art: That’s a lot to accomplish as a young man.

Jim: Absolutely. We’ve not only enjoyed working with Formula DRIFT, but they attract a very solid element, in terms of demographics. We’re delighted, because it brings in a number of the Asian population. Hispanics, who follow their series, have now come to our race and become a part of our family, too.

Art: So that adds to your audience?

Jim: Absolutely.

Art: Jim, final words to our audience.

Jim: You just have to see drifting live for yourself. It’s a visceral experience. It’s something that you can’t see on a magazine or in a video.

Art: We’re back, talking with the guiding genius of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Jim Michaelian. And so impressive is this race that we’ve put it on the cover of the current issue of the Straight Talk Magazine.

Jim: Which gets maximum circulation.

Art: Doesn’t get any better than that?

Jim: It’s a great benefit to us.

Art: It’s not only the race weekend that’s great. In the lead-up to that weekend, tell us some of the activities.

Jim: The Motor Sports Walk of Fame attracts a large number of the Hispanic audience that has now become a very important part of our event.

Art: That’s a great event.

Jim: Absolutely.

Art: The Committee of 300 has their own Paddock Club, which is on the track. You can buy Paddock Club passes and get great tickets through the Committee of 300. It helps support their ac-tivities all year long. If you’re interested in getting more information about tickets to the Paddock Club, call the number 981-9200, and they’ll fill you in and take your ticket orders.

Art: Long Beach, as a city, is attracting major events to our community: The Gay Pride Festival, the TED Conference, the International Citibank Marathon, the Amgen Bike Tour. Truly no event is more significant than the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, which brings in an economic value estimated at $25 million, plus worldwide television publicity. This is a major contribution to our city, too.

Jim: We couldn’t have a better partnership than we have with the city of Long Beach. These events really can’t occur unless all parties are really working together to try to achieve a common objective. That’s one of the primary reasons, is that the whole city has worked so closely with us, in terms of achieving our common objective, which is to showcase the assets of the city, not only to the 175,000 people that come here, but to the millions more that watch, not only on national but international television.

Art: I’ve been to all but two of these 39 races. It was a real struggle in the early years, holding it together.

Jim: The vision of what Long Beach was all about and the image it was trying to project was a bit of a challenge in those days. Now it’s really very easy to say all of the things that we do about Long Beach because all the video and experiences that people have only go forward to reinforce what is being disseminated about the city.

Art: The thought just occurred to me: In these 39 years, the race obviously has blossomed. But the city itself has blossomed.

Jim: Absolutely. People recognize the development of the city, even from year to year, when they come back or watch it on television. They see things that are suddenly emerging and taking place. This is a growing, dynamic city. That’s obviously the image that we want to portray, because it is what Long Beach is all about.

Art: Thirty-nine years ago, there was not a hell of a lot going on in downtown. I think the only time I went downtown for years was to your race.

Jim: It was a Navy town. You had the Pike. We had some activities that took place along Ocean Boulevard. The differentiation between what was taking place in Long Beach in 1975, when we started, and today, is a true metamorphosis.

Art: Here’s one amazing thing. This young man still races. How do you do it?

Jim: I got that injection in my bloodstream when I was a little kid, and it has stayed with me all these years.

Art: You went down to Florida last year to race?

Jim: I was in the Daytona 24 hours again, this year, it was my 15th time.

Art: Congratulations. You’re an inspiration to us younger folks, looking up to you.

Jim: As long as they’ll let me do it, I’m going to keep trying.

Straight Talk airs in Long Beach and 40 surrounding cities on Saturday and Sunday at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on LBTV Channel 3 and FiOS 21, and at 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Charter Channel 101. The show is Viewable on Demand at