By John McKee
The story about the Long Beach Grand Prix starts at least a month before the start of the event. I knew about the event from the SCNCA calendar and saw that it was on Sat. May 8th, 2010. One day before the Paramount GP. I heard that the City of Long Beach was heavily involved and that Tony Cruz was involved in the promotion of the race. There was to be a great deal of financial support making the purses very large. The pros/1/2 were to get $10,000 vs $15,000 at Dana Point so this was a big event. 2010 the promoters included a 55/60+ race unlike 2009 when we didn't have a slot in their lineup. Maybe the fact that Tony's dad Carlos is 60+ and races the Socal calendar had something to do with this. Don't know for sure but when the flyer came out we were aboard for $1,000. I worked hard to get the purse split between 55s and 60s and they always said that was a good idea but no follow through. I gave up on the split purse idea but was going to race it anyway. Sounded like a fun event and I was born and raised in Long Beach. The sign ups for all the cats but 55/60+ were smoking.
2 of the people I had contact with sent me a message. They knew I had a data base of 55/60+ racers and asked if I would try and drum up support for their event. I immediately pressed them about the split and viola it happened. This was a week before the event and not sure this was fair to the few people that were signed up already but it happened. $500 for BOTH 55s and 60s. This made the weekend of May 8th and 9th the best total payday in history for 55s and 60s. Especially 60s. I thought this would spur pre reg but didn't seem to help a whole lot. The entry fee was the highest I have seen for a criterium for our cats so maybe that had an effect. I assume that the $10 same day fee would make everyone pre reg but some racers just prefer to sign on the day of the event to give them maximum flexibility. If they didn't want to come or couldn't they weren't out the fee but at LBGP the same day reg was going to cost $44. There were going to be 10 paying places for both cats with the winner getting $110.
The 55/60+ race was scheduled to start at 10:10 am. The 2nd race on the calendar. I got to the event and found parking which wasn't all that easy and went to reg and I thought that no way were they going to start the races on time. The course was still being setup. Lots of things had to be done. John Rubcic who was working the event as a motorcycle official also thought that there was no way they were going to start on time.
Bingo, sure enough the first race started 30 minutes late. I knew that they were going to eat some time out of our race and the others afterward to get back on track for a 5 pm start of the pro race. Little did I know I would be happy about that.
It was hard to tell from the registration list how many were signed up but when we finally got the opportunity to line up there were about 40 racers with 2 gals in our midst. The Velo Allegro woman raced with us at Chuck Ponitus. The mix was pretty even between 55s and 60s which I was happy about since I went out on a limb for the 60s. The course was L shaped with 6 turns. 5 left and 1 right. Raced counter clock wise with 230 meters to the line from the last turn. The course width was a little narrow and the pavement was bad in a number of spots.
The race was off at about 10:30 am. The first 2 or 3 laps were blistering fast. I looked down at my heart rate monitor and saw 163 which puts me slightly in the red zone. Either the pace was going to calm down or I was in trouble. It did calm down right after this but the firepower was there in the race and top riders were laying the belt to everyone. A thick leather belt with holes in it. Guys like Shuey, Fuller, Collins, Cahill, Ketterer, and Wicks to name just some of the high quality riders in the field. These guys were out there mixing it up and keeping the pace high. Don't think any small group formed any distance from the main pack. One thing that was happening during the race were crashes. Some inattention, over cooking corners, nervous riders, fairly narrow course, rough pavement, narrower exits from some of the corners were some of the ideas I had. There were at least 4 different incidents. Several riders were able to get back up and get back into the action. Some of the 60+ riders and the 2 women were pulled from the race. If any rider got any distance off the back they were pulled and for the 60+ riders were placed. I hear there were at least 8 riders pulled. Al Shorts had a mechanical and couldn't get back in.
The pace settled in at a good clip but there were a few lulls in the action. I kept saying thank you. Thank you. Lol. Of course I would move up. The lap card came up on 5 to go and a bunch we still were. The pace varied greatly up to one lap to go. Steve Cahill gave it a go solo but just burned most of his matches in the effort.
The one lap card came up and still together. Approaching turn one had an unfortunate crash on the right side of the course. Eugene Poyorena got taken down and John Edwards went down on top of his bike. Eugene got skinned up and his frame was broken. John came out without a scratch or a cut on his kit. The crash caught many riders out that were behind this mess like Mike Birditt. I was to the left of this and got distracted a bit but had no problem making turn one. I saw Kenny Fuller ahead and Carlos Cruz near me. I thought they were the only 60+ people that had a chance to beat me but I found out later that that wasn't true. The speed started to ramp up and I understand that Gary Shuey went to the front to lead out the last lap. Thank you, Gary for sacrificing yourself for the safely of the race group. The faster the pace on the last lap the safer it is. Mike Birditt was trying to work his way back to the front but burning a lot of his matches doing so.
Once Gary was spent Keith Ketterer came to the front and took the last corner first. Kenny Fuller was feeling the hurt since the next to the last straight away was into the wind. Kal Szkalak had been hanging out in the pack was lurking very near the front. Todd Schooler was also there. It was a drag race to the line and since KK had brought the field around Kal was able to come around him. KK was 2nd in 55+ and Todd was 3rd. Kenny the 4th finisher and the 1st 60+ rider. Bob Guglielmelli finished 4th in 55+ followed by Collins, Birditt, Denegal, Wicks, Planellas and Swanson to round out the top 10 in 55+. I had gotten around Carlos Cruz coming home thinking I was 2nd in 60+ but there were 2 guys that I didn't know. Karl Weber of Ca Pools is 60+ now and did his first race of the year. Pretty good I say. Kenny knew him from years ago. Cat 1 or 2 in his prior racing life. John Diemont of Webcor is from Norcal and I assumed the way he rode and looked that he was 55+ but no. He is 60+ and a strong rider at that. Karl was 2nd and John Diemont was 3rd. I placed 4th and Carlos Cruz placed 5th. The top ten was filled out by R. Gomez, Fleming, White, Crain and Chester.
All in all it was a nerve racking, hard, tough race. A lot of riders got skinned up. No broken bones which was a big plus. One damaged bike.
The biggest fiasco were the award checks. They were all messed up and it is doubtful that they can fix this but Mark Bixby from the promoting team gave us a quick and sincere message that they were going to try and straighten the whole thing out. Most everyone that did the race that was signed up for the 45+ race decided to not do it. The SCNCA Criterium Championship was the next day so no one wanted to take more of a chance. Sorry but no vid. My wife had run down to the crash site and by the time she got back to the finish everyone was coming across. Maybe next time. Full results are on the SCNCA website. 16 official finishers in each cat. That's all for now folks. Train hard and race safe!