Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 24 No. 113
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

Catching Up With Toyota Grand Prix Of Long Beach President Jim Michaelian

The Izod IndyCar Series will test itself on the roads of Long Beach this weekend at a race that's quickly become a series favorite. The event is expected to attract more than 170,000 spectators over three days. Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach President & CEO JIM MICHAELIAN, who has been working on the race since 1975, spoke to SportsBusiness Journal Staff Writer Tripp Mickle about the race this week.

Q: What have you emphasized to raise interest in the Long Beach IndyCar race?
Michaelian: We have six races with a whole variety of racing. To complement that we introduce a lot of off track activities to attract people that may not be race fans. We have a go-kart track in the middle of the circuit. We have an expanded family fun zone this year where we're going to set up for four to eight year olds to drive go-karts. And for the first time at our facility we've installed a zip line in the long beach arena. It's 300 feet. It's fabulous. These are the kind of additions to the weekend that add to the attractiveness for those disinclined to go to a regular race some place.

Q: You've got all these events. What about the racing?

Michaelian: You've got to get them to the venue first. Then you convert them. Watching racing at a street race is a lot different. It's a lot more visceral. People are going down roads that other people drive on. There's a magic to that. You're close to the action. You can hear it, you can see it, you can smell it. That's what attracts the non-enthusiast but you have to get them here first. The more entertainment options we have the better chance we have of getting them to come.

Q: What's the thing that would most surprise someone who's never been to your Long Beach race weekend before?
Michaelian: The key aspect of this event is the unique attractions it affords to a first-time attendee. There are opportunities for an individual to take advantage of a variety of different chances to do things. There's a Hyatt hotel that's in the middle of the circuit. A lot of people will go in the hotel, sit and watch the race and have a drink or lunch and for them that's a great way to enjoy the day. There's an area on the roof of the Hyatt, 17 stories in the air, that we call the Vista Club where you can watch the race. You can go to a number of restaurants.

Q: How have you kept Toyota as a title partner for 30-plus years?
Michaelian: Toyota has been with us since the beginning. It's a combination of a number of factors. They're based in Torrance, Calif. They've been very active in Long Beach. Their cars that come from Japan enter through the port of Long Beach. They've had a major presence in this town in terms of sponsorship of charitable organizations. They have brought a number of different ingredients to the event over the years.

Q: How would you characterize the state of the track and race today financially?

Michaelian: We've had great support from our longtime sponsors. Bridgestone/Firestone have been here 25 years. Tecate: we just celebrated their involvement for 10 years. Those long-term relationships have been key to us surmounting the financial evolution over the last decade. And we continue to have strong support from our fans and have great support from our city.