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Special Section: Grand Prix of Long Beach
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LONG BEACH -- It was all sunshine for the 39th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, and race and business officials alike reported a solid boost in attendance, booked conventions and overall increased business.

Race officials, in early reports, are predicting an increase in attendance from last year's 172,000 turnout, putting this year's three-day attendance figure close to 175,000 people.

"For us it was a very successful weekend, very successful," said Jim Michaelian, president of and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach. "Obviously, the weather was perfect, the sun was shining and anybody who saw the TV broadcast images not only nationally but internationally saw how tremendous the city looked. It really was an amazing portrait of how beautiful the city of Long Beach is, and not just downtown but the Port (of Long Beach), the marina and all of the shoreline. "

Long Beach's largest event of the year featured the standard day racing, along with the addition of the Motegi Super Drift Challenge, the event's first under-the-lights racing segment. Concerts were also a big draw, including Brett Michaels on Saturday night.

"The Motegi Super Drift Challenge was a huge crowd draw," Michaelian said. "The crowds that came out for this were nothing short of impressive - an event we will definitely be bringing back.

"I have not heard anything so complimentary in many years as I did about the Brett Michaels concert - people really enjoyed it. The concerts really added to the overall energy of the entire event. "

But Michaelian said the "real winner" of the weekend was the city of Long Beach.

"Obviously with the large crowds there was substantial economic impact and business was better that it's been in years past," he said. "But equally important was after the tragedy that happened in Boston last week, the city of Long Beach really enhanced is reputation as a city capable of handling large events and crowds. "

Michaelian said there were no major safety incidents at this year's event outside of the normal weekend happenings.

"I am personally very proud of all the various agencies - police, fire and other local departments as well as national agencies," he said. "There was never a discussion about reducing or eliminating any of the weekend's activities, only a strong desire to do what was necessary to provide a safe, fun and exciting atmosphere to all in attendance. "

Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, agreed it was a very successful weekend.

"Our food and beverage numbers were way up over last year, the hotel numbers were up and the restaurants were very busy," he said. "It was a perfect weekend, a great race and the weather was tremendous. "

Goodling said the CVB had 40 meeting planners in town for their annual Grand Prix Familiarization Tour, which brings in major meeting planners from across the country and allows them to see how all of the city's hotels, government, transportation, restaurants and attractions come together for the event.

One of the meeting planners told Goodling that "this was the perfect weekend to showcase the city of Long Beach. "

"It was just a tremendous weekend, the crowds were great, the energy was high and the police really did a wonderful job of being visible and instilling that sense of safety that patrons wanted," he said.

The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach serves as a major sales tool for the CVB, Goodling said. Though the total numbers are still pending, future bookings are estimated to bring $15 million to $30 million in economic impact for Long Beach.

The Food Truck Village, which saw significant increases in traffic from last year, was booming each day. Huge crowds gathered behind Grandstand 31 with about 5,000 people visiting the mobile gourmet restaurants on Friday and between 5,000 and 7,000 on Saturday and Sunday, event officials said.

Event crews are working now to break down grandstands, barriers and fencing, and access to the entire area of restaurants on the south side of Shoreline Drive and Pine Avenue should be open by noon today. Michaelian said his team will take Friday off and get to work planning the 40th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

"We are very proud of this year's event," he said. "The crowds were great, the weather was great, there was a very high energy level and people really seemed to be having a good time and enjoying themselves, and that's our main objective. "

Contact Kelsey Duckett at 562-714-2128