Vasser, Ganassi Racing Step Into Fame
Dave Lewandowski, IndyCar.com
LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, was saving this gift for a special occasion. That Chip Ganassi Racing was joining Jimmy Vasser as an inductee into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame on April 14 was that occasion.
It was 1984, when the Long Beach street race transitioned from Formula One to Indy cars, and featured on the cover of an event poster was the No. 40 Old Milwaukee car. Ganassi was the driver pictured.
“You could call us wise in terms of our foresight in anticipation of what he was going to achieve,” Michaelian joked before presenting the lightly faded poster to Ganassi.
Actually, the reasoning was considerably more commercial.
“A lot of people asked why we were featuring Chip Ganassi on the poster of the first race with names like Mears, Unser, Fittipaldi in the race,” Michaelian added. “We wanted to feature Old Milwaukee because we had just signed a deal with (parent company) Stroh’s to be our official beer.”
Ganassi, whose Target Chip Ganassi Racing team has won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach five times, joined Vasser – who presented Ganassi one of those victories in 1996 – as members of the sixth class to receive medallions on Pine Avenue.
“I came to the Long Beach Grand Prix for the first time in 1983 as a spectator and I haven’t missed a race here since,” said Vasser, who had 10 career Indy car victories (plus the ’96 CART championship) along with winning the 1991 Atlantic Championship and Pro category of the 2010 Toyota Pro Celebrity races at Long Beach. “Winning that first race here from the pole is a great memory.
“There are a lot of great memories in Long Beach. My credentials pale in comparison to some of the names on the walk, and it became clear to me today how I got there. Obviously the victory from the pole position in the Toyota Pro Celebrity race last year threw me over the top.”
Vasser is co-owner of the three-car KV Racing Technology-Lotus team that will compete in the 37th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
“I think it’s very serendipitous that I’m being inducted with Chip Ganassi, who I was driving for when I won the race here in ’96,” he said. “It was one of those races that I don’t think I should have won. I think (Gil) de Ferranti lost a turbo with five laps to go. I certainly had the lion’s share of my victories with Chip Genesis Racing, and I also revel in the four championships in a row we had as a team. That’s really what racing is about – not about individual achievements but about team achievements.”
Past recipients of the honor include Michael Andretti (who won his first and final Indy car races at Long Beach), Danny Sullivan, Bobby Rahal, six-time Long Beach winner Al Unser Jr., Gary Gabelich, Parnelli Jones, Chris Pook, Newman/Haas Racing, Brian Redman (first Long Beach winner), Dan Gurney and Phil Hill.
"On behalf of everyone at Target Chip Ganassi Racing, I want to thank the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach and the City of Long Beach for giving us such an honor," Ganassi said. "I'd also like to thank them for putting together one of the world's truly great races and spectacular events."