Now in its 42nd year, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach has, in its storied history, maintained long-time sponsorships with national and international brands that remain invested in the event not only for the publicity it affords their companies, but also because it is a historic event enjoyed by all parties involved, from the fans to the drivers themselves.


This year’s event marks Firestone’s 20th year as a sponsor and the official tire of the Grand Prix. “The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is truly one of the marquis events for the Verizon IndyCar Series,” Lisa Boggs, director of Bridgestone America Motorsports, a program of parent company Bridgestone Americas, Inc., told the Business Journal.

The Hilton Long Beach has been the official hotel and a sponsor of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for 24 years. Pictured from left are: Richard Hoyt, the hotel’s director of catering and convention services, who has 10 years of experience working on the Grand Prix; Sean Bradley, a banquet cook at the hotel who has worked every Grand Prix since the hotel became a sponsor; and Greg Keebler, who has experienced three years of the race as the hotel’s general manager. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)


The impression the event makes on attendees and participants alike, as well as its staying power, are the drivers behind Firestone’s commitment to the race. “It has proven to be one of the top events in the area,” Boggs said. “And it has done something which is very difficult, and that is withstood the test of time and continued to grow and become better and better.”


Boggs continued, “It’s one of the longest-running races in the U.S. and they do an unbelievable job, and the community supports it in a way that for us, we find it a great fit for the Firestone brand.” Firestone’s roots in racing go back to the first Indy 500 in 1911, when Ray Harroun won driving on Firestone tires. The company is now the official tire of the entire Verizon IndyCar Series.


Over the years, Firestone’s involvement has grown with the race. In the mid-1990s, Firestone was providing about 875 tires for the entire Grand Prix field. Now, they’re bringing about 1,300. “It’s really almost the ultimate proof point for our tires from a technology standpoint, the durability and the performance,” Boggs said of their use in the race.


“It is an unbelievable atmosphere. The community really embraces it. The drivers love it. Importantly, our key stakeholders and our VIP guests love it,” Boggs reflected.


Gehl Company, a manufacturer of compact equipment for construction, agriculture and industrial use, has been a sponsor of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for 21 years. The company provides equipment to build the 1.97-mile long circuit, which features a safety system of 2,400 concrete blocks. Gehl machines are also used during the main race itself.

Gehl’s telescopic handlers enable the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach to construct the 1.97-mile track for race weekend, which requires 14 million pounds of concrete blocks, four miles of fencing and 17,000 tires bolted together. Gehl is the official construction equipment supplier for the event. (Photograph provided by Gehl)


“During the race event, our equipment is available for them to remove disabled race cars that have crashed on the track. So it makes the race event go a lot smoother throughout the day,” Lori Heidecker, marketing director for Manitou Americas, Inc., Gehl’s parent company, said.


Gehl primarily provides telescopic forklifts with the ability to lift between 8,000 to 12,000 pounds.


“We feel it’s a great way to build our brand awareness in the California area,” Heidecker said of Gehl’s sponsorship. “We bring in quite a few customers and executives to provide them entertainment there, as well as to see what our products can do on the track, which is cool,” she added.


Soda giant Coca-Cola has also been a sponsor for more than two decades. “Coca-Cola has been a proud partner of the Long Beach Grand Prix for more than 20 years,” Coca-Cola’s director of public affairs and communications, Nancy Limon, said in an e-mail.


“As the official beverage sponsor, Coca-Cola helps hydrate the tens of thousands of car enthusiasts and racing fans that attend the race festivities each year,” Limon wrote. “Coca-Cola’s support of the Long Beach Grand Prix is one of the many ways the company seeks to strengthen local communities in Southern California and around the globe.”


The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach’s official hotel has long been the Hilton Long Beach, now in its 24th year as a sponsor. As the official hotel, the Hilton serves as lodgings for the race’s attendees, and also hosts the media credentials site and provides off-site catering for the several hospitality suites lining the track. At a recent meeting of all the hotel’s employees, Manager Greg Keebler said at least three Hilton employees had raised their hands when he asked how many of them had been with the Hilton since its first year of sponsorship.


“I have only seen the race from our kitchens at the track. It’s all hands on deck,” Keebler said. “We bring in chefs from our other hotels because we’re cooking 24 hours a day for seven days prior to the event, so it’s a big workout, but it’s one that our team enjoys.”


The Grand Prix is held every April, a perfect time of year to showcase Long Beach to the world, Keebler pointed out. “The weather is almost always beautiful and perfect.

Temperatures are moderate so people are really seeing Long Beach with beautiful blue skies,” he said. “And with all the venues that people have to choose from, it just highlights how we’ve grown in our downtown, particularly with visitor-serving options.”


“The Grand Prix is central to Long Beach, as we are,” Keebler said. “We support the whole tenet of converting our city into a playground for race fans.”