Michai Stephens: California Love
Evanston, Ill. – From legendary Titans to those in pursuit of their own legacy, the Grand Prix of Long Beach had it all and didn’t disappoint!
The good times kicked off while transferring flights in Arizona. Approaching the gate, I spotted a familiar face. It was Dario Franchitti! He noticed me too, and motioned me over to introduce me to Mr. Harley Cluxton and his wife Colette. Now a group of four, we boarded the plane with force and authority. When we landed in Long Beach, the Cluxtons kindly offered to share their cab to the Hilton Hotel, the location of the Road Racing Drivers Club dinner honoring Indy 500 and Pike’s Peak legend Bobby Unser.
Thanks to the support of the Team USA Scholarship, the RRDC,SAFEisFAST, and all of their supporters, among them RACER Magazine’s Paul Pfanner, INDYCAR and Mazda, I was able to attend and experience a multitude of events during the week, including the RRDC dinner, the 23rd Anniversary RACER party and the 41st annual Grand Prix of Long Beach itself. It was an incredible experience and one which allowed me to familiarize myself with many new faces.
Tasked initially with unboxing decorations for the RRDC dinner, I was running a box-cutter along the edge of a package when I froze in place. In front of me was a Team USA Scholarship poster board filled with all the names of past recipients…including myself! Adjacent to that was an image of me holding my third-place trophy at the Walter Hayes event in Silverstone. Emotions hammered me as I tried to hold it together. Becoming lost in the image, I thought that no matter where life leads me, I will always have the honor and privilege of looking back on the day when the racing world accepted me as a racing driver!
A memorable day drew toward a close and my newly obtained SoCal lifestyle continued on a high, topped off by dinner with fellow Team USA winner Neil Alberico at Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles!
Thursday morning allowed for some personal time. I hopped on a bus and made my way to an outdoor pool along the beach. Finding a killer spot to eat on my way back was a bonus, and geared me up to help with the finishing touches for the event. At this stage the only thing left to do was fancy up and enjoy the evening. As people arrived so did the stories. No matter where you turned history was all around. I spoke, but mainly listened, to the people and their connections to the sport. I even thought to myself, “who needs the internet anymore?!” The good times continued through the night and ended with the audience of almost 400 people applauding Mr. Unser.
Now headed into the race weekend, track activity picked up. Excited to finally meet and see teams from the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, I made a beeline for the Mazda SpeedSource team and was greeted by familiar faces. The camaraderie shared between everyone made for a sound environment focused on results and development. It certainly was eye-opening and sparked a few ideas as to what sports car racing would be like. But back on track, I made sure to use the rest of the day to connect with the people I had met previously in St. Petersburg.
As night fell so did the level of intensity at the track. People started to unwind, content with their results and confident in their preparation for the next day. The great vibes carried right into the 23rd Anniversary party of RACER Magazine as “lights – camera – action” was put into full effect. Mr. Pfanner and his crew put on an outstanding event filled with all the right people from all the right places. Being my first time attending, I was blown away by the comfort level of it all. It was a great opportunity to speak with people away from the racetrack and allowed for some great conversation.
Sunday morning had arrived and couldn’t have come at a better time. The energy was high and folks were ready to go racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series! Finally nearing the end of my to-do list, I was able to venture out and do a little freelancing. With every business card handed out, one was gained in return. Soon, I found myself with only a few cards left. As the sun set, so did my rear-end as I snagged a chair, and rested my feet for a few minutes. There I sat, atop the commentary box of the Long Beach racetrack. I felt like I could see the entire world around me and in return the world was accepting of me!Earning my place on and off the track is a result of time, respect, patience and the unbelievable support from an increasing number of people.
Before heading to the airport, I got a chance to stop by theRACER headquarters. It was awesome to finally see the place first-hand, especially since many of my blog posts have been filtered through their hands to be displayed on the RACER.com webpage. This made for some great and entertaining meet-and-greets. After sharing some conversation about the weekend and future plans, it was time to hit the road.
In pursuit of my “happiness” I have found love, passion and a continued understanding for who I really am. My heart and drive for success goes out to all of you who have and will support me on this journey. As those before me have said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. I say, BRING IT ON and THANK YOU for your continued support!!!