Shortly after 9AM on an overcast Thursday morning in Long Beach, an email arrived. After 44 years, Toyota Motor North America has withdrawn its title sponsorship of the Grand Prix of Long Beach. Talk about a punch to the gut!
Toyota has been a sponsor of the Long Beach open wheel extravaganza for 44 years, beginning with its deployment of pace cars for the 1975 SCCA/USAC Formula 5000 race that inaugurated the beach-side racing celebration. “In 1980,” said Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, “Toyota stepped up to become our entitlement sponsor and remained in that position for 39 years.”
Toyota’s 44-year stay at The Beach is a record in the racing world. “We have had a phenomenal relationship with Toyota; in recent discussions, Toyota has elected not to renew as the title sponsor,” Michaelian related. “This has now opened up an opportunity to identify a new title partner.”
After its first, 1975 taste of racing at Long Beach, Toyota created the charitable Toyota ‘Race for Youth’ match race to accompany the 1976 debut of Formula 1. That event went on to become the world-famous Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, which started in 1977 and continued for 40 years.
“Among the many beneficiaries,” Michaelian said of the charitable Toyota Pro/Celebrity races, “were the Children’s Hospitals of Long Beach and Orange County. Together, over the years, we were able to build the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach into America’s No. 1 street race.
“Coming off a very successful 44th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, we’re excited about the future and are exploring all possible sponsorship opportunities that might exist in the market. I would like to thank Toyota,” Michaelian concluded, “for all that it did to help us grow our event and make it what it is today. We are proud to have had Toyota be the most prominent of our sponsor partners for so many years.”
Rumors about the departure of Toyota have been ongoing since the company elected to move its North American operations out of Torrance, a city within 15 miles of Long Beach, to Plano, Texas. The 2019 Grand Prix of Long Beach will take place April 12-14 with a full roster of racing and entertainment options.