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One of the first things I got to do way back when I arrived in Long Beach in 1992 was to cover the Grand Prix.

I have to admit, I've never been much of a race car fan in any form — open-wheeled IndyCars, stock cars or dragsters. There was the occasional "race" on the freeway with people who didn't know I was racing them, but that was about it.

Still, I was excited to get into the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. It clearly was a spectacle and, as we said back then, a 200 mph Beach Party.

The spectacle part didn't disappoint. There were plenty of celebrities from Hollywood and the sports world to rub shoulders with, there were cars I'd never seen before, and the people — oh, the people.

Remember now, this was 1992. It was the unenlightened era. There was a Miss Toyota Grand Prix pageant complete with bathing suit (read bikini) competition. There were flag girls, spokesmodels and beer girls everywhere.

Of course, there was tobacco advertising, too. And an RV campground with parties on roofs that looked like something from "Talladega Nights." The real racing seemed to be who could get drunkest first.

Now it's 2017. I've only missed two Grand Prixs (Grand Prixes?) in that time — once when my father died and once when a bleeding ulcer (something about the newspaper business) put me in the hospital.

And it has changed each and every year.

The course changed to accommodate the renaissance along the waterfront. That ended the RV park, among other things. Recessions caused fewer outrageously expensive cars and over-the-top parties. Economic booms brought more expensive cars and more big bashes.

Offerings changed too. Founder Chris Pook and his then right-hand man, now CEO, Jim Michaelian made tweaks every year to offer something new.

More subtle, but now more profound, attitude changes occurred too. First the cigarette and tobacco advertising disappeared. No more free packs and cheap cartons.

Then the extravagant spending was toned down. Maybe it was just taken out of the public eye, but it seemed to me that the bling was less prevalent.

There was a change in the race fans, too. I'm not just talking about demographics or ethnic mix. It seemed there was less of an emphasis in being race car fans and more looking for experiences.

The attitudinal changes are more important to me. Around 2000, it started being less "cool" to get blitzed on beer or something stronger. The message that alcohol and cars don't mix took root, and now is firmly in place.

I'm not saying people don't, or shouldn't, have a beer or two at the races. But getting falling-down drunk is no longer socially acceptable.

Then there's the end of objectification of women. For the first time in my 27 years, if not for the first time ever, there will not be a Miss Grand Prix. Part of that might be a change in beer sponsors (Miss Tecate was very popular), but rather a change in sensibilities.

I'd like to think that the powers that be pulled the plug simply because it was the right thing to do. In fact, let's just leave it at that.

One thing that hasn't changed is the expectation of sunshine on race day. When the television cameras go live and Al Unser Jr. says "Start Your Engines" this Sunday, Long Beach will shine. See you at the races.

I need to point something out, and this is as good a place as any. In my "In Closed Session" column last week, I said the Long Beach Library Foundation and the Friends of the Long Beach Library were looking into a name for the new Main Library.

They aren't. My sources were wrong. But I'm hoping they start to do that soon. It's Beverly O'Neill, with two Ls. Thanks. 

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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