Malibu Grand Prix.
For wannabe racers of a certain age—uh, that would include me—these three magical words granted entrance to a motorsports nirvana where we could indulge the fantasy that we were Mario Andretti reincarnate, one 55-second lap at a time.
At its peak in the 1980s, the Malibu Grand Prix empire encompassed close to 50 tiny racetracks across the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Hundreds of thousands of racers racked up millions of laps at a buck-or-so a pop as we chased after ever-better times posted on the electronic timers just beyond the finish line. Devotees with treasured Malibu Grand Prix licenses included not just dweebs and wankers—again, like me—but celebrities such as the teenage Leonardo DiCaprio, the adult Tupac Shakur, and the totally addicted Paul Newman.
Read the full article on Hagerty.com:
I would go to the MGP near Tampa every time I visited my parents years ago. And yes, I still have my "license". OK, they weren't supposed to be fast, but I still recall when I connected two of the closely coupled corners in one drift . . . glorious!
I've been to two different Malibu Grand Prix-type operations. One was in Myrtle Beach in about 1990. My friends and I stopped and spent a night or two there on our way back from being ejected from our original spring break destination. The track was accompanied by a number of go-kart tracks that we raced and spun each other on. When it came time to try the grand prix track, unfortunately I went first. I was so much faster than anyone else that was there that day that none of my friends would make an attempt. I still missed the track record by almost a second, although I beat the women's all-time record by a similar amount.
The second time I went to one of the tracks was Atlanta in January of 1996. This time they didn't have any target times posted, so I asked the guy who told me the rules of the track what constituted a good run. He said that if I could get close to 55 seconds, he'd be surprised. A natural born charmer, that one. My first lap was a 52 flat. He was visibly angry and claimed that he'd done the same a few days earlier. I couldn't resist shrugging and pointing out that I wasn't surprised considering I was finding my way around the track on that lap. Before my next run they shut down the track and put cones inside the curbs at all the apexes, so I guess carneys can suffer from miniature genitalia syndrome. I never beat the 52 flat, but it still seemed to infuriate the guy when I kept coming close.
The Atlanta cars had long swing axles for their front suspension. I could have sworn the Myrtle Beach ones had upper and lower control arms. One of them had Lola built cars.
That was my "home course" too. I also still have my license, just not in my wallet anymore. I kinda hold a course record there, but not what you'd think. The local rock FM station, (WTUE) had your typical wacky morning deejays. I was listening to them one morning and they had an impromptu race in their parking lot. Had folks show up, strip to their underwear, and walk fast. They called it the "Undie 500". The next year they promoted it for some time to be held at MGP, and I had a chance to attend. The grand prize was an appearance on a billboard. I was in my late 20s and had been a competitive racewalker for a long time. it was a 2 lap race and I lapped the field. They wouldn't let me compete again!
There was an outpost near enough for me to visit occasionally. I remember being impressed by the hydraulic disc brakes and resenting no opportunities to build any speed. I could've made better times on a bicycle. Still cherish my license though:
...and will forever miss that hair.
I still have my trophy from the race-off they held at the track in Tucson,AZ. I then bought my 1st race car, a Lola T342 FF. 25 years of road racing followed. Great memory. You were right, they pushed like pigs.
Thanks for the memories! It is funny that this article just came up as I happened to see my old Malibu Grand Prix license last week. I was not lucky enough to to have a local Malibu Grand Prix. So every chance that I had when traveling I made sure to "stop by" a track. My now ex and I were in the Orlando area and stopped at one in the middle of the day. I went first and the guys running the operation got all excited as I was 1 second off the lap record. Which did not excite me at all. But they insisted that I return in the evening as lap times were 3 seconds faster once the sun went down. My wife was next, so while I was waiting for her run, I was listening to a group of "good old boys" talking smack about who was going to be faster and that gal that is out there now looks really slow. (What they did not know is that both of us were current local auto cross champions) They were very quiet when they saw their times compared to hers!
I really enjoyed speaking with Mr. Lerner for this article. In the 17 years I was with MGP, I met lots of great people both customers and fellow employees. Working with some extremely intelligent engineers in R&D for such a unique concept of safely putting thousands of people into cars to fly around out fo control at times and still not getting them hurt. I visited every MGP track in the world except for Australia and Portland. From Canada to Taiwan, and Saudi Arabia and all in between. Fun times. I wish it was still a viable concept but times change.