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Malibu Grand Prix: When pint-sized cars were a big-time attraction

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:

https://www.hagerty.com/media/motorsports/malibu-grand-prix-when-pint-sized-cars-were-a-big-time-att...

Replies (18)

Replies (18)

Great article w lots of cool history

New Driver

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. 

Intermediate Driver

Wow....thanks for the memories!

 

The first time I'd even heard of Malibu Grand Prix was the time and few of my friends and I went out to SoCal to see the 1980 US Grand Prix West (now the LBGP) in Long Beach. The only hotel rooms we could find were in Pasadena, and we spotted the Pasadena MGP on our way out one day.

 

I put in 75~80 laps in the week we spent in SoCal, and enjoyed every nanosecond of every lap.

 

And I still have my MGP license somewhere.....

 

- Jim

Intermediate Driver

Great article...great memories. My brother and I both worked at Malibu Grand Prix in Northridge, CA when we were in high school, back in 1980-1983. I was a Pit Attendant and my bro was the Asst Manager. Working at Malibu Grand Prix when we were in high school was absolutely the best job a teenager could have, especially being we were car guys (even though we only made 2.15 per hour...heck, I would done it for free). I remember strapping in celebrities such as; Christie Brinkley (Yes, I got to tighten up Christie Brinkley's seat belt a few times...and yes, for a 18 boy, it was, well...a very happy day for me, we'll just leave it at that), also Leif Garrett, Adam Rich (Who I also went to school with), Lisa Welchell (from Facts of Life), Scott Baio etc. And a couple weeknights when I wasn't working, Paul Newman and Michael Jackson used to come in. 

Now, speaking of Barry Goldstein noted in the article, I want to say that I do remember him. I recall a gent that would come to the track almost every weeknight (I didn't work every weeknight, but every time I did, this gent came in). He would bring his own helmet of course (anyone who took their laps seriously would bring their own helmet and gloves) and our mechanic would pull out the green "7up" car for him, which was the quickest and best handling car we had out of the 12-14 cars. (The Armor All car was a good car as well - wasn't as quick as the 7up car, but it didn't oversteer as much as the 7up car. (I really don't know how I just remembered that, but I vividly do). 

Anyway, as for lap time record, again, I do recall the weeknight guy, who I believe may have been Barry Goldstein, being incredibly fast...somewhere around a high 56-57 second lap time. Of course, all of us who worked there had fast lap times as well, being that after closing, we would all get about 50 laps or so each. But even with us working there, knowing which cars were the quickest and best handling, and constantly driving them, we could only turn in 57.5-59 second lap times. (My quickest was about a 57.8'ish seconds if i recall correctly, with the track record about 56.3-56.4) 

OK...but who really held the track record? Was it Barry Goldstein? He was fast, but what I do recall, and my brother recalled as well, the track record at Northridge was held by Paul Newman, with a 56.3-56.4 time...at least when we worked there between 1980-1983. 

In any event, thank you for article/memories Hagerty/Preston Lerner. Now that you reminded me of Malibu GP, I think I want to find and buy Virage car on eBay. I saw one for sale a few year back which went for about 5k or so...gotta have one. (thankfully, I don't make 2.15 per hour anymore)       

Passenger

I still have my Malibu License that i got in Orlando Florida, that was one of the best attractions on I drive!

Intermediate Driver

I went to Malibu Grand Prix in Tucson a few times when I was in college.  Thankfully I was just a poor college student and couldn't afford more than a few laps or I would've gone a lot more!  I was going through some old paperwork last weekend in the garage and found my Malibu Grand Prix drivers certificate (of course I didn't throw it away!). I may still have my Malibu Driver's license somewhere too.

 

One of my old bosses was once pulled over by a cop for suspicion of being impaired.  When he handed over his Malibu driver's license instead of his real one, I'm pretty sure the officer's suspicions were confirmed....

Pit Crew

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! 

Passenger

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.

Passenger

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:

TGPLicense.jpg

 ...and will forever miss that hair.

Intermediate Driver

Great article!  I loved Malibu Grand Prix!  Still wish they were around.  You definitely got the feeling of going much faster than they were capable of going.

Passenger

Great story if you could just leave out the bull....     

New Driver

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!

Pit Crew

Still have my Malibu license, minted on the day the MGP opened in Miamisburg, OH. Spent way too much time and money there, but had fun. During wait time to get a car for track time, I rode the motorcycle video game - crashes on it were far less painful than crashes on my Kawasaki.

My best lap times came after a weekend spent at IRP in Indy, at an SCCA driving school, in a Lola FF.

New Driver

In San Antonio the track is still visible off the highway. I was never able to race there, as I was too young. It's a constant reminder of a missed opportunity. I spent my time playing video games instead.

Passenger

I went to go to a Malibu Grand Prix in Redwood City California off 101 a couple of times growing up. It had the track and cars along with miniature golf and the arcade in a castle. I had no idea of the history nor that it was part of a big chain! 

Pit Crew

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.

Randy Davis 

Passenger

I blew a bunch of money at Malibu in Columbus one summer in the early '80's.  The understeer was very frustrating, as was getting yelled at by the attendants for climbing the curbs.  Hated stopping for every lap.  Then, one evening Bobby Rahal set the lap record probably 3 seconds better than my best, and I never went back after that.  I eventually became a trackday junky with a CBR600RR, finding that sport to be more about ability than size of checkbook when compared to tracking a car.

 

Loved this article.  Thanks for bringing back those memories.

New Driver

They really didnt seem much like race cars, none of the driving tricks worked, which I guess was the point.  Only did it once. 

Pit Crew