April 1 in Motorsports History: Mario Andretti wins at Long Beach

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The 1984 Grand Prix of Long Beach might have marked a new era for the popular street race, but it still was won by a familiar face.

After being part of the Formula One schedule since 1976, the Grand Prix became part of the CART schedule on April 1, 1984 with a previous champion taking the checkered flag in its first incarnation as an IndyCar event.

Mario Andretti, who had won the F1 race there in 1977, started the race from the pole position and never looked back, leading all 112 laps en route to his second victory in the event. Andretti became the first (and only) driver to win the event under F1 and IndyCar sanction.

“The car was just perfect. I think today I felt I could really control the pace of anyone,” Andretti told NBC Sports in victory lane. “Once we got going at the beginning, we got an idea of who was going to be the contenders, and I felt like I could really handle it. From there on, I felt if the car stayed together we’d be alright and the car just ran absolutely perfect.”

Andretti would notch five more wins in 1984 and won his fourth and final IndyCar championship by 13 points over Tom Sneva. He also would win at Long Beach again in 1985 and ’87.

Also on April 1 in history:

1997: Alex Palou was born in Antoni de Vilamajor, Spain. Palou is an IndyCar rookie this season, having previously raced in the Super Formula series in Japan.

2000: Charlotte Motor Speedway hosted a one-off American Le Mans Series race on a 2.25-mile, 10-Turn layout that was a precursor to the Roval circuit it would unveil for NASCAR 18 years later. Ex-Formula One and IndyCar driver J.J. Lehto and Jorg Muller were victorious, with Muller pulling a double stint in their BMW V12 prototype to finish the win.

2007: Helio Castroneves won the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg for the second consecutive season. The Brazillian won on the 14-turn street course a third time in 2012. 

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Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).