The Real Story How Boat Racing Lost the Best Competition Venue in the West

Occasionally the subject of Long Beach Marine Stadium comes up during conversations among boat racers and fans. Inevitably someone offers up their version of how and why boat racing got aced out of the Stadium, and invariably most of the accounts are terribly inaccurate and just flat-out wrong. Forty-five years after the fact, maybe this isn’t a big deal any more, and possibly a boring topic to most, but nonetheless, it was critically important then and still very relevant today.

For those not old enough to remember or never attended during the ‘golden years’ (late 1960s through the mid-1970s) of boat racing at the Stadium, here’s how it all went down.

In those days, the Stadium boat racing calendar looked something like this. The Southern California Speedboat Club (SCSC) had traditional circle boat racing dates on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends. The Long Beach Boat & Ski Club (LBBSC) did their annual Regatta of Champions event the last week of April. And the National Drag Boat Association (NDBA) squeezed drag races on available weekends in the spring, summer and early fall. Race fans could count on at least seven or eight Stadium events each year

So what was this place? In preparation for the Southern California hosted Summer Olympics of 1932, Long Beach approved construction of the first man-made competition rowing stadium in the U.S. It was built on the Alamitos Bay Estuary by removing over 700 million cubic yards of mud and sand. When it officially opened on July 23, 1932, it was approximately one-mile long and one-hundred yards wide at a depth of five to seven feet at extreme low tide. SCSC started powerboat racing there in 1946.
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It wasn’t long before boat racers and fans of the sport acknowledged this was the finest powerboat racing facility in the west, if not the entire country. Spectating was ideal, water conditions always near perfect thanks to its gradual sloping wave dissipating rock-lined shoreline and two huge concrete launch ramps for easy in and out access.

The Stadium was also a money-machine for those who conducted the events, compensating the City with only a nominal percentage usage fee of the paid gate. It was a securely fenced venue with multiple entrances and exits. Because it was located in Long Beach, only minutes from the 405 San Diego Freeway, it was convenient and accessible to a population center of millions.
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Understandably, the popularity of Marine Stadium boat racing skyrocketed in the late 1960s and into the early and mid-1970s, And things were going along just fine until a handful of residential neighbors began to lodge complaints with the City about traffic (parking), occasional unruly people leaving the facility, trash and noise.

At first, it appeared to be manageable problems and the three primary Stadium users (SCSC, NDBA and LBBSC) were pro-active in addressing those issues at the City level. As races became larger and more successful in the early 1970s, complaints became louder and more organized too.

Although one might think that the most persistent and loudest objections would have come from nearby residential neighbors, they did not. In fact, racers organized a door-to-door canvassing of the homes within a half mile radius of the Stadium and the results were overwhelmingly positive in favor of the boat races
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So who was complaining? It was largely a small homeowners association group (Alamitos Heights) more than a half-mile from the northeastern end of the Stadium. Working in their favor, however, was the fact that they struck up a bond with a newly elected (1972) sympathic and ambitious local City councilwoman, Brooklyn born, Renee Simon to lead their crusade to shut down boat racing.

Simon was a dynamo of sorts for Long Beach politics, very involved with redevelopment projects and City recreation. What she also had was her eye on the big prize, running for Long Beach mayor at some time in the not too distant future.


Now aware who the primary foe was, the racing fraternity enlisted the services of a private sound company to take decibel readings at the Stadium and in various neighborhoods during events. The City also designated a specific location inside the Stadium where decibels would be monitored and recorded during actual racing of various classes and categories of boats.

It was not a surprise that the biggest noise offenders were the blown fuel hydro and flatbottom drag classes along with the supercharged K-boats. What was interesting was the fact that sound readings taken at various locations in the Alamitos Heights district were minimal. The decibel level in that neighborhood of racing was about the same or even a little less than the levels generated by a passing truck or a normal gas powered lawnmower
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Unfortunately, this logic escaped and was ignored by both the Alamitos Heights group and the Long Beach Parks & Recreation department who now had jurisdiction over the Stadium. The wrangling over this debate had now been going on for several years. Boat racing had lost some ground in the fight as the Parks and Recreation Commission had rejected a couple of permit applications for other special events since their general sentiment was the Stadium already had too many events. To appease the complainers, the Commission also enacted a 5:00pm curfew for racing, no Sunday engine start-up before noon, and eliminated the use of the public address system in favor of a sketchy closed circuit radio broadcast (don’t forget to bring your portable radio to the races if you want to know what’s going on).

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All this was leading up to a showdown which occurred on November 13, 1975 at the Parks and Recreation office in Long Beach. It was a typical public hearing where citizens on both sides of the issue were allowed to briefly state (less than five minutes per speaker) their positions. The meeting room was packed, standing room only, and boaters outnumbered irate neighbors by at least eight to one. Designated to give the boat racing side of the argument was Tom Indovina, a Los Angeles attorney and longtime NDBA racer. On the opposing side were random homeowners from Alamitos Heights who delivered rambling and irrational pleas of how their lives were ruined by boat races to the point of having to lock themselves all day in their bathrooms at home on race days with a pillow covering their ears. After hearing from about twenty speakers and ninety minutes of testimony the Commission ended the public input segment of the meeting.


What followed next was a blatant example of political dirty tricks. Less than a minute after the public input session had been closed, who quietly walks into the meeting room through a side door entrance but Councilwoman, Renee Simon. The chairman of the Commission acknowledged her immediately and asks if she would like to say a few words representing her constituents. Simon sonders over to the podium and speaks for a good twenty more minutes condemning boat racing and the unnecessary suffering it was causing Long Beach residents. Not a mention was made, however, of the fact that the ear-shattering Long Beach Grand Prix started in April 1975 with unanimous consent of the City fathers.


So now things needed to go to a vote of the present Commission members. Conveniently for the anti-boat racing crowd, several of the pro-boating members on the Commission were mysteriously absent. The Commission then read a report prepared by their internal staff outlining their recommendations. Not surprisingly the Commission members voted almost unanimously to adopt the staff report which eliminated a few more racing dates off the annual calendar along with a very vague edict requiring ‘adequate’ muffling devices to be installed on all race boats. These new and very arbitrary rules were to go into effect as of January 1, 1977, allowing about thirteen months for boat racers to get their act together.

Obviously, boat racing organizations and racers didn’t like the idea of equipping their engines with unproven mufflers for Stadium competition only events, but the alternative of no Long Beach races didn’t seem like an option at that time. And that now brings us to Part 2 of the story coming soon – “Compliance”