Monday, December 23, 2013

Close Encounters of the Best Kind (part 1)

I have shared many stories of George fan meeting George at the Long Beach Grand Prix in the late 1970's and early 1980's, but this is the very first one.   I found this story in the May 1978 issue of the Harrison Alliance.  It is a very long article, so I only typed out the first day of the race and will post the rest soon.   It was written by Karen Dyson and Kris Spackman.

Close Encounters of the best kind
U.S. Grand Prix West Long Beach California
April 1 & 2, 1978
By Karen Dyson and Kris Spackman

What  a weekend indeed!  Kris Spackman, Cindy N. and I made plans months ago to attend the Long Beach Grand Prix, with a little help from my boss, who is an avid auto race fan.  Since last October, we’ve been waiting with great anticipation for this gala event.  As time went by, though I found myself really getting into the Formula One racing, asking my boss zillions of questions; watching the events on TV, I’ve really become excited about the sport, and I had decided that, though the original reason for going to the Grand Prix was to chance a glimpse of one George Harrison, I was just as excited about seeing and experiencing the Grand Prix!

Someone up there must like us.  That’s the only reason I can think of: who’d have ever believed that for two days in a row in a crowd of 100,000 people, we’d see George at the Long Beach Grand Prix?  Not me, that’s for sure!  Saturday, April 1 dawned clear and sunny and my dear pals and I were on our way bright and early, arriving in Long Beach about 8:30.  Having never been to anything remotely resembling an auto race, I didn’t know what to except and surely not two miles of Long Beach city streets blocked off and turned into a race track!  But it would prove to be an experience and a fun one!  I think I can even begin to understand why George enjoys it so much.
The morning passed, leaving us somewhat discouraged:  there were so many people, and the track area was so vast.  If he was here, and recent rumors of his being in LA kept us hopeful, would there be even a slight chance of our spotting him in the crowd?  Qualifying races had been going on all morning, and we’d kept moving, scanning the track area and the grandstands for some sign of curly brown hair!  At 12, we lunched at the Exhibition Hall, which was doubling as the garage, then headed back to ur seats for the Formula 1 qualifying race scheduled for 1:30.  Maneuvering our way through the crowd, we were caught suddenly in a rush of people, and the next thing, Karen was gone.
I looked everywhere, but finally gave up and headed for the pits.  I figured the others would realize I’d be at the McLaren pit.

So there  I was at the McLaren pit, just taking everything in, when suddenly I noticed a person looking very much like George, wearing sunglasses, walking down the center of the pits.  It was so strange, as It hought it was him…but I was so unsure at the same time, and it didn’t help when he walked right past the McLaren pit without stopping, so I thought, well, maybe it wasn’t him.  His hair was lighter than normal, and he was walking so fast…it left me so unsure.  So I waiting there, watching James Hunt; in a few inutes along came this character again.  I was so positive, and so unsure at the same time, so I followed along the fence and watched him.  It was nuts, me fighting through the crowds frantically, it was crazy!  Then suddenly, he stopped and turned around to go back the other way!  So I started fighting my way back through the crowds, watching George with one eye, and trying to see where I was going with the other.  I took a few photos along the way, and then he stopped at Jody Scheckter’s car and stood and talked with the mechanics.  He walked over to my side of the car (making him about 5 or 6 feet away) and stood right smack in front of me.  I was dying!  I proceeded to take pictures, as he stood there shaking hands with Jody, wishing him luck.  Meanwhile I was totally freaking out and when he smiled, oh Lord!  I did try calling out to him a couple of times, but he didn’t hear me.  Then he started down the road.  Here I go again!   I followed him down the road again, frantically pushing through the crowd, trying to watch George at the same time.  When finally I got in front of our grandstand, I looked up to see if the girls were up there.  I did everything I could go get their attention—waved my arms, yelled and screamed, but to no avail.  So I took off, following George, but then he disappeared; there was no sight of him.  I’d lost him!

(Kris speaking)  Not 10 minutes later, there was our Karen, dashing frantically up the grandstand steps, crying, “Here’s here! He’s here!  I saw him! I took about 10 pictures!  He passed right below here.  I tried to get you guys’ attention.”  The hour-long qualifying race seemed to last forever.  We cruised the track area, and up the street and up the street, the way he’d been heading when Karen lost him, trying to spot him in a sea of red jackets –everybody had red jackets on that day!
Finally the race finished and people began to swarm all over the place.  We moved slowly along the track, carefully scanning face after face, hoping…praying… Then Karen grabbed us, pushing us toward the fence, “there he is!!!”

And there he was!  What a sight after 4 very long years!  He looked just incredible, so healthy and tanned, so happy and thoroughly enjoying himself.  He was wearing blue jeans, and off white shirt with red jacket and yellow tennis shoes.  For those first brief moments, it was as if everything around me ceased to exist and there was only George.  I had to keep looking and looking to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.   He was really there, only half a dozen yards and three foot cement wall between us.  Cindy and I clutched frantically at each other and at Karen and I knew they were feeling the same.

He was walking happily along, accompanied by a young Spanish-looking guy (Olivia’s brother?); he stopped and chatted with drivers and mechanics, examined the race cares while we followed outside, going absolutely crazy with delight and keeping it very low key so as not to draw too much attention to him.  A few people did recognize him and we smiled at the awe in their voices, “There’s George Harrison!”

Karen was still taking pictures, and I think he finally figured out it wasn’t the cars or the drivers she was aiming at!  But he appeared genuinely amused and we loved it!   It looked about 10 minutes to work his way down the street inside the track area, while we charged through the masses outside trying to keep up with him and not lose each other in the process.  Then we reached a point where a side street off the main road had been momentarily blocked at the curbs on either side to allow the drivers through to leave the track.  There was a truck on the side street backed up almost to the main road with only a “sidewalk sized” space between it and the wall along the track (Hard to visualize, I know but even harder to explain!)

Anyway, when George reached the gate, he scooted through and went around the track to its right side.  Cindy and I were struggling through an absolute mass of people, and I grabbed her, crying “C’mon!” and we ran down a sidewalk to the left of the truck.  Between us and it was another 3-foot cement wall, and at the bottom, I leapt over it, just as George, who was several feet down the street, turned around.  I never made such a fast about0face in my life, “calmly” chatting with Cindy, and we both just cracked up.

Suddenly we realized we’d lost Karen in the crowd, but knew she’d know we were heading for the garage.  George was only a few yards ahead of us, and much as we hated to follow him, we couldn’t bear to lose him.   He was so cute—he turned around once or twice, because he knew we were behind him, and he’d grin teasingly in our direction.  We followed him all the way to the Exhibition Hall which served as the garage for the drivers’ crews of mechanics, and at first he missed the drive where he should have gone in a headed for the public entrance.   Then he realized his error, turned and came back, scooting through a cluster of people who I’m sure had no idea who he was. We watched him go in, then grabbed our garage passes and raced inside (the passes sold to the public allow you inside the hall to watch the crews work on the cars, but the area where they’re working is barricaded all the way around.  Only the VIP’s are allowed in, and needless to say, that’s where we’d find George!)  And we did:  he was right in the center of the hall, chatting with people, having his picture taken by reporters, and signing autographs,.  We couldn’t see him very well through the crowd around him, but we did notice he’d taken off his sunglasses.

(Karen speaking)  I headed for the garage, as the 3 of us had discussed going there after the last event.  There was no sign of Kris and Cindy in the lines watching the cars go in, no sign of George.  I kept my fingers crossed that Kris and Cindy were inside.  I went in, but I thought I’d never find them, it was so crowded!  I walked around looking for the girls amongst all the bodies and looked for George within the barricades.  Getting clear around the room, Kris spotted me and called out, “over here!”  We stood there getting a glimpse of his red jacket and his curly locks.  Some idiot stood right in the way most of the time; he finally moved, and we had a good, clear view.   George was sitting talking with mechanics and other sorts.  Looking good without his sunglasses!  George got up for the door, looking as though he was leaving, so we tore out a back way, close to where he went out and then down the stairs, expecting him to be walking down the ramp way from the garage.
Poof!  The instant “Harrison Disappearing Act” took place right before our very eyes!  Don’t ask me how the man does it, but he’s an expert.  He was nowhere to be seen!  And we weren’t to see him again until the following day, the day of the Big Race.  With all the incredible experiences of the day before under our belts, we returned to Long Beach saying “Yesterday was so incredible, it’s ok if we don’t see him today.”  Yet we were dying inside with anticipation and hope.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Sara! What a wonderful Christmas gift typing this story for us! Can't wait to read the second part.
    Merry Christmas from Italy.