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Meet the ‘Mr. Party Man’ of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach

Justin McBride may have the best job at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

After volunteering at every race for 32 years, McBride has the formal title of Hospitality Ambassador. But that’s just a stuffy name for describing what McBride does. His job is directing up to 40 other volunteers to make sure that guests, including celebrities and VIPs, have an enjoyable and memorable weekend.

In other words, he is Mr. Party Man of the Grand Prix.

His boss, Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, praises McBride for being “very attentive to the needs of our clients and always doing it with an infectious smile and positive attitude.”

“I am always ready to party!” said McBride, who is so busy he has no time for any drinks, except maybe an occasional beer when the day is over.

McBride is an affable guy with deep roots in the premier street race, which will once again take over downtown Long Beach from Friday to Sunday, Sept. 24-26.

He was 5 years old when his mother took him to his first Grand Prix in Long Beach in 1977, the third year of the race. It was love at first sight for the youngster, who got caught up in the excitement of the roar of engines and the thousands of people having a good time watching the race and partying.

That love affair continued into adulthood. McBride is still a kid at heart, but now he is 49 years old, and makes sure everyone enjoys themselves in the party tents and suites throughout the race course.

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One of his aunts, Gemma Bannon, was executive administrative assistant for the race’s founder, Chris Pook. When Pook retired, she continued the job with Michaelian, Pook’s successor. McBride’s uncle, Martin Bannon, is the Grand Prix’s marketing director. And McBride’s mother, Aileen McBride, started working at the front desk years ago for the race’s Founder’s Suite at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. She now is a seasonal employee as a marketing assistant for the race.

McBride did all kinds of chores for his Aunt Gemma when he was a young boy and into his teens, everything from stuffing envelopes to running errands. When he turned 21, McBride began to get more involved in hospitality work. He became the volunteer Hospitality Ambassador for the 26th race in 2000.

On a busy Sunday, McBride said, he will tend to anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 guests.

On race weekend. it’s hard to find him because he rarely stands or sits still. He is constantly moving around the course on whatever vehicle he can get his hands on — a scooter, a golf cart or even, at times, a bicycle.

Of all the celebrities he has welcomed, McBride said, his favorite is movie star, Nicholas Cage, who was born in Long Beach and graduated from Poly High School.

“He was an awesome guy, very gracious and appreciative for the help we gave him getting to a pace car and other things,” McBride said. “He had just finished ‘Gone in Sixty Seconds’ and couldn’t have been more generous with his time.”

What is the one thing that McBride is afraid of during race weekend?

It’s probably the one thing that almost everyone hopes doesn’t happen: rain.

“Rain is bad for a lot of things,” he said, “including making the grass and dirt around the tents muddy and sloppy.”

Fortunately, it has rained only one time on Sunday since the race started in 1975, and it didn’t rain during the race, only before and after it, McBride said.

“Because it hardly ever rained,” McBride said, “we used to call it Pook weather after Chris. But we were always concerned during race week.”

He can laugh at it now, but he wasn’t laughing a few years ago about an incident that was not caused by rain but by dry weather.

“Because of grass and dirt in the tent area, the city turns off the water sprinklers,” McBride said. “This one year, the grass grew about a foot tall so someone got a weed whacker to cut the grass. Well, the grass went inside the tents and stuck to the top and sides of the tents. We had to power wash the grass off the tents because we were afraid the grass would fall off on the food and drinks.”

A more serious problem happened in 2004, when McBride was standing on the race course for the national anthem and waiting for the five parachutists to drop out of the plane onto the course with their pink smoke plumes.

“Unfortunately, one of the parachutists lost his way and got way off course, by 100 yards or more,” McBride said. “I didn’t see him coming down because he was behind me. At the last second, someone shouted something. I turned and saw him, so I ducked and rolled and didn’t suffer a major injury. His smoke can hit me in the leg and caused a burn, but that was all. I was lucky. The parachutist suffered a broken leg.”

When he is not tending to Grand Prix guests, McBride, a Corona resident, keeps busy as a senior project manager for LogicalisUS, an international IT solutions and management service provider. He also is a Realtor.

And, as if that didn’t keep him busy enough, McBride is senior technology manager for California Gang Investigators Association, Inc., which is father founded.

McBride’s father was a sergeant in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for 29 years. The Gang Investigators Association was founded to foster better relationships and networking among the various investigative units dealing with gangs in Los Angeles County and throughout California.

But back to the Grand Prix.

Because of his early connection to the Grand Prix as a youngster and his years of volunteer work, McBride has also become something of a historian on the race. He points out that this year’s race will be the only Grand Prix in September, except for the first one in 1975. All the other races have been held in April. This year, it shifted to September because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“So this year’s race is an anniversary,” he said, “another reason it is so special.”

And another reason to party and have a good time.

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Source: Orange County Register

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