The Indianapolis Motor Speedway had Tom Carnegie. The Long Beach Grand Prix had Bruce Flanders.
The Californian, whose booming voice and playful morning radio sensibilities defined the listening experience at the iconic Southern California street race, died on Friday after a long fight with COPD. He was 75.
A native of the nearby town of Pasadena, Flanders became one of the most identifiable and enduring fixtures at the Long Beach event after joining the announcing team at the 1978 Formula 1 Grand Prix.
Thanks to his natural warmth and vocal skills, Flanders’ talents were called upon for four decades, and went beyond Long Beach: A popular choice to call hundreds of professional and amateur races throughout his home state, Flanders was often heard at other marquee events across the nation.
With the cancellation of the 2020 Long Beach Grand Prix due to COVID-19, Flanders’ last visit to the seaside event came in 2019, where his voice welcomed Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi to Victory Lane. Flanders also called his team owner’s first win as an IndyCar driver when Michael Andretti won the 1986 Long Beach race, and most of his father Mario’s wins on the SoCal streets.
Altogether, the Andretti family’s nine victories were graced by Flanders’ play-by-play talents from atop the grandstands.
“He was part of Long Beach,” Michael Andretti told RACER. “When you’re sitting there in the pits in your car, and you heard him, you knew you were in Long Beach. It’s really sad to hear. It’s going to be weird not hearing Bruce’s voice when we go back (there). He always had a way of making everything exciting.”
IndyCar legend Danny Sullivan built a strong rapport with Flanders over the years, highlighted by having his 1992 Long Beach win delivered to a massive crowd over the public address system.
“Bruce was just such a good character and everybody loved him,” Sullivan said. “He belongs in the category with the greats. He was always entertaining. There was a lot of downtime between sessions, and he made it so much fun to listen all day long. I can’t imagine Long Beach without him.”
California native and 1996 Long Beach Grand Prix winner Jimmy Vasser spent his youth attending the event with his father, and enjoyed Flanders’ comedic flair.
“His voice was larger than life,” he said. “I remember one of my first Long Beach’s, he called over the PA for (popular 1980s actress) Heather Locklear. He said, ‘Heather Locklear to the announcing booth, please,’ and I went over running there as fast as I could to see her. I thought I was gonna meet her, she’d see me, and fall in love. But then I realized it was total B.S. That was how Bruce held the whole place in the palm of his hand with his sense of humor.
“I’m so thankful to have gone up there last year to do an interview with him. He meant everything and more to us. He will be sorely missed.”