When drivers speed through Long Beach next month, it will be the last time the race is run in the Champ Car series. The Toyota Long Beach Grand Prix, along with other Champ Car races, will join the Indy Racing League in 2009.

What's the difference? The Champ Car series ran primarily on streets and the cars were built with turbocharged engines. The IRL is mostly run on oval tracks with Honda racing engines. Its biggest race is the Indianapolis 500.

Organizers didn't have time to make major plans for the last race, as the decision was made only a few weeks ago.

"This will be a celebration of 25 years of Champ Car racing in Long Beach," said Jim Michaelian, chief executive and president of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach. Winning cars will be on display and drivers from past races will be on hand to offer some reminisces.

Twelve years ago, there was a split in open wheel racing among league owners who favored oval tracks and those that favored road and street races, including the Long Beach Grand Prix. The result was two different leagues that split the allegiances of fans and sponsors.

Last month, organizers unified the two to form an Indy Racing League, which organizers hope will draw bigger crowds and attract more sponsors as the sport competes with its larger rival NASCAR.

"In the long term, this will be beneficial for fans and supporters of open wheel racing in America," Michaelian said.

Long Beach organizers wanted to join the IRL for this year's race, but there was a scheduling conflict with a race in Japan. Rather than scrub the one in Long Beach, it was decided to keep it in the Champ Car series. Drivers in both races will be awarded points for the standings in the unified league.

Some events had to be scrubbed entirely due to the merger. Champ Car races in Houston, Cleveland and Toronto were canceled for this year because they could not be scheduled into the IRL season.

The league expects IRL races to have fields of approximately 25 drivers, compared with two fields of 15-20 that used to race in separate series.

The economic impact of changing series could force some Champ Car teams to close up shop, however.

That's because Champ Car vehicles have Cosworth engines while IRL cars are powered by ones built by Honda. Champ Car teams must now replace engines and chassis that they all bought as part of a package deal just one year ago. Costs to retool the cars could run into the millions per team, as some teams run several cars.

To help offset costs, the league will provide one engine and chassis to teams converting from Champ Car to IRL vehicles. Smaller teams might not be able to sustain themselves even with that assistance, and the cars that they've purchased and raced for one year can't be resold easily.

Puck Pick

Los Angeles-based Accuscore has teamed up with Versus television network, a wholly owned company of Comcast Corp., to develop, produce and distribute National Hockey League-related content.

The multiyear deal gives Versus exclusive television rights to Accuscore's nightly NHL forecasts, which include predictions of player stats as well as game results. Versus, which televises a wide variety of sports events, has cable broadcast rights for NHL games and reaches 74 million households in the United States. Financial terms of the deal with Accuscore were not disclosed.

Accuscore spent months testing its forecast against results from actual games before commercializing the product.

The Versus deal marks the first time that Accuscore has developed a product in conjunction with a distributor. The sports forecasting company was founded in 2004 and has quickly become one of the leading sports forecasters.

In addition to Versus, Accuscore currently licenses its product to ESPN, CBS Sportsline and Yahoo, among others.

Kick Start

Jolt has become the official energy drink for the L.A. region of the World Adult Kickball Association. The 3,000 players in the amateur sports league's 11 local divisions will now wear the Jolt logo on uniforms.

"They are relaunching their product and trying to update their brand and they have started in Los Angeles," said Aaron Zitrin, senior regional care and development manager for the association.

Jolt was founded in 1985 as a soda alternative to coffee with the slogan of "Twice the caffeine." It changed its product in 2007 and is now an energy drink.

L.A. was chosen because of its importance to the energy drink market. Jolt competes in a crowded sector that includes Monster Energy, a subsidiary of Corona-based Hansen Natural Corp., and Santa Monica-based Red Bull USA's energy drink.

The kickball association was founded 10 years ago and has grown to include 49,000 players in 27 states.

Staff reporter David Nusbaum can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 236, or at dnusbaum@labusinessjournal.com .

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