2009 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race at Long Beach - Click above for gallery of high-res pics
One of our favorite events at the annual Long Beach Grand Prix is the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race. The slash in its name lets you know that this event features celebrities racing against real pro drivers, as well as a few buy-in drivers. In this case, each entrant gets the chance to pilot an identically prepped and lightly modified Scion tC. Basically, Toyota has removed the mufflers and added racing wheels and StopTech brakes, plus a rollcage and other safety equipment. The pros spot the celebs 30 seconds at the start of this 10-lap race, and then it's every driver for him-or-her-self.
This year's field featured some pretty big names from the entertainment and racing worlds. The race itself sometimes becomes secondary to the mere spectacle, but this year's race featured some pretty good on-track action as well. After jumping out to a huge lead, skateboarding legend and polesitter Danny Way pushed a little too hard trying to hold off the hard-charging Farnsworth Bentley. They tangled, allowing the "pro" triumverate of Al Unser Jr., Johnny Benson and Tom Tudnai through. If that last name doesn't sound familiar, that's probably because Tudnai is the president of a local Toyota dealership – but he won this event once before in 2001, elevating him to pro status.
Just behind the top three, Keanu Reeves inherited the the top celebrity title, just ahead of Ken Baker and Carlos Mencia. Raven Simone finished last after an early shunt ended her run. This means that Little Al now has seven wins at Long Beach, six in an open-wheeler. No wonder he's known as "King of the Beach" in these parts. There's a full rundown after the jump and a gallery available by clicking on any image here.
Photos copyright ©2009 Frank Filipponio / Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.
FINAL RACE RESULTS:
Pos No. Class Name Laps
1 22 Pro Al Unser Jr. 10 21:41.273
2 25 Pro Johnny Benson 10 21:44.001
3 21 Pro President, Longo Toyota Tom Rudnai10 21:46.945
4 11 Celebrity Keanu Reeves 10 21:46.973
5 2 Celebrity Ken Baker 10 21:49.423
6 18 Celebrity Carlos Mencia 10 21:50.834
7 24 Pro Coy Gibbs 10 21:54.021
8 26 Pro Jamie Little 10 21:56.190
9 14 Celebrity Tim Daly 10 21:56.296
10 5 Celebrity Adrien Brody 10 21:56.414
11 1 Celebrity Eric Close10 21:56.579
12 19 Celebrity Auction Winner Annamarie Dean10 21:59.141
13 16 Celebrity Auction Winner Doug Fregin 10 22:04.274
14 8 Celebrity MaryLynn Rajskub 10 22:07.859
15 20 Celebrity Alex Trebek 10 22:11.287
16 6 Celebrity Fonzworth Bentley 10 22:14.165
17 9 Celebrity Danny Way 9 19:54.669
18 17 Celebrity Raven Symone 4 10:13.596
"King of the Beach" Al Unser Jr. is Overall and Professional Winner
LONG BEACH, Calif., April 18 /PRNewswire/ -- It was auto racing at its most thrilling as actor Keanu Reeves prevailed over a highly competitive group of stars of film, television and sports to win the Celebrity Category of the 2009 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race. "The King of the Beach," six-time Toyota Grand Prix winner Al Unser, Jr., finished first among all drivers and won in the Professional category, followed closely by NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Johnny Benson.
Despite enjoying the lead for most of the race, world champion pro skateboarder Danny Way's hopes of gliding into Victory Circle were dashed when he and Fonzworth Bentley, host of MTV's "From G's to Gents," mixed it up in the ninth lap, giving Reeves the opening he needed to cross the finish line in his race-ready Scion tC only seconds before E! Entertainment Television's Executive News Editor Ken Baker and comedian Carlos Mencia.
Actress/singer Raven Symone was the first of the drivers to discover - the hard way - how difficult the 1.97-mile street circuit through the downtown streets of Long Beach can be to navigate, but the plucky Disney star remained as upbeat after the race as the jovial Mencia, who surprised everyone with his third-place finish among the Celebrities.
It was Reeves, however, who claimed to be "in shock" at his triumph. "It is such a great feeling," said the new celebrity champ after the race. "Bentley and I had been going at it for most of the race, but when I got to the last lap and came around the fountain turn I almost couldn't believe it. I figured, 'I'm just gonna go get it.'"
"This field had the crowd cheering through the entire race," said Les Unger, Toyota Motor Sales USA national motorsports manager. "Each of the celebrities and the pros were hungry to take home the trophy this year, and they brought their best to the show. Throughout training and practice, they were intensely focused but they also enjoyed the experience, which is exactly what the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race is all about."
In the Professional Category, Unser overcame the pros' :30-second handicap by the eighth lap and held off the scrappy Benson and Southern California Toyota Dealer representative Tom Rudnai, president of Longo Toyota in El Monte, Calif., who came in third overall. The 2008 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race winner, ESPN/ABC pit reporter Jamie Little, came in fifth among the Pros.
Mencia echoed the feelings of the rest of the drivers, concluding by complimenting Unser, saying, "It was humbling to be in this thing with a guy [like Unser] who has dominated this track for so many years, and still he made us feel great about being here, smiling and giving us tips. He was always smiling...even when he passed us on the track he was smiling!"
FINAL RACE RESULTS: PosNo. Class Name Laps 1 22 ProAl Unser Jr. 10 21:41.273 2 25 ProJohnny Benson 10 21:44.001 3 21 President, Longo Tom Rudnai10 21:46.945 Toyota 4 11 Celebrity Keanu Reeves 10 21:46.973 5 2 Celebrity Ken Baker 10 21:49.423 6 18 Celebrity Carlos Mencia 10 21:50.834 7 24 ProCoy Gibbs 10 21:54.021 8 26 ProJamie Little 10 21:56.190 9 14 Celebrity Tim Daly 10 21:56.296 10 5 Celebrity Adrien Brody 10 21:56.414 11 1 Celebrity Eric Close10 21:56.579 12 19 Celebrity Auction Annamarie Dean10 21:59.141 Winner 13 16 Celebrity Auction Doug Fregin 10 22:04.274 Winner 14 8 Celebrity MaryLynn Rajskub 10 22:07.859 15 20 Celebrity Alex Trebek 10 22:11.287 16 6 Celebrity Fonzworth 10 22:14.165 Bentley 17 9 Celebrity Danny Way 9 19:54.669 18 17 Celebrity Raven Symone 4 10:13.596
Toyota will donate $5,000 to "Racing for Kids" in the name of each celebrity racer, and another $5,000 to the winning racer's charity of choice. Racing for Kids is a national non-profit program benefiting children's hospitals in Long Beach and Orange County, Calif. Toyota has donated $1.7 million on behalf of the race and it participants and various children hospitals since 1991.
Additionally, a $15,000 donation was made in conjunction with the annual "PEOPLE Pole Award." Sponsored by PEOPLE magazine, the award was given to Danny Way, this year's pole-position winner of the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race qualifying session. Way selected the Action Sports Environmental Coalition (ASEC) as his charity, to support ASEC's mission of progressive eco-education and empowering people to adopt a sustainable lifestyle. Way is hoping the funds generated by the "PEOPLE Pole Award" will enable ASEC to build a "green" skate park for kids in Hawaii.
The Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race will be broadcast on Speed Channel next month. (See local listings for time and channel.)
[SOURCE: Toyota Motorsports]