Wood Rules Toyota Pro/Celebrity Grand Prix
These celebrities aren't pretending and this is not make believe. This is 10 laps of 1.97 miles each at 100-mile-per-hour plus speeds. It's fast, and things can go wrong. And while it's all done for charity and in good fun, a competitive mood fills the air in the People Magazine celebrity paddock where the drivers gather before getting in their fancy 210 HP Scion FR-S cars and ripping up the streets.
Rutlledge Wood, from TV's Top Gear USA, won the pole position on Friday, April 19th as his lap time of 1:45.505 proved the fastest of a lineup that includes Mark Steines (Hallmark Channel's Home and Family); actor Michael Trucco; Brett Davern from MTV; Medal of Honor Winner Dakota Meyer; actor Jeremy Sisto; comic Wanda Sykes; Olympic Gold Medalist Jessica Hardy; actress Jenna Elfman; Twilight movie star Jackson Rathbone and Latina star Kate De Castillo.
Wood's Charity, a camp for special needs kids Victory Junction started by Kyle and Pattie Petty in honor of their son Adam, received a check from People Magazine for $15,000 for his fastest lap win.
Last year's winner Adam Carolla (The Man Show) was excited to be back, this time in the "Pro" division. The Pros are just that, celebrity pro racers and once a celebrity wins the Celebrity Grand Prix they turn "pro." Carolla won last year's annual Toyota / People Magazine Celebrity Grand Prix.
"This year, it's about cutting loose, letting go and just going fast," the talk show host and TV personality stated. Wood echoed his sentiments.
"Now, it's about having fun and going fast. Everything else from here is just gravy," Wood said after getting the check for his pole win. "Sure, I want to win, but really to get more money for the Junction. At least three or four kids will be able to go to one of the greatest places you can imagine, and that's what counts."
Win is just what he did as the star-studded race got underway on a gorgeous April 20th in Long Beach, CA. And as celebrity races go, this one was exciting. Veteran Dakota Meyer provided thrills when he did a complete 360 degree spin and recovered from it without hitting a wall to continue the race. Andy Bell (Nitro Circus overturned a corner and ended up running head on it to the tire barrier, damaging his car and leaving the race ("Oops!" he exclaimed leaving the car upon return). And many of the celebrities were battling it out for the win.
"You know, after a while, I just waived them by," joked Sykes. "It's a beautiful day, I'm in a pretty car on a great track, why not enjoy the ride? Besides, I wanted to get home safely, you know, like when you're driving to church," she laughed. Asked if she would do it again, "No, I've done it now. I don't see myself doing it again, it's a blast and has been a great experience, but it's one I've had," she joked as she posed for fan photos.
There can be no doubt Kate Del Castillo (telenovella star) enjoys the race. She plays a race car driver on her show, but acknowledges this is much different.
"This is real, this is great, it's something I feel very comfortable doing," this Latina sensation said as she was being swarmed by media and fans after the race. Throngs pressed against the People Magazine Paddock fence to get a photo or an autograph from the star, and one has to wonder what it's like being the center of that storm.
"It never gets old," she said as she signed a young boy's arm with a Sharpie. "Maybe it's because I'm the only Latina in the race and this is Southern California or, well, who can say really," as five photographers pulled at her for shots. Look for Del Castillo to make a larger presence in the American market if this response is any indication of future success.
People Magazine has had an ongoing commitment to the Miller's Children Hospital of Long Beach CHOC, Children's Hospital of Orange County.
"It's incredible to be a part of something that has donated over two-million dollars for charity over the years," the handsome Jackson Rathbone told me right before the race. He was kissing his wife and baby and about to get in to the car. Rathbone is part of a cultural phenomenon with the Twilight movies and as such has legions of young girls (and a few boys) worried about him in the race, particularly, harming his face.
"That's hysterical," he laughed. "I hope I don't hurt any part of my body at all! Look, we had no idea vampires without fangs who lived in the woods basically was going to become what it did. Even when the first movie came out, we all just sat back with wonder and watched the phenomenon explode. It's been quite a ride, much like this," he concluded as he kissed his baby one more time before strapping on his helmet.
After the race it was all smiles and hugs, and the friendly spirit of competition surfaced again.
"Heck ya, I'd do this again. I'm ready to go do it again right now," an exuberant Elfman exclaimed.
"Why is it every time I get involved in something, I end up doing something 'first'?" Meyer questioned when he was told no other celebrity had spun a 360 and continued on the race. "Hey, I'm a Marine, we don't quit," he proclaimed while getting lots of hugs from fans and friends.
And Carolla was, well, Carolla.
"Not sure what's next, maybe LeMan's," he laughed, beer in hand after the race. "Since I'm the first celebrity to come back the year after winning and then win the Pro, we're in total uncharted territory, who can say, but if they let me, I'm back next year."
He also puts the visits to the hospitals and the charities in perspective.
"I say this a lot, but I go visit for the parents. The kids are five, they weren't even conceived when the Man Show was on. But the parents who have sat and watched their child go through such adversity, they need a hug,they need a release, a break, a laugh. I go for them as much as the kids," he said on a more serious note.
Celebrities spend two weekends in a race school out in Willow Springs, CA before hitting the track in Long Beach and then lots of practice runs. Schedules sometimes get in the way.
"I wasn't able to make it to all the sessions," Jeremy Sisto recalled after the qualifying. "Not that it would have been so much better out there," he laughed.
People Magazine in conjunction with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach has created a race that's almost as popular as the main Grand Prix races themselves. Over 170,000 people are expected in Long Beach over the weekend of April 19-21 for race and drift competitions in an event that dumps millions in to the economy of Long Beach, all told. Rocker Brett Michaels performs Saturday night the 20th and the weekend features Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series at Long Beach race, Firestone Indy Lights, Team Drifting Challenge, the SCCA Pro World Challenge and the IZOD IndyCar Series. There's food trucks, an exposition inside the convention center and various activities for all ages.
For more information on the Grand Prix go to Long Beach Grand Prix and for information on People Magazine go to website, or get the App for iOS or Android. Karel's books are available at Amazon and his upcoming comedy album will be available in iTunes.
Toyota Pro / Celebrity Grand Prix Part 1
Toyota Pro/Celebrity Grand Prix Part 2
Follow Charles Karel Bouley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/therealkarel