Celebrities such as Patrick Dempsey and Keanu Reeves took to the streets of Long Beach today in practice sessions for the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, kicking off the 36th Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach officially (April 16-18) and sending the familiar roar of race engines throughout downtown. Reeves was last year's Celebrity Race winner and as such comes back as a "Pro" this year. This means he will start 30 seconds behind the other celebrities and is joined by other Pro Jimmy Vasser, Tanner Faust, Steven Millen, Marty Nothstein and Jami Bestwick. Celebrity racers include Dempsey, Adrien Brody, Adam Carolla, Tony Hawk, Christian Slater, Brian Austin Green, Jesse McCartney, Zachary Levi, Megyn Price, Patrick Warburtion and Tike Sumpter.
All of the celebrities and pros were on hand to practice as members of the media were invited to not only cover the event, but ride along with Pro Drivers Mike and Brandon Davis and others.
"I did this race 14 years ago," Brian Austin Green recalls. "The track was much different then, there was no Aquarium turn, things have evolved over the years. It's great to be back doing it," he added.
Brody is in it win. He raced last year and lost to Reeves. "Ya, he hasn't let me live that one down yet," he laughed as he strapped himself in for a practice session.
"I just want to finish without incident," Reeves added. "It's great to have this opportunity, it's really about the experience and seeing a lot of friends," he stated.
"It's a different adrenaline," Hawk told me, "not like what I'm used to. With me, it's usually a board, obstacles, there's not a lot going on around me reliant on so many other people. It's a very different dynamic than anything else I do, and there's a lot going on, very, very fast," he concluded.
Carolla made light of the recent troubles Toyota has had. "I don't think I'll really be needing the brakes much anyway," he laughed, "and I want the accelerator to be pressed up against the floor, so it's all good." When asked about podcasting (his podcast has over one million subscribers) he added, "Well, terrestrial radio pays much, much better, but there's a lot of freedom," he stated.
Media members got to race the track in official Toyota Pace Cars and some (myself included) were treated to a ride with pros of the ACS Racing Team.
Toyota could use a publicity win right now, and the Grand Prix weekend is always a boost for the city's economy. Outside of the Celebrity Race (Saturday, April 17th) the weekend features drift events and a busy race schedule Saturday the 17th with the main event, the fourth race of the Izod Indy Car Circuit being Sunday the 18th. On Friday the 16th The Motorsport Industry Council and the Specialty Equipment Market Association will hold a conference focusing on alternative fuels and green developments throughout racing and motorsports. Entertainment will include Cheap Trick and Molotov over the weekend. For a complete schedule go to http://www.gplb.com
Video from today's celebrity event will be posted here and there will also be coverage of the weekend including exclusive photos and videos here as well.
Photo and video by Charles Karel Bouley