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Podium Dreams at the 2015 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race

A number of well known celebrities have made attempts - some more successful than others - into the world of big-time motorsports. One can consider Steve McQueen, Paul Newman or Patrick Dempsey at the top of this list (a list which we've visited before... check out the "Top 8 Celebrity Auto Racers of All Time" here.) In more modern times, a gateway to catching the racing bug for the famous participants has been the Toyota Pro/Celebrity race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Celeb 454 Since 1977, Hollywood and pro racing's A-listers have collided (sometimes literally) here at the shady harbor town-turned thriving metropolis. The almost 40-year-old tradition has pitted celebrities against pro drivers from many different disciplines, producing celebrity winners such as Adam Carolla, Keanu Reeves and Donny Osmond; and pro winners that read like a who's who of motorsport, the event within the Grand Prix has been a perpetual fan favorite. Celeb 440 The celebrities are given a 30-second head start from the pros in the ten-lap event, which makes an exciting dash as the more experienced racers work their way through the field while battling one another. Pros from NASCAR star, Danica Patrick, to legends like Dan Gurney or drifter Ken Gushi have all won the race throughout its history. Celeb 450 The Toyota Pro/Celebrity race has been a showcase for Toyota, who have provided the showroom-stock Celicas until 2005, then promoting their Scion brand by using their tC and FRS for the race - which for the last several years has benefited Racing For Kids, a national organization supporting children’s hospitals. Celeb 452 There is little difference from the car you can buy from your local Scion Dealer, except they've added Eibach coil-over shocks, an exhaust and larger brakes to make them a little more competitive. There is little accentuating the FR-S Boxer motors, so in a year that saw the fastest IndyCar race in the event’s history, the Pro/Celebrity race was more about keeping the revs high, and the handling and precision winding through the 1.9-mile street course. Celeb 457 The 2015 group was pretty lively and very competitive. The winner returned as a pro after appearing first as a celebrity two decades ago. Alfonso Ribeiro, you'll remember him best starring as "Carlton" alongside Will Smith in the TV show 'Fresh Prince of Bel Air'. In 1994 and 1995, he won the race and became infatuated with racing. He would run in several pro series, beginning with Barber Dodge then Formula Mazda. The affable actor absolutely checked out in this year's race, and won overall by 15.8 seconds in the ten lap event. Celeb 442 Ribeiro, like so many before him, enjoyed his time in racing, but gained wisdom, “Having pursued a professional career in racing, I've learned that it's expensive, there are a lot of people out there who can go fast, a lot of politics… I've decided 'let’s just keep doing the celebrity race.’ You fall in love with (racing), but it is really such a difficult world to be successful in. Celeb 458 Over the years, a few other celebrities also caught the racing bug after participating. 'Malcolm in the Middle's Frankie Muniz tried his hand in the Pro Mazda and Formula Atlantic Series after winning in 2005. In 1978, a writer for Sports Illustrated named Sam Moses talked his way into a slot in the race to write a first-hand article. Racing against Gurney, Don Prudhome and William Shatner, he caught the bug hard. His notorious book, 'Fast Guys, Rich Guys and Idiots' chronicled his adventures trying to find his next ride in a myriad of racing series. Like so many before and after him, catching the bug just isn't enough. Celeb 456 Another fast celebrity at this year's race was 'Young and the Restless' star Joshua Morrow, who also admitted to having the racing bug. "After my first pro/celebrity race, I wanted to get into it. I bought an old Ford Pinto and started running it at Irwindale. Even that was expensive! I got tired of paying an exorbitant amount of money just to race a Pinto in a circle.” Morrow took pole for the celebrity division in the race. Celeb 443 Supermodel and actress Donna Feldman humbly admitted to real education from the experience, “This is my first time driving stick! I’m not experienced enough to win, but this has been so much fun challenging myself. I promised myself that this year I would be comfortable being uncomfortable.” Her agent was contacted by the race after seeing her latest ad campaign for Visa Black, “They saw a commercial where I jump out of a helicopter and must have figured, ‘she’s a bad-ass, she can do it’. It was very James Bond-like. Celeb 453 I've opened for the (Rolling) Stones… done some pretty fun things,” exclaimed Mark McGrath, frontman of the band Sugar Ray, “This [race] was one of them!” In the post qualifying interviews, he was completely alight with adrenaline, “I drive a mini van, never got a speeding ticket… I definitely caught the bug—but I also want to play point guard for the Lakers, and we know that’s never going to happen… Celeb 451 Robert Patrick, current star of the CBS action-drama 'Scorpion' and best known for playing 'T-1000' in 'Terminator 2', raced on the streets as a kid, but never like this: “In high school, growing up in Detroit, we would race out at 12 Mile, so that's the extent of my racing experience up until now.” He enjoyed the overall experience, adding, “Danny McKeever’s group trained us well at Willow Springs and were a great help. There was a lot more room to make mistakes (at Willow Springs) and Long Beach is very tight. You just keep your line and hope you don’t run into anything. Celeb 455 Raul Mendez, a well-known Novella actor, started the race on the front row and was impressed with the charitable aspect of the race, “I was thinking about the kids I met at the hospital.” The group spent time at the Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach where they met children undergoing various treatments and their parents. Celeb 438 Dave Pasant, a retired insurance executive, has donated more money to Racing for Kids than anyone in the history of the race. For the last six years, Dave has been the high bidder in an auction to participate in the race. After six attempts, Pasant reached a personal goal, winning the celebrity division and finishing 2nd overall. “The skill progression is dependent on seat time, so I have improved much over the last few years. This is always so much fun. You get the butterflies every time before getting in the car. Celeb 441 Over the years, some of the participants in the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race have truly caught the bug as the virus of speed and adrenaline course through their veins. This race has been a catalyst for many in high-profile careers, who are already used to performing at a high level, to take a serious look at both the profession and the hobby. Just like most pro sports, there is a very small chance of climbing to the top. Adam Carolla might have the right idea: collecting and racing vintage cars a few weekends a year. Photos: Tom Stahler and Brandon O'Brien

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