Johnny Benson - Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race Diary, Saturday race-day entry Today was race day for the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race here in Long Beach, Calif., and it was absolutely beautiful - about 80 degrees, sun shining with blue skies. You ...
Johnny Benson - Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race Diary, Saturday race-day entry
Today was race day for the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race here in Long Beach, Calif., and it was absolutely beautiful - about 80 degrees, sun shining with blue skies. You couldn't have asked for a better day to go racing.
I started the race on the outside of the first row of the professionals, which meant 30 seconds behind the celebrity drivers. I thought going into the race, it was going to be tough to catch the leaders without a yellow - and it was. Al Unser Jr. was on the pole for the professionals and we were able to get through traffic pretty well and work our way past most of the celebrities, but we were still 20 some seconds behind the leader. That's when that much needed yellow flag came out when Disney star Raven Symone went off into the tires right in front of me just past the half-way point of the race.
That allowed us to close up onto the three front-running celebrities - X Games star Danny Way, Keanu Reeves and MTV's Fonzworth Bentley. And that's when things really got wild. I'm definitely used to two-abreast and three- abreast racing in my Toyota Tundra in the Camping World Truck Series, but I had a front-row seat to see the three celeb leaders all go side-by- side...and then watch Al Unser Jr. make it four abreast and pass all three of them -- on a street course!
After a hall of fame career, Al's retired from racing, but make no doubt, he definitely can still drive a race car. Unfortunately, his daring move and the celebrities going three abreast next to him left me in a tough spot - sitting back in fifth-place when everything cleared and watching Al drive away. After passing Keanu for fourth, discretion became the better part of valor as Fonzworth Bentley and Danny Way battled for the celebrity lead. On lap nine (of 10), things heated up again as Danny attempted what was probably a little bit too optimistic of a pass and ended up bouncing off the tire wall and right in front of Fonzworth, who was leading the celebrity field at the time, taking them both out of the race.
That moved me up to second-place, but by that point, I had no real chance to catch up to Al as he went on to win the race with Keanu Reeves winning the Celebrity portion of the event. Now I know how Al earned the nickname "King of the Beach" as this was the eighth time he's won here, six in an Indy car and twice in this race. Second-place isn't usually something I'm all that pleased with, but considering I haven't run many road courses and who the competition was, second-place wasn't all that bad.
Of course, the on-track racing is really just a part - and maybe a small part - of the event. The whole experience racing in the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race is one I'll treasure for a long time. Not only meeting all these celebrities that I've admired from afar, but also finding out what good people they really were was a privilege.
And best of all, through Toyota's generous contributions we were able to raise more than $100,000 for children's charities. If there ever was a race where everyone was a winner, it was here in Long Beach.
Thanks for riding along, I'll see you at the race track!
Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race Final Results
1. Al Unser Jr. (Professional Winner)
2. Johnny Benson
3. Tom Rudnai (Toyota dealer)
4. Keanu Reeves (Celebrity Winner - Speed, The Matrix)
5. Ken Baker (E! TV)
6. Carlos Mencia (Mind of Mencia)
7. Coy Gibbs (Joe Gibbs Racing)
8. Jamie Little (ESPN Pit reporter)
9. Tim Daly (ABC's Private Practice)
10. Adrien Brody (Best Actor Oscar-winner for The Pianist)
11. Eric Close (CBS' Without a Trace)
12. Annamarie Dean (Celebrity Auction Winner)
13. Doug Fregin (Inventor of the Blackberry)
14. Mary Lynn Rajskub (Fox's 24)
15. Alex Trebek (Jeopardy)
16. Fonzworth Bentley (MTV)
17. Danny Way (X-Games Skate-boarding champ)
18. Raven Symone (Disney's She's So Raven)