For the past 29 years, celebrities from film, television, music and sports have taken their spots on the starting grid behind the wheel of a revved-up Toyota sports coupe while racing through the streets of Long Beach, California as part of the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race. Over 370 fan favorites such as Cameron Diaz, George Lucas, Ashley Judd, Lil' Kim, Sean Astin, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, Gene Hackman, Clint Eastwood, Woody Harrelson, Karl Malone, Kelsey Grammer, Jay Leno, Matt LeBlanc, Queen Latifah, Joe Montana, Patrick Dempsey, John Elway and dozens of others have tested their skills racing through 10 laps of heart-pounding, action-packed turns at over 100 mph-all for the benefit of children's hospitals.
A highlight of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race is the longest-running corporate-sponsored event of its kind.
Stars competing for the checkered flag show up race weekend with much more than a camera-ready smile. Participants commit to eight days of charity involvement, car preparation and actual racing, including an intensive four-day training session that teaches stars how to properly handle the vehicles and how to manage the complexities of the track. After completing training, they hit the street course in Long Beach for a practice session, followed by the actual race (April 8), which rips and roars to a cheering crowd of tens of thousands, as well as on national television.
"The excitement and competition is fierce," said Les Unger, national motorsports manager at Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. "Celebrities sign up thinking this race will be a friendly competition for a good cause. Come race day, rivalries and friendships have developed, setting the stage for an exciting and dramatic display of adrenaline. It's fun to watch the transformation from celebrity to race car driver."
After competing in the 2005 race, Patrick Dempsey, who plays Dr. Derek Shepherd on ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," now dabbles in professional racing as a hobby and will be classified in the "pro" category for the 2006 race. "Toyota puts on a great event that's a lot of fun, very competitive and most importantly for a great charity cause. I had such a great experience last year that I jumped at the chance to be involved again," said Dempsey.
In addition to learning the tricks and trades of competitive racing, the star-studded group raises money for "Racing for Kids," a national organization benefiting children's hospitals. Each year, the celebrities visit Miller Children's Hospital in Long Beach to spend time with sick and recovering children, evoking smiles, laughter and inspiration. Since 1991, the race has raised more than $1.3 million for charity. Donations are split equally between Miller Children's and Children's Hospital of Orange County.
The 2006 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race will take place on Saturday, April 8 through the streets of downtown Long Beach, California and will be broadcast nationally on SPEED.
A highlight of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race is the longest-running corporate charity event of its kind.