World's fastest rehearsal
Celebrities get a feel for their cars and the track before upcoming Grand Prix competition
by Karen Robes Meeks
LONG BEACH - Will the winner of this year's Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race be the pro skater, the "Speed" star or the man with the word Bentley in his name?
If there was actual wagering, the smart money would be on Danny Way, said Las Vegas gaming expert Anthony Curtis, who for fun predicted that the pro skater who jumped the Great Wall of China would win the celebrity portion of the April 18 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race against "Speed" star Keanu Reeves and "From G's to Gents" host Fonzworth Bentley.
Still, it didn't stop comedian Carlos Mencia from talking some trash.
"Not arrogant, not cocky, just a matter of fact - the sun will set and come up tomorrow and Carlos is gonna win the race," said the host of Comedy Central's "Mind of Mencia," who joined his fellow celebrity competitors at the practice day Tuesday.
"That's how it's going to go," he said. "They shouldn't even let the other guys race. I think they should let me do 10 laps by myself and let the people out there embrace the `Mencia-ness' as I go by, to smell it. That's the smell of a winner."
On Tuesday, they and celebrities Adrien Brody, Eric Close, Tim Daly, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Raven-Symone and Alex Trebek headed to Long Beach to practice on the city's 1.97-mile downtown street circuit for the first time.
The annual charity race benefitting local hospitals - which in the past has attracted stars such as George Lucas, Clint Eastwood, Cameron Diaz and Gene Hackman - takes place during the 35th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend April 16-19.
For many of the celebrities, maneuvering the Long Beach circuit is a lot different from the course at Willow Springs Raceway, where last month they spent four days of basic race car training.
"It's my first lap since Willow Springs," said Brody, whose con artist film "Brothers Bloom" is coming out in May.
"I have more experience on my first lap here but it's still - I have to get used to the terrain here, and the fact that we have walls, and the fact that I have Keanu Reeves trying desperately to pass me and not accepting the fact that he's just an inferior driver."
Reeves, who at that moment had been reaching for a drink next to Brody, shook his head and smiled: "Brody, you're just unsafe, man. Unsafe."
Asked how fast he drove, Brody said: "Too fast for Keanu."
"Yeah, that's because you were trained," Reeves said. "You're not even paying attention."
"Yeah, I know I wasn't, but that's part of the game - That's why I earned the nickname," Brody said, pointing at his race suit emblazoned with the words "Bad Boy Brody."
After two sessions under his belt, Reeves later shared his thoughts about racing in Long Beach and in Willow Springs.
"This track's a lot wider," Reeves said of Long Beach. "It's bigger, the turns are all different, with one hairpin turn."
Asked about the most challenging part of racing, Reeves replied: "It's putting it all together, when to brake, how to brake, entrance speed, exit speed, getting the right apex."
For Way, who is working on a documentary about his 20-year pro-skateboarding career, there are similarities between racing and skateboarding.
"The commitment to pushing yourself is similar," said Way, who intends to break some of his pre-existing world records in September.
"(But) I feel a lot more safe inside a car with a roll cage and seat belts versus being out there by myself with nothing around me to protect myself."
Bentley quickly dispelled a myth about racing.
"Funny thing is, when you're in a car with a pro, it's more like ballet," he said. "It's not all that 'Fast and the Furious.' It's not how it goes down, guys. That's Hollywood, all right? This thing here, it's precision, it's efficiency, it's patience."
After seeing the stars race Tuesday, Curtis said he's adjusting his numbers, but only slightly.
"Danny Way and Keanu Reeves are both formidable for the celebrity," said Curtis, who plans to release his predictions at www.lasvegasadvisor.com today, and last year correctly predicted ESPN reporter Jamie Little as the winner.
"I will absolutely move them up closer to the top and maybe even those two right at the top and above guys like (pros Al Unser Jr.) and (Johnny) Benson," Curtis said of Way and Reeves. "The other guy I was impressed with today and heard great things about was Adrien Brody. He seems to be a good athlete all the way around and apparently he's got quite a bit of speed out there....
"I haven't crunched the numbers yet, but on the fast, I think I give it to Danny Way as the favorite, Keanu Reeves relatively close and probably a pick 'em between Brody and Bentley," Curtis said.
"Are you serious?" Bentley said. "Keanu Reeves? Neo? He ain't the one....I'm telling you right now - he's fast, but he ain't the one."
When Way found out Curtis pegged him to win, Way couldn't help but smile.
"I'm here to win," he said. "Much respect to everybody else, but I'm gonna die trying."
A more humble Reeves had this to say: "I think by the end of the training he's probably going to have to mix it up again. We'll see."