Reeves revved up for celeb race
MOTORSPORTS: "Matrix" star stays cool at practice.
by Rob Morales
LONG BEACH - When Keanu Reeves starred in the 1991 film "Point Break," he played FBI agent Johnny Utah, who went undercover to catch a gang of bank robbers who also happened to be surfers.
Johnny Utah had to learn how to surf, and as the story progressed he became infatuated with being anywhere near the water.
It was therefore no surprise that a little bit of Johnny Utah came out Tuesday when Reeves was asked why he decided to compete in next weekend's pro/celebrity race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
"Are you kidding me?" Reeves said, moving his body sideways so as to show a reporter his view. "Long Beach, the weather's great, we're in cars, we're on the streets going fast, going through lights. It's good, clean fun."
Reeves spoke in animated tones as he got out of his car following a second practice session at the pro/celebrity race media day. So did comedian Carlos Mencia.
"You know what, dude, I was born in Honduras, bro, I grew up in East L.A.," Mencia said. "I mean, come on, dude, this is something that billions of people around the world wish they could do. And it is my reality. So, to be quite frank, I'm just glad to be here."
So was Alex Trebek, the 25-year host of "Jeopardy." But Trebek seemed just a bit shook up after the first practice session. The celebrities have been training for a couple of weeks, but it was their first time on the Grand Prix track.
"Well, it's a little hairy because you've got so many cars and then you've got the pace cars that are passing all of us because they're taking guys like you, reporters, to give you a taste of what it feels like to go a hundred miles an hour," Trebek said. "And so you have to be aware of them.
"And my rear view mirrors weren't set up properly, unfortunately, and I didn't see them. But fortunately the flag bearers would be waving the flags - the blue and yellow - so we knew somebody was trying to pass."
Reeves, Trebek and Mencia are among 18 drivers who will compete in the pro/celebrity portion of the Grand Prix. Some of the others include 2003 Academy Award winner Adrien Brody, actress/singer Raven-Symone and actor Eric Close, who plays an FBI agent on "Without a Trace."
Reeves on Tuesday appeared to be the most sought-after individual. Large groups of photographers clicked away as Reeves entered and left his car for each practice session.
Reporters were lucky to get a minute with Reeves, who seemed ultra-cool in his approach to the whole idea of getting into a car and whizzing around the streets of Long Beach. He also came off as highly appreciative of all the help he is receiving.
"There are some really good people here," he said. "They are really taking care of us in terms of training, getting us comfortable in the cars and on the track.
"It's a great group of people and so there's no work here. The only thing is just trying to pay attention and learn how to go faster."
One got the impression Trebek wasn't all that interested in going faster.
"Well, it's all fun, but it's still work," Trebek said. "And, how can I phrase it? It's scary because it's a learning experience that I'm not at all familiar with. If you're talking about hosting a television show, that's no problem for me. I'm familiar with the ground rules, the history and my way of working.
"But this is all new to me; I'm not a race-car driver. So it's a little different."
As for Reeves, the 44-year-old actor is in his 35th year in the profession, having first appeared on stage in "Damn Yankees" at age 9.
From the sound of it, his role in "Point Break" has been one of his favorites.
"Oh, yeah, that was a great experience," he said of the movie that also starred Patrick Swayze and Gary Busey. "Just the actors I got to work with, what I got to do.
"It was a really fun role, fun film."
Picture caption: Bearded actor Keanu Reeves is all smiles between practice runs for the Pro Celebrity Race in Long Beach. Actor Adrien Brody is behind him. (Steven Georges/Staff Photographer)