Keanu Reeves, Al Unser Jr. finish first in Grand Prix Pro/Celebrity race
by Kelly Puente
LONG BEACH - Keanu Reeves must have remembered a few moves from the movie "Speed."
The 44-year-old "Matrix" star maneuvered through the 11-turn downtown street circuit on Saturday to come out atop the celebrity division of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach's Pro/Celebrity race.
"Owwwwww!" shouted fans as professional skateboarder Danny Way crashed into the tire barriers.
Way had been favored to win the 10-lap charity race, but lost speed in a few pileups, allowing Reeves to pull in first among the celebs with a time of 21 minutes and 46.973 seconds.
"I thought, this is it? Am I gonna win?" said Reeves. "And then I went into shock."
Racing legend Al Unser Jr. won the pro division with a time of 21 minutes and 41.273 seconds.
Under sunny skies and hot weather, thousands turned out for the third day of 35th Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Among the day's highlights were the Pro/Celebrity race, Team Drifting, IndyCar Qualifying, the Le Mans Series and a concert featuring Puddle of Mudd.
Australian driver Will Power qualified for the top spot in today's championship race, which starts at 1:15 p.m. Gates open at 7 a.m.
Crowds today could be facing record heat with an expected high of 81 degrees, said AccuWeather meteorologist Michael Sager. The record is 88 degrees, set in 1986. Sager said the heatwave is expected to last through Tuesday, with highs in the 90s.
While organizers do not release official crowd numbers, many long-time volunteers said attendance is noticeably higher this year.
"It's Indy...Indy and the weather," said Vivienne Tondreault, president of the Committee of 300.
A volunteer with the historic committee for 25 years, Tondreault said the new presence of the Indy Racing League has brought fresh fans in droves.
And despite the economy, many vendors said sales have also been up this weekend.
Liz Holmes, owner of the Long Beach-based Fast Kitty, which specializes in clothing for female race fans, has so far seen a slight boost compared with last year.
"I think it might have something to do with Danica Patrick," she said.
Patrick, the 27-year-old Wisconsin native who became the first woman to win an IndyCar race last year, certainly had her share of female fans Saturday.
Carol Joyce, co-owner of Prime Time Racing, said Patrick merchandise is a big seller.
"She's given IndyCar a big shot in the arm," Joyce said. "(And) the men love her just as much as the women do."
Thirteen-year-old Randi Schneider, who has been coming to the Grand Prix since before she was born, couldn't wait to put on her blue Patrick T-shirt.
"I like Danica Patrick," she said. "Girls rule."
Her mother, Dorie Schneider, has been attending the Grand Prix for 20 years, including one year when she was pregnant with Randi.
"I remember when we were here about six or seven years ago, when Danica was just starting out, and my son was getting autographs from all the drivers," Dorie Schneider said. "All the other drivers were signing the front of the poster, but he asked Danica to sign the back of the poster because she's a girl. Well, look where she is now!"
This year's race also brought out die-hard IndyCar fans like Long Beach resident Theresa Davis, who has a tattoo of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway logo across her lower back.
The 43-year-old flight attendant, who grew up within walking distance of the Indiana track, got the tattoo last year as a tribute to her lifelong love of racing.
"I'm as happy as a pig in mud," Davis said.