Grand Prix: Keanu Reeves, Al Unser Jr. Win Pro-Celebrity Race
by Mike Guardabascio
The only Way up for Keanu Reeves was out, as he won the Toyota Pro-Celebrity race on Saturday by avoiding a race-changing pileup at turn six. The pileup catapulted Al Unser Jr. to the front of the race, where he easily won the pro category, and took out prior race leaders Danny Way and Fonzworth Bentley.
Way, who led the celebrity category at Friday’s practice and qualifying round, was out in front of all drivers for the majority of the race—when Raven-Symone crashed on lap five, bringing the race under a yellow flag, Way was out in front of Unser Jr. and the rest of the field by five-plus seconds, and looked like he would win easily. “My thought when we came under the yellow was, ‘It’s nice to see Danny again,’” said Keanu Reeves at the post-race press conference. “Because we hadn’t seen him in a while.”
After the caution, Unser Jr. blasted out, as did Fonzworth Bentley, and the race tightened up at the top as the leaderboard opened up. Then, on the last lap, positions changed again as Unser, Bentley, and Way jockeyed for positioning around turn six—Unser Jr. squirted by, but Way went straight into a wall, and was then rear-ended by Bentley (who went on to finish last after getting taped together). Reeves said when he went by, he thought, “Wait, did I just win? I’d better not crash.”
He held on and took the checkered flag, beating second-best celeb Ken Baker by two-and-a-half seconds. “I’m still a little in shock,” he said after. “I can’t say I’m not glad to have won, but I am a little surprised. I mean, what a way to win: I didn’t crash.”
The other drivers at the press conference admitted they’d been rooting for Reeves as the underdog. Carlos Mencia said, “You were in front! You were in a movie called Speed and you’re the One, man!” And Jamie Little added, “You should be really proud—it doesn’t matter that there was a crash, you finished first.”
Way wasn’t as happy, shaking his head visibly disgusted after the crash and telling a crowd he was “pretty pissed” about crashing, and that he felt cheated of his win by the yellow caution flag. Little was upset about the way he handled it, saying at the press conference, “You blame yourself, not those around you. It’s not Bentworth’s fault and it’s certainly not Toyota’s.” Reeves joked that his friend Dave Meara (who had won the race before) shouldn’t give him too much crap: “At least Danny can say, ‘Yeah, but I drove straight into a wall!’” Way finished with the fastest lap, however, even beating Al Unser Jr., the undisputed King of the Beach.
Reeves and the other competitors had nothing but nice things to say about Unser Jr. “He’s like a Jedi master,” said Reeves. “He’s so relaxed, but with the eyes of an assassin.” For Unser Jr., it’s the seventh time he’s crossed the LB Grand Prix finish line in the lead—though the previous six times, in the actual race, might mean a little bit more. Reeves said all the Prix workers were holding up seven fingers to Unser Jr. as they took their victory ride, the two champs waving to the fans from the back of a Toyota Tundra pace car, enjoying themselves and soaking up a last lap of Long Beach sun.