Being a celebrity obviously has its benefits, chiefly being cash. This allows a certain freedom in life where more doors open and price tags don’t mean anything. Whilst the majority spend a lot of money on fast performance cars, for a few this just isn’t enough and their need for speed must be sought elsewhere. These select few seek, speed, mental challenges and danger. Being the driver with a crew around you and an open track ahead, the Toyota Grand Prix Of Long Beach is an adrenalin rush Hollywood Boulevard just can’t match.
Jim Michaelian is the president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach and knows that those who experience the rush of a racecar catch the “racing bug”.
Long Beach has hosted the Toyota Grand Prix for three decades, providing celebrities with the opportunity to be a true racing driver for the weekend. Of course, if the bug has bitten, most celebs refuse to hang up their helmets and overalls after Long Beach’s race. Some get their racing licences and hit the track whenever they can.
This racing format has also given drivers that step up on the ladder leading to an actual racing career – for nearly four decades, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Pro/Celebrity race has seen celebs such as Josh Brolin, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman and Jesse James turn pro.
Actor, Patrick Dempsey is one of the latest editions to the pro circuit. Despite not gaining his start at Long Beach, he is the most gifted celeb to ever race the Pro/Celebrity race.
Dempsey caught the racing bug as a kid, due to his father’s big influence over him. It was thanks to Dempsey’s wife that his racing career took off at all – Mrs Dempsey became tired of him lounging on the sofa watching the SPEED channel. Taking further positive steps, she bought him a 3-day Skip Barber racing course in 2004 as a present, and he took to racing hook, line and sinker…
Dempsey even has his own team, “Dempsey Del Piero Racing”, and his car is a Tully’s Porsche 911 GT3. Apart from Dempsey, Andy Lally and Joe Foster also drive.
Other massive stars to find success in racing include Steve McQueen (winner of the 1970 12 Hours of Sebring), and Paul Newman, a multiple winner at various circuits.
The most recent star to go pro is Malcolm In The Middle star Frankie Muniz.
“It is every guy’s dream to be a race car driver,” Muniz answered in an interview. “But most never have the opportunity to get behind the wheel. ”
Muniz actually won the Celebrity Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach race in 2005.
“I knew from the minute I got in the car that that is what I wanted to do – it is just an incredible feeling,” he said. “Everyone thinks they can drive, everything thinks that they are fast, but it is way more than being fast, it is the technique that makes racing what it is.
You either have it or you don’t,” he continued. “You can learn some aspects of racing, but in order to be a race car driver, a lot of it has to come naturally. That is what separates the racecar drivers from just a person driving a car. ”
Many stars have tried their hand at racing, but only a select few have found the talent to succeed in such a hard sport. One diver who did start his career at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is 1976 Olympic Gold Medallist and Keeping Up With The Kardashians star Bruce Jenner.
With an innate need to win, he climbed in a car and “kicked butt” by winning the race. He then went on to buy some go-karts and signed a deal with Ford Motor Company. Jenner admitted to racing very hard and aggressively throughout the 80s, when he was single.
Jenner’s son, Brody Jenner, however, hasn’t been so lucky. MTV’s Laguna Beach and The Hills star, raced in last year’s Celeb Toyota Grand Prix race, but thanks to a mid-race crash, he was taken out.
TNT’s Dallas star, Jesse Metcalfe is another TV personality to officially catch the bug.
Metcalfe will be behind the wheel at this year’s race on April 19. “I have learned that I definitely have a need for speed and this has been an absolute blast.”
But it’s Dempsey’s passion for racing that puts him head and shoulders above the rest, as he is a driver before actor. Dempsey, AKA “McDreamy”, is very humble about his racing career, but this doesn’t detract from his high status within the racing community.
Dempsey and teammate Lally raced the oldest off-road race in North America and won the General Tire Mint 400. His team’s season debut also saw Dempsey Del Piero Racing secure pole and the cars finish sixth and seventh respectively.
The lead driver and Dempsey Racing owner is participating in his fourth season of the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series GT class – Patrick is easily the most talked about newbie in the competition.
When asked about what advice he’s give to any celebs looking to race, Dempsey replied: “Respect the sport. You have to have a tremendous respect for the sport, the drivers and the community, and doors will open,” he said. “You have to work hard and race as much as possible – racing professionally is a real challenge and takes time and commitment, and I can’t stress enough the respect you have to have for the sport and those that are in it. ”
Michaelian said it is great to see so may individuals leave the streets of Long Beach forever changed.