NASCAR commentator and Top Gear USA host Rutledge Wood described the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race as “the coolest thing I’ve ever done.” It’s something he watched as a kid, and he’ll be participating in this year’s event as a past winner and honorary “pro.” We’re just as sad as he is to see it go.
This is Wood’s fifth year in a row to participate in the race, and he had nothing but glowing words to say about it when we caught up during SXSW last month. “The city really comes together,” he said of the whole Long Beach Grand Prix.
Wood was so nervous the first year he participated, but then came back for a second year to win pole position. After that, he was invited back as a pro. Hey, he works with racing, so it works!
To celebrate its fortieth and final running, 18 of the 20 drivers this year are past winners, with the two others being a major benefactor to the race’s charities and the Senior Vice President of Automotive Operations for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.
It’s Toyota’s support that has changed for next year. Wood suspected that Toyota was pulling out with their move from California to Texas. Toyota will continue as the Long Beach IndyCar race’s titular sponsor through 2017, but after that, Wood suspects that they’ll look for sponsorship opportunities closer to their new home.
Wood explained that he first started watching the Pro/Celebrity Race due to the combination of a car you see in everyday life—back then, it was a Celica—with folks who were familiar racing them, from both racing and the celebrity world.
We love the chance the Pro/Celebrity Race gave us to see famous faces out of their element—and find out which ones loved cars just like us regular jamokes. It’s an event that’s always unexpected and a little surreal, with participants ranging from people you’d never expect to see in a racing suit to guys like Wood who live and breathe cars.
It’s always been a charity race, too, with over $2.3 million being donated to “Racing for Kids” since 1991. The charity benefits children’s hospitals in Long Beach and Orange County, California.
Pour a little out for the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, the last of which happens in-person at 2:40 p.m. ET today. Today’s ten-lap race will feature an inverted grid, where pole-winner Jimmy Vasser will have to start from the back. Here’s hoping it finds a way to live again either with a new sponsor in Long Beach, or in a new form somewhere in Texas.