Nearly dead center in between speeds of 100 and 200 miles per hour, I thought to myself: With that beard, Keanu Reeves looks a lot like the cartoon version of himself in "A Scanner Darkly."
My odd and errant thought was warranted, and short-lived. Despite a dozen years of journalism and meeting some of the world’s most famous people along the way, I still get giddy seeing stars and I get even giddier going to extremes for stories. I’ve skydived, scuba dived, rock climbed and flew an ultralight while on assignment. But riding in Werks II Racing’s beefed up Porsche 911 set to compete in the upcoming American Le Mans Series while driver Galen Bieker pushed the vehicle at ludicrous speeds—down Shoreline Drive, past Shoreline Village, between the Pike at Rainbow Harbor and the Aquarium of the Pacific—now tops my list of thrills.
Tuesday was Toyota Pro/Celebrity Press Day, what some consider notch No. 1 on the volume dial of all the noise surrounding the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, which runs from April 16-18 on the streets of downtown Long Beach.
The Celebrity Race on Saturday is one of the most popular of the six races that take place during the week. This year’s celeb drivers include Reeves, he is last year’s returning champ and he races in the ìproî category, along with Adrien Brody, skateboarding legend Tony Hawk, Christian Slater, funny man Adam Carolla, Brian Austin Green and Patrick Warbutron to name a few.
The day also included ridearounds for media types in Toyota pace cars, Formula Drift cars and vehicles competing in the multiplatform European style Le Mans race and Formula Drift cars covering a 1.97-mile circuit of grandstand-lined roadways encased by white concrete barriers, fencing, tires and giant advertising banners.
The Porsche that I was riding in will be one of several different styles in the Le Mans race, which is actually four races within a race—it features multiple classes of high-tech sports cars competing together in each race. The race is great for watching and for research, as car manufactures use the event to test out components that will someday go on street vehicles. Also several green technologies get tested during the race, including versions of and eco-friendly diesel fuel and green tires on the car in which I rode.
Beiker, a Burbank resident and 30-plus year car-racing veteran, pushed the Porsche seemingly to the limits. He’d slow down from straight-aways and make turns that I was sure we were heading into too fast. Then he’d tear out of the corners and get up to incredible speeds in about the time you can say that’s fast, as Long Beach’s myriad high-rise condos whizzed by in a blur.
While in the car I held a small video camera provided to me by videographer Glen Golightly along with the advice Just hold on to it, Don, and I tried to take in some of the scenery. There goes the Pine Avenue sign. I saw that on only one of my laps around (must have blinked on the other laps). There goes Aqua. Hey, I was just up there last week for a Realty Bites column. We skid a bit on some slicked up asphalt where dozens of fresh skid marks are layered upon older skid marks and I can feel my eyes widen. My helmet bounces around, and I struggle to keep the few-ounce camera pointed forward. There goes the Pike roller coaster bridge. Are those people up there? Wasn’t I just by here not even a minute ago? By the time the second question pops into my brain we’re into yet another turn and heading back to the pits.
Ticket prices vary from $25 for Friday only admission to $125 for three-day reserved seating. Tickets can be purchased through Ticketmaster or at the downtown Grand Prix ticket office at 300 Seaside Way near the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center box office.