LONG BEACH, Calif. – When actor Alfonso Ribeiro won the 40th Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race on the eve of today’s Grand Prix of Long Beach, he might have had good karma from the Verizon IndyCar Series on his side.
Ribeiro, host of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and the 2014 “Dancing with the Stars” winner, is a longtime Indy car fan, so it’s fitting that he took the checkered flag this weekend as the charity race celebrated its 40th and final year. It was Ribeiro’s fourth Pro/Celebrity Race win (he's shown at right with the traditional champagne spray on the podium).
The actor – best known for his role playing Carlton Banks on the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” – is a friend of Andretti Herta Autosport principal Bryan Herta and knows numerous Indy car drivers, so he has received racing tips from the pros.
“I’ve been a fan of Indy car (racing) probably since 1988. I became really good friends with Bryan Herta (when Herta was a driver) and actually used to spot for him at the oval races,” said Ribeiro. “What I love about INDYCAR … is (the schedule includes) street circuits, road courses, ovals, superspeedways and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s just amazing – they have to be not just great drivers in one area, they have to be great across the board. These guys are some of the best in the world.”
While Ribeiro has been around Indy car paddocks longer than most of the stars who visited the track this weekend, he isn’t the only one who was amazed.
Six-time NFL Pro Bowl player Terrell Owens (pictured above) showed up Friday with a microphone, reporting for “The Rich Eisen Show.” He spent time with Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon and took a ride in the INDYCAR Experience two-seat Indy car with racing legend Mario Andretti at the wheel.
“It’s unfathomable how fast we were going. It was an awesome ride,” Owens said. “You talk about an adrenaline rush, that was it.”
“Dancing with the Stars” professional dancers Maksim Chmerkovskiy (no, he did not bring fiancée Peta Murgatroyd with him) and Tony Dovolani also took the ride of a lifetime with Andretti (pictured at right).
“Mario is a legend and it’s a privilege and an honor,” said Chmerkovskiy. “It’s like playing ball with Michael Jordan. It’s like if he said, ‘Hey, let’s just go shoot around a little bit.’”
Today, Spike Feresten, host of “Car Matchmaker,” also took a ride with Andretti.
Front and center for the race day today will be boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya, who is serving as grand marshal of the race and will issue the command for drivers to start their engines, and Taya Kyle, widow of “American Sniper” Chris Kyle, who will wave the green flag to start the 80-lap grand prix.
Verizon IndyCar Series drivers’ garages and pits will be full of famous faces, too.
Larenz Tate, star of the new NBC drama “Game of Silence,” comedian Nick Swardson, “Girl Next Door” Bridget Marquardt and Austin Stowell of the film “Bridge of Spies” will be guests of Marco Andretti, driver of the No. 27 United Fiber & Data/Snapple Honda for Andretti Autosport.
“That ‘70s Show” star Topher Grace and Tory Belleci of “MythBusters” will be hosted by Conor Daly, driver of the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda for Daly Coyne Racing. And Nathan Kress of “iCarly” fame will be watching the race from the pits of four-time (and current) Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevy.