Vasser, Unser Jr. and more promise a show for final celebrity race

Papis and Unser Jr. Photo: IndyCar
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LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) A tradition will come to an end at the Grand Prix of Long Beach when the checkered flag waives for the final time on the fan-favorite Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race.

The race Saturday will be the 40th and final of the longest-running corporate-sponsored charity race in the country. The event, which has helped Toyota donate more than $2.3 million to “Racing For Kids” since 1991, will be celebrated with an all-star field that includes 18 previous winners.

Included in the field are Stephen Baldwin, Frankie Muniz, Brian Austin Green and last year’s overall winner, Alfonso Ribeiro.

But so are retired racers Jimmy Vasser and Al Unser Jr., who swept the front row in qualifying Friday. The two then learned the field will be inverted for the green flag, and they’ll start in the back on the 1.97-mile street course. Vasser and Unser will have 10 laps to try to make it to the front. Vasser, the pole-winner, was the overall winner in 2010 and owns three Toyota dealerships, while Unser was the overall winner in 1985 and 2009 and the pro winner in 2014.

“It makes for a fantastic show, it gets exciting,” said Unser, the “King of the Beach” because he’s the winningest driver at Long Beach, with six IndyCar wins and three Pro/Celebrity wins.

“It’s going to be carnage for 10 laps.”

Added Vasser, the pole-winner: “We’re going to burn it down, the last race.”

It wasn’t the forecast Bob Carter, Senior Vice President of Automotive Operations for Toyota Motor Sales, wanted to hear. Carter, who has zero racing experience, is one of only two drivers in the field who have never won this event. He’ll make his racing debut on Saturday and will start near the front in the inversion with the hard-charging pros coming after him.

“I originally thought (the inversion) was a good idea, but now I realize you two guys are behind me,” Carter said.

Carter spent four days of training with the other drivers in the field at Willow Springs International Motorsports Park, which is about an hour north of Los Angeles. He’s so enjoyed his experience with the other drivers, he dubbed the event “the top weekend of my entire life. This is a really special group of people.”

Vasser said he’s holding out hope that a title sponsor will come aboard and take over the event so that Saturday’s race is not the last. He said he remembered the race from his days at Long Beach, before he had a professional ride, and they were always enjoyable.

“It’s been a laugher,” he said. “I remember Donny Osmond rolled it in Turn 1. There’s Donny Osmond climbing out of a car.”

Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list; Musquin remains out

Shimoda injured
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Bad news continues to come out of the Monster Energy / Pro Circuit Kawasaki team as they announced Jo Shimoda injured his shoulder in a practice session and will not mount up when the Monster Energy Supercross 250 East division opens in Houston, Texas on February 4. A timetable has not been given for Shimoda’s return, but a press release from the team references multiple weeks.

“I’m doing my best to focus forward on my return to racing,” said Shimoda in the release. “Our goal was to compete for the 250 Supercross Eastern Regional Championship and I know we had been doing the right work to make that happen. Unfortunately, this crash will cause me to miss the start of the season, but I still aim to be back on the track racing for wins before the end of Supercross.”

Shimoda is joined on the sidelines by teammates Seth Hammaker and Austin Forkner, who also suffered injuries in recent weeks.

The news of Hammaker’s sidelining came just two days ago. His wrist injury is sufficient to require surgery, so he too will miss multiple weeks. Hammaker was scheduled to compete in the 250 East division alongside Shimoda.

Forkner was involved in a Lap 1 crash in the 250 West season opener at Anaheim. Multiple injuries, including an ACL tear, will sideline him for the remainder of the season. He described the injury and its aftermath on Instagram.

Forkner will be relieved by Carson Mumford, but not before that rider’s wrist has healed sufficiently. He is scheduled to debut with Kawasaki in Oakland for the rescheduled Round 2 Supercross race on February 18.

Shimoda finished fourth in the 2022 Supercross 250 West division and was second in 2021 points in 250 East. In 2021, Shimoda won his first Supercross race at Salt Lake City. Last year, he scored one podium and six top-fives in nine starts.

Shimoda finished second in last year’s outdoor Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season, where he added two more SuperMotocross wins including the Unadilla Nationals that kicked off a four-race streak of first- or second-place results.

Kawasaki is not the only team facing injury. Red Bull KTM initially reported Marvin Musquin would be out for the San Diego round with a wrist injury and “maybe more”. This week it was announced he will miss this week’s Triple Crown race in Anaheim and “at least the next several rounds.”