Papis and Unser Jr. Photo: IndyCar

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

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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.”

Steve Torrence takes NHRA points lead with Gatornationals victory

NHRA Gainesville Steve Torrence
Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Two-time defending NHRA Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence took the points lead Sunday in the AMALIE Motor Oil Gatornationals, beating his father, Billy, in the final round at Gainesville Raceway.

Torrence had a 3.809-second run at 322.11 mph to win for the third time this year and 39th overall. He is now on track for another championship despite missing the season opener.

“We’ve got some good momentum and to be in the points lead, it’s a testament to how hard these guys work,” Steve Torrence said after the NHRA Gainesville victory. “We’ve just got to stay focused and concentrate on what the task at hand is, and that’s trying to win a championship. These guys give me an unbelievable race car and you just try not to screw it up.”

Ron Capps won in Funny Car, Alex Laughlin in Pro Stock and Matt Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Capps raced to his second win this year and 66th overall, beating Tim Wilkerson with a 3.937 at 323.12 in a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat.

Laughlin topped Aaron Stanfield with a 7.068 at 204.76 in a Chevrolet Camaro for his first win this season and fourth in his career. Smith rode to his first victory in 2020 and 25th overall, topping Andrew Hines with a 6.843 at 196.99 on an EBR.