Toyota Ends Sponsorship for Celebrity Race at Long Beach Grand Prix

LONG BEACH, CA - APRIL 18: Actor Alfonso Ribeiro racing hard to the finish line at the Annual Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
LONG BEACH, CA - APRIL 18: Actor Alfonso Ribeiro racing hard to the finish line at the Annual Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images) /

Toyota axes the Celebrity Race for the 2016 Long Beach Grand Prix. 

We are only three months into the 2016 car enthusiast season, and Toyota has already managed to disappoint me this year…announcing that this will be 40th and final year of the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race at the Long Beach Grand Prix.  I’m not mad Toyota, just disappointed. So why am I taking this so personal…I mean, it’s not like I am a huge celebrity follower and hope to get a glimpse of Adam Corolla or one of the Baldwin brothers. So let me first back up a little.

I love the month of April. Spring is in the air, cars start coming out of their garages again, and the car upgrades that were just purchased from people’s hard earned tax returns can be seen being installed all over the country.  Can you smell it….car season!

Start Line
LONG BEACH, CA -Celebrity drivers wait for the start of the practice session during the Annual Toyota Pro/Celebrity Racin Long Beach, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images) /

April is when I really start getting excited about all the car events taking place throughout the year. Don’t get me wrong, I pretty much eat, breathe, and sleep car culture year round, but between the months of December to March, things just seem to slow down a little for me.

That’s why I pick April as my official car enthusiast kick off month…And for a SoCal resident like myself, it all starts off with the Long Beach Grand Prix. Since it began in 1974, the annual Long Beach Grand Prix road race has become one of the city’s biggest events, a three-day festival attracting world-class Indy 500 drivers from around the world, and featuring Indy cars roaring through the streets of downtown Long Beach at 200 miles per hour on a 1.97 mile street course. There are multiple racing events throughout the weekend including Formula Drift, Stadium Super Trucks and Pirelli World Championship Racing that highlights a weekend of fun and thrills for the whole family.

What’s not to love, right?

So when I found out that this year would be the last Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, I felt like a little piece of history was being taken from me. I didn’t like the feeling.

“The Grand Prix Association of Long Beach and Toyota announced that Saturday, April 16th will be the final running of the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race at the Long Beach Grand Prix This event marks the 40th and final edition of the longest-running corporate-sponsored charity race in the U.S.A.”

The decision comes after Toyota announced earlier in the year that it will be moving its North American headquarters from Torrance to Plano, Texas. The company announced they will no longer be able to commit to providing the level of support that’s required for the cars, mechanics, and training needed for the drivers to keep the race going at a functional level now that they are in Texas. Toyota has a multiyear deal with the race and will remain the name sponsor of the Grand Prix of Long Beach.

So why am I so disappointed with Toyota’s decision? Well, I have couple reasons. First off, the pro/celebrity race has been a long time fan favorite event. The race pits celebrities against professional racers from various types of motor racing in a ten lap shootout around the Long Beach Circuit. Stars receive a 30-second head start to begin the race against the professionals and past champions.

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The event also supports a great cause, raising money to benefit “Racing For Kids,” a charitable organization supporting children’s hospitals throughout the United States.  Celebrity contestants range from Hollywood’s “A-list” elite, budding young stars and starlets, professional sports figures, local Southern California television and radio personalities and selected Toyota dealers. The Celebrity race also takes place on a Saturday which is great if you want to bring out the family.

For me personally, I enjoy kicking back watching celebrity’s battle it out on the track because it represents a small group of Hollywood Stars that might just appreciate the sport I love. Now I know they are only racing 10 laps on the streets of Long Beach in 210-horsepower Scion FR-S race-prepped cars, but this race has always put a smile on my face and made me think that maybe, just maybe, a few of these celebrities are actually passionate about racing and are on board to help keep racing alive and well in America. Converting a vehicle into a dedicated race car is part of our American heritage. Am I wrong to think that?

From the Stands
2015 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race Footage. (Photo by Kelly G.) /

For this final year’s race, they’ll be bringing back a number of celebrity winners from previous years’ races, including Adam Carolla, Ricky Schroder, Alfonso Ribeiro (last year’s overall winner), Frankie Muniz, Stephen Baldwin, Dara Torres, and Brian Austin Green to name a few.

“At Toyota, we wanted to do something unique for this final race,” said Ed Laukes, vice president of marketing, performance and guest experience for Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A. “By hosting a field comprised mostly of past Toyota Pro/Celebrity winners, we anticipate this to be the most competitive race in the event’s history with a diverse field of celebrity and professional drivers.”

“This should be a thrilling race with so many of the participants past winners here at Long Beach,” Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach said. “It will be interesting to see who best recalls the racing technique that will enable them to once again stand on top of the podium.” Since 1991, Toyota has donated more than $2.3 million to the “Racing for Kids” organization on behalf of this race and its participants.

Number 2
Number 2 /

2015 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race (Photo by Kelly G.)

Number 24
Number 24 /

2015 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race (Photo by Kelly G.)

Number 10
Number 10 /

2015 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race (Photo by Kelly G.)

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Are you planning on attending the final Toyota Pro/Celebrity race at the Long Beach Grand Prix? Let us know. We will be there on Saturday taking in all the action for the final race.

2016 Long Beach Grand Prix Full Weekend Schedule here: