In all the events surrounding the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach this weekend, there is only one woman driver, Ana-Alicia.
The co-star of “Falcon Crest” will compete in today’s pro-celebrity race against five professionals and nine amateurs, all driving 1986 Toyota Celicas. Before practice laps Friday, she sat in her car for an hour, making sure her seat and safety harness were adjusted just right, as the CART competitors roared by.
“You come out here and hear those Indy cars and feel all the power and excitement,” she said. “It’s a very exciting, roller-coaster feeling. I hope I can keep this feeling . . . because underneath it all I’m scared.
“I’m not scared of getting hurt. I’m scared of being a hazard on the course.”
But Lucien LeComte, who trains the novices in his Drivers’ Connection school at Willow Springs, said that Ana-Alicia is one of the best students he has had.
“She’s very much into it,” LeComte said. “She became one of the boys very fast.”
Ana-Alicia said: “Even acting scares me. But I like to try things that scare me. If I didn’t, I’d be back home in El Paso, Texas.”
She was the slowest driver in practice Friday with a 55.950-m.p.h. average for her fastest lap. Dan Gurney had the hot lap of 59.123.
The celebrity field also includes Lorenzo Lamas of “Falcon Crest,” Perry King of “Riptide,” Steve Fox of “Good Morning, America,” David Hasselhoff of “Knight Rider,” Ken Minyard of KABC radio, former Dodger Rick Monday of KTTV, Tony Hernandez of KCBS, Toyota dealer David Wilson of Orange and Autoweek editor Dutch Mandel. The professionals are Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Steve Millen, Chip Ganassi and Chris Cord.
Minyard rammed Hasselhoff broadside in practice Friday, but both continued.
The celebrities will get a 30-second head start over the pros in the 10-lap race, with Lamas and King--both SCCA competitors--starting at the back of the celebrity pack.
Wilson, one of 10 dealers who won race driving lessons at LeComte’s school, qualified by placing at the top of his class.
The field includes no musicians, which pleased LeComte.
“Athletes and actors are very easy to teach,” he said. “They’re used to taking directions and coaching. Musicians are more into freedom of expression.”
LeComte winces at the memory of rock star Ted Nugent, whose strategy a few years ago was to knock every other car out of the race. He almost succeeded.
Ram wide receiver Ron Brown was entered in today’s race but withdrew.
“I thought he was very good,” LeComte said. “It was just a personal decision by him. He didn’t want to upset his mother. She was worried about him getting hurt.
“That’s funny, considering what he does for a living.”
Ed Pimm, recognized as CART’s most improved driver in ’85, is a conformist at heart. He’s running a Cosworth-powered March after driving an Eagle-Chevy for Dan Gurney in ’84 and an Eagle-Cosworth last year.
"(This) will be the first year that I won’t be driving an off-brand,” Pimm said. “I think it will give me an opportunity to prove myself.”
Pimm was 22nd on the first day of qualifying Friday.
Friday’s unhappiest driver may have been Josele Garza, with the Schaefer-Machinists March, an ’85 model car.
“It won’t handle,” Garza said. “I’m trying to kill myself.”
Friday, he was 17th at 86.676 m.p.h.
Mario Andretti, who has won the last two Long Beach CART races, also said he was having problems despite running third at 89.195.
“We made some radical changes and they didn’t work,” Andretti said. “The engine response off the slow corners is a definite problem. We’re giving away time there, (and) the chassis is off on our spring settings.”
Andretti has had the first slot on pit row the last two years and selected the same position this year. It’s a good spot to be if he’s thinking about stretching his gas mileage again.
Kevin Cogan’s car caught fire during the second CART practice session. He extinguished it himself but had to switch to a backup car for the last round.
Cogan, a six-year veteran who won his first race at Phoenix last week, is eighth at 88.850. He is a one-time protege of Parnelli Jones, the ’63 Indy winner who figures that Cogan’s career was stunted by the ’82 starting incident at Indianapolis when Cogan swerved out of control and was T-boned by Mario Andretti.
Most racing people--including an infuriated Andretti--blamed Cogan, but Jones still sides with those who blamed a broken rear half-shaft.
“He really got a bum rap,” Jones said. “I think it took him out of his ride with (car owner Roger) Penske. Penske never came to his defense, and that made him seem more guilty than ever.”
Ross Cheever is celebrating his 22nd birthday in Long Beach, en route from New Zealand to Rome.
Cheever, younger brother of former Formula One driver Eddie Cheever, was the fifth-fastest qualifier Friday for today’s Bosch-Volkswagen Super Vee race, which opens that series’ season. He wouldn’t be there if he’d had a more generous sponsor for the Tasman Series in New Zealand.
“I stopped over because they’d only pay me to get back to America, not to Europe,” he said.
His plan is to win enough prize money for air fare. Meanwhile, he’s living with a sister in Phoenix. He was born in Rome to American parents and is an American citizen.
“I’m proud to be an American,” he said. “Why settle for anything less than the best?”
He qualified for his first Super Vee event at 79.895 m.p.h.
Scott Atchison of Bakersfield, the ’85 Formula Ford national champion, was the fastest qualifier at 80.152. Last year’s winner, Davy Jones of McGraw, N.Y., was eighth at 79.462.
Atchison, working with only 200 horsepower--to the Indy cars’ 750--had an average speed only 1.813 m.p.h. slower than the slowest CART qualifier, Dale Coyne of Plainfield, Ill.
Atchison, 10th in last year’s Super Vee race, is partly sponsored by former California Lt. Gov. Mike Curb.