LONG BEACH GRAND PRIX : Saturday’s Races : Gentilozzi Wins Trans-Am as Pruett Runs Out of Gas
A wild start and a bizarre finish to Saturday’s Trans-Am race left Paul Gentilozzi, 38, of Lansing, Mich., the winner on the streets of Long Beach.
Defending series and Long Beach champion Scott Pruett of Roseville, Calif., had led all the way until his Mercury Merkur ran out of gas and he pulled into the pits with one lap to go.
Earlier, two accidents before the field was through the first turn brought out a red flag.
One sent driver Dan Croft, 47, of Bellflower, to St. Mary Hospital Trauma Center unconscious with what was reported as a “a significant brain injury.”
Late Saturday night, a hospital spokesman said Croft’s condition was critical with head injuries.
Croft, starting near the rear of the 39-car field, crashed off opposite walls of the main straightaway three times before coming to rest.
In the other incident, actor Paul Newman hit the tire wall at the end of the Shoreline Drive straightaway when he overshot the right-hand turn, taking No. 2 qualifier Irv Hoerr, of Peoria, Ill., with him--a move one might expect to see in the celebrity race.
Newman, who had posted the fastest qualifying time in the morning, and Hoerr restarted at the rear of the field. Newman was never competitive, driving the race with his right rear fender flapping.
“I overcooked it,” Newman said.
The race was restarted after a 48-minute delay. Hurley Haywood, of Ponte Vedra, Fla., driving one of the new 4-wheel-drive Audis, finished second, ahead of Pruett’s Lincoln-Mercury teammate, Lyn St. James of Dania, Fla. Pruett would have placed third but was penalized one lap for backing up in the pit.
Gentilozzi, driving an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, said he didn’t know he had won his first Trans-Am event--or even that the race was over--until he saw the checkered flag.
“I saw (Pruett) pull into the pits, then I saw the starter pull the flag and I thought, ‘My gosh, I think I won.’ ”
Television news anchorman Paul Moyer promised, “Tape at 11.”
“And if I have anything to say about it,” he added, “there’s going to be so much tape at 11 . . . “
Moyer, 46, had just held off Dan Gurney’s charge to win the Toyota Pro/Celebrity race by 1.08 seconds after 10 laps around the 1.67-mile street course.
The Channel 7 newsman started on the pole and stayed in front, while his rivals bounced off the concrete walls and one another like pinballs.
Dwight Clark, the recently retired San Francisco 49ers wide receiver, was third, ahead of professionals Parnelli Jones and Willy T. Ribbs.
Moyer was only the fourth-fastest qualifier among the celebrities, but defending champion Jason Bateman, Richard Dean Anderson and car dealer Tom Virden started at the rear because of their superior driving experience and expertise.