When was the last time you went to an auto race and saw windshield wipers working?
It happened Saturday in the annual pro-celebrity race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, where light rain fell throughout. But the rain--and his being kicked upstairs to the professional category--didn't stop actor Sean Patrick Flanery from a repeat victory.
The former star of TV's "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" resorted to his best derring-do in coming through the field--the pros start 24 seconds after the celebrities--to catch fellow actor and pole-sitter Andy Lauer on the last lap of the 10-lap race over the 1.59-mile street course.
The drivers compete in identically prepared Toyota Celicas in the money-raiser for "Racing for Kids," which benefits Southland children's hospitals.
Last year, Flanery started on the pole and drove to an easy victory after a second-lap accident left the field well behind him. This time, with former cycling champion Greg LeMond to contend with, he had to work for his win.
"Greg and I qualified within thousandths of a second [of] each other," Flanery said. "I like going through the pack. That's fun, but having somebody pushing you, right on your tail, the entire time, that's really fun."
While Lauer motored comfortably from the pole--well, as comfortably as possible on a rain-slick course--Flanery battled LeMond as they made their way through traffic.
"On Lap 1, I got by Greg. Then he got me again on Lap 4," Flanery said.
But on Lap 8, LeMond skidded and tagged Flanery, who survived the bump, moved into second place and took off after Lauer. Flanery caught him on the back straightaway of the last lap, tapped him gently from the rear when Lauer missed a shift, then waved as he drove on by and took the checkered flag.
"Every year, you think it can't get better, but this year I felt a bigger sense of accomplishment," Flanery said. "Last year, I didn't make one pass."
In the day's other race, the season opener of the Toyota Atlantic series, the rain made a mess of things for the drivers of the Toyota-powered open-wheel cars. Multi-car pile-ups were common, and only 10 of the 38 laps were run under green. It finished under caution and veteran Memo Gidley of San Rafael held off a race-long charge by Andrew Bordin of Woodbridge, Conn., driving the Atlantics after a disappointing season last year in Indy Lights.
Gidley took the lead when his Lynx Racing teammate, pole-sitter Buddy Rice of Phoenix, spun and had to take the escape road at Turn 1 on the sixth lap. Gidley assured himself of the victory when Rice did it again with two laps left.
By then, the rain had increased and Gidley, in a car better set up for the wet than Bordin's, had taken command of the proceedings.
Italian Andrea Delorenzi was third, all of the first three finishers driving Ralt chassis.