by Robbie Buhl
Eighteen celebrity drivers from the 36th Annual Toyota Pro Celebrity Race at the Long Beach Grand Prix joined me and representatives from Toyota on Thursday, April 12 at the 21st consecutive Racing For Kids® visit held in conjunction with the Grand Prix. This year we visited children at Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach.
Although the hospital lobby was abuzz with excitement as the celebrities began arriving, Rita Goshert, manager of the hospital’s Child Life department, had everything under control and had gone to great lengths to make sure the visit was well organized and ran smoothly.
Along with the popular Racing For Kids hats, many of the celebrity drivers brought gifts of their own for the kids, which made them beam. Several of the drivers were making repeat visits to the hospital including actors Bill Fichtner and Adrien Brody. Canadian actor, Kim Coates making his first visit and was terrific with the kids. Toyota’s national motorsports manager and longtime Racing For Kids supporter, Les Unger was also on hand to make sure no child missed out on getting a hat and autographs.
As we entered the playroom, Adrien Brody noticed a young boy who was hooked up to feeding tubes. He began a conversation with him and within minutes the little guy was actually running around and kicking a soccer ball with Adrien. There was great energy between them. His mother told me that the little boy had undergone a chemo treatment the day before and it was just wonderful for her to see him bounce back like that. She was all smiles.
Friday was the first on-track practice as the celebrities began qualifying for the race. Kim Coates started the race in the pole position but was overtaken in the ninth turn by comedian Adam Carolla, who went on to win the race. Country singer LeAnn Rimes sang the national anthem before the race, then cheered on her husband Eddie Cibrian, who competed in the race.
Toyota made a $90,000 donation to Miller Children’s Hospital on behalf of Racing For Kids, bringing the total Toyota has donated over the years to more than $2 million.