Kyle Petty
Kyle Petty

KYLE PETTY was the life of the party Friday afternoon for the post-qualification media conference after qualifying for the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race at the 40th Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. He qualified on the pole, overall and in the Pro category. He was clearly at ease with the other drivers as well as the assembled media. Petty’s lap time was 1:45.100. This was his second time running the race, the other being back in the day. He thanked Toyota for asking him back, for many reasons, including fulfilling an item on his bucket list – the fact that now Petty has raced every marque of car in racing. Petty thanked Toyota for letting him race, treating them all with respect, and for putting on such a fantastic show.

The other two Pro drivers were AL UNSER Jr at 1:46.323 and RUTLEDGE WOOD at 1:46.590.

BRETT DAVERN was the top Celebrity driver, with a time of 1:45.638. He is known for being on MTV’s “Awkward” show.

Davern was pretty excited at being the fastest celebrity. Last year he was second, but not for the lack of trying. Davern said he begged anyone and everyone to come back again this year – “I would really love to race” PAUL NEWMAN is my model – as an entertainer who started racing later in his career.” Davern said he would race anything, anytime, anywhere. “I’ve always loved racing since I was a little kid. Just give me a car with stickers and I’m in.”

Petty regaled the group with stories, including his so-called rivalry with Unser, with whom he’s raced against in the past – 1983 Daytona 500, where they got in a wreck. The two were “a bit too competitive’ during their pre-race training on The Streets of Willow Springs race track. They were given a time out on the first day.

Petty said ” The King and I were talking after I went to Willow and spent days with Al, following him around was phenomenal for me. He helped me. I never was a good road racer. The King said during that period of time that Al Jr was the only driver that could go from one series to the other. The King doesn’t compliment a lot of people. Al was competitive that year, the only race he ran. it’s been a lot of fun to compare Al Unser Sr and Petty stories. I think we have the same father.

“We’re all competitive but not real rivals. We don’t want to end up in the wall, but would like to see a full ten laps of green.”

Petty admitted, when asked, nothing embarasses him, so if he got beaten by another driver, he could take it. The Pro Drivers start further back, a split start so to speak.

VANESSA MARCIL qualified second from last, but warned “It’s all an act. I’m going to win tomorrow.” Then she admitted “I’ve been terrified the entire time, racing against these bad ass guys. Can I say bad ass? I’ve never been in a race car, and never even seen a car race before. I’m the token female.”

Marcil, a TV actress from “General Hospital” is one of three females, along with LISA STANLEY and TRICIA HELFER. “We love watching the guys compete and go at it with each other. We girls are trying to beat our last time. This is the nicest group of people with whom I’ve ever worked. Everyone works together.”

MAX THIERIOT qualified second in the Celeb category, an actor known for being on TV’s “Bates Motel.” He didn’t get much chance to get a in word edgewise, with all the palaver among the others. He did admit that the Streets of Willow were more daunting than the regular course at Willow Springs. The Streets were pretty narrow, even more so than Long Beach, although Long Beach did have walls. “Wall is a four letter word.” What he took away from the training was learning the line, sticking with it and then carrying it over to Long Beach.”I spent a lot of time in the sand.”

The Streets of Willow is where DANNY McKEEVER’s Fast Lane Racing School trains the Pro/Celebrity drivers for two days, and they run the tight course in both directions. Petty said it is a very technical track, while Long Beach streets have more speed.

On a different note, when asked, Petty said his father was doing “pretty good since Mom passed. He’s used to being at the track alone, but not used to coming home alone. They were together 57 years, fifty of which he was on the road. It’s been a lot harder as she was sick the last four and a half-five years.” Kyle said he himself was having a hard time too – and he and his siblings are spending time staying with their mom.

The Toyota Pro/Celebrity race runs noon on Saturday.