ESPN Pit Reporter Jamie Little Wins 2008 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Champion Mike Skinner Takes Professional Category
LONG BEACH, Calif., April 19 -- It was billed as "the fast and the famous" and it lived up to expectations, as ESPN pit reporter Jamie Little held off NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Champion Mike Skinner by .324 seconds in race-modified Scion tCs to take the checkered flag first in the 32nd Annual Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race. Skinner is a repeat winner in the Pro Category.
"When you interview a winning driver after the race, they always tell you how they just try to get through that last lap," gushed Little. "Well, now I know exactly what they're talking about."
"It has been exciting to see Jamie develop from a reporter into a bona-fide race car driver," said Les Unger, Toyota Motor Sales USA national motorsports manager. "All the celebrities came prepared for the challenge and it was a relatively clean race. Their focus, both on the track and off, demonstrates exactly what the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race is all about."
Little and Drew Lachey -- the second-season winner of Dancing with the Stars who came in fourth among the celebrities -- were picked as favorites to win among the field of 18 stars of film, television and sports by world-renowned Las Vegas handicapper Anthony Curtis who'd been analyzing the drivers for weeks. [The odds were presented solely for entertainment purposes. There was no actual wagering on the outcome of the race.]
The last-lap duel between Little and Skinner brought the crowd to its feet. As Skinner made contact with Little coming out of the treacherous hairpin turn on the 1.97-mile street circuit through the downtown streets of Long Beach to pull side-by-side, Little was able to get back on the gas and pull in front of Skinner as the two came to the finish line.
"That was fun!," exclaimed Skinner. "Knocked a little paint off my car and had a blast!"
Pixar producer/director Brad Lewis, the PEOPLE pole winner, led the first eight laps and appeared to be on the way to victory before going into the tire wall as he attempted to hold off Little and Skinner. He finished ninth overall and fifth among the celebrities.
Seventeen of the 18 drivers completed all 10 laps. Only Basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman was unable to finish, getting stuck in the tire wall on Lap 6.
"You go into the event with everyone out here wanting to help raise money for charity and have fun," said Little, who will give UCI Reeve/Irvine Center in California the $5,000 donated by Toyota on her behalf, for spinal cord injury research done by Dr. Hans Keirstodt. "But when the race starts, the competitive juices take over and everyone wants to win."
In the Professional category, Skinner never gave up the lead. After starting :30-seconds behind, he quickly made up ground and caught up with the tail-end of the celebrities by Lap 3. He then maneuvered through traffic, catching the leaders with just two laps remaining.
The race wasn't nearly as clean for the rest of the Pros, all of whom were involved in incidents except for NHRA Funny Car Champ Tony Pedregon who finished second in the Pro Category and fifth overall. Olympic Gold-Medal cyclist Marty Nothstein started on the outside of the front row, yet saw his chance of victory fall away when he made contact with Whit Bazemore. Drag racer Bazemore eventually finished third in the Pro category, followed by Nothstein, off-road racer Beccy Gordon, and fine jewelry designer and part-time Grand Am driver Sarena Traver, who earned her spot with the Pros by pledging $80,000 in the Boys and Girls Club Annual Charity Auction.
FINAL RACE RESULTS: Pos No. Name Laps Start Pos 1 1 Jamie Little 10 2 2 23 Mike Skinner* 10 13 3 10 Daniel Goddard 10 8 4 14 William Fichtner 10 4 5 26 Tony Pedregon* 10 15 6 16 Whit Bazemore* 10 16 7 5 Drew Lachey 10 7 8 24 Marty Nothstein* 10 14 9 11 Brad Lewis 10 1 10 18 Bud Gordon 10 3 11 7 Wilmer Valderrama 10 10 12 12 Craig Barto 10 6 13 3 Eric Dickerson 10 9 14 6 Raymond Cruz 10 11 15 22 Beccy Gordon* 10 17 16 17 Sarena Traver* 10 18 17 20 John Salley 10 5 18 19 Nancy Lieberman 6 12 * PRO
Toyota donates $5,000 to "Racing for Kids" in the name of each celebrity racer, and another $5,000 to the winner's charity of choice. Racing for Kids is a non-profit program benefiting children's hospitals in Southern California. On behalf of the race and its participants, Toyota has donated close to $1.6 million to various children's organizations since 1991.
The Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race will broadcast on Speed, Saturday, May 3, at 3 - 3:30 p.m. EDT, with repeats on May 4th, 9th and 25th.