Racing fans are familiar with Indianapolis, Monaco and Long Beach, but Friday night it was Anaheim--specifically the Disneyland Hotel--that was the site of a grand prix that attracted racing great Mario Andretti and other celebrity drivers.
This wasn't an actual race, of course, but the seventh annual Black & White Ball to benefit Olive Crest Homes & Services for Abused Children. "Every Child Is a Winner" was the theme of the grand prix dinner-dance. The $200-per-person gala attracted 500 people and netted more than $120,000 for Olive Crest.
Aside from an actual racetrack, the hotel's Grand Ballroom was equipped with all manner of the props seen at a grand prix. Race cars were parked on the ballroom floor. Racing flags and automotive ads hung from the walls. At each table stood a centerpiece adorned with black-and-white checkered flags and a Formula One race car alarm clock.
"We wanted to find a theme that would appeal to the guys," said Ann Hall, event co-chairwoman.
No grand prix is complete without the drivers, and there were several celebrity drivers in attendance: Andretti, John Marconi, Dick Marconi, Perry King, Ivan (Iron Man) Stewart, Scotty Hewitt and Lee Mueller.
Andretti said he came to the gala simply because he was asked--by his good friend King, an actor who is also Olive Crest's national spokesman.
"If he has the time to give, so should I," Andretti said. "There's nothing that touches your heart more than children."
Andretti said he fears for his own sons when they race.
"It's the dark side of the sport. As a parent you don't want any harm to come to them. I'm the proverbial nervous Nellie during a race."
U.S. champion John Marconi, who loaned his Formula Atlantic and Ferrari 348 to the event, said racing "allows you to put all of your focus on one thing. You're traveling the length of a football field in less than a second. If you miss the brake mark at Long Beach, you're into the wall."
Mark Chapin Johnson, the evening's honorary chairman, liked the racing theme. He appreciates fast cars, especially Ferraris. He collects them (he has five) the way some kids collect Matchbox cars.
Guests dined on petit filet and salmon, then danced to the Ralph Blaze Band. Comedian Joe Swallow and concert pianist Ann Patrick Green also entertained the crowd.
Andretti helped distribute Olive Crest leadership awards to outstanding donors and volunteers, including Jack O'Neill of NBC studios--Los Angeles County; Billie Yeager--the Inland Empire, and Ann Hall, representing employees of Lucky Stores Inc.--Orange County. Disneyland received the Ambassador for the Children award, presented to Paul Presler, president of Disneyland.
Olive Crest, founded in 1973 by Donald and Lois Verleur, operates 26 residential group homes throughout Southern California and serves about 200 children in its Foster Family Program.
Among the guests were Kathy McClister, event co-chairwoman; Steve Pizula, president of the Olive Crest Foundation, and his wife, Holly; actress and celebrity guest of honor Stefanie Powers; Darrel Anderson, chairman of the Olive Crest board; Duane Roberts; Larry and Chris Dodge; George and Christi Deverian; James and JoEtta Brown; Jim Paulus; Richard Thomas; Tom and Martha McCall; Lon and Mary Ann Wells; Steve and Kris Charton; Sheldon and Shell Grossman; Joe and Jeanne Basso; Richard and Sue Tallman; Mario and Diane Antoci; Gil Hess, and Chuck and Ilene Mountain.