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Actor Flanery Rides the Pole to Freedom in Celebrity Race

April 13, 1997|MIKE KUPPER | TIMES ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR

Actor Sean Patrick Flanery, to be seen soon in a movie called "Independence," showed plenty of it Saturday in winning the pro-celebrity race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Starting on the pole, Flanery left the madding crowd far behind and drove to an uneventful victory in an otherwise eventful race, one memorable because of a three-car accident before the field got to the first turn, as well as a turf dispute in which Jack Brabham, former world Formula One champion, finished a battered second to local Trans-Am sedan series driver Tom Kendall.

It was all in fun--the drivers, in similarly prepared Toyota Celicas, were raising money for Southern California children's hospitals--but intense just the same.

"I was really aware of what was going on [behind me]," said Flanery, an accomplished amateur driver who plans to compete in a minor league pro series later this season. "Coming down the front straight [at the start] was pandemonium. I figured I had to check out and get away from them quickly. All I saw [behind] was a cloud of smoke and a couple of cars emerging from it."

What they were emerging from was a melee touched off by actor Jason Bateman, a former celebrity winner at Long Beach, who suddenly turned left when he should have been going straight, taking out fellow actor Grant Show, the defending celebrity winner. Also caught up in the action was TV weatherman Dallas Raines.

Bateman went on to finish second and Raines continued on too, eventually finding himself in the midst of the Kendall-Brabham dispute. He raced with the veteran pros, who started 30 seconds behind the celebrities, for a lap or two, then wisely got out of the way. Good thing too, the way Kendall and Brabham were going at it.

Brabham held off the determined Kendall for several laps but when Brabham--Black Jack in his racing days, Sir Jack now--tried once more to shut the door on Kendall going into Turn 1, Kendall refused to yield and put Brabham's car into the wall.

"I don't think he's ever seen a Trans-Am race so I don't think he was expecting that move," said Kendall, the pro winner and fourth overall.

*

In the only pro race of the day, a demolition derby that made the celebrity set-to look like a model of racing decorum, Canadian Alexandre Tagliani turned back a late-race challenge by Anthony Lazzara of Acworth, Ga., and won the Kool-Toyota Atlantic event.

The race, for open-wheel cars powered by Toyota engines, was shortened from 38 scheduled laps to 30 after a pileup in the hairpin turn prompted about a half-hour interruption.

Canadian Bertrand Godin spun coming out of the hairpin, tried to right his car by going the wrong way on the track and was hit by another Canadian, Cam Binder, touching off the melee.

Trouble dogged the race, much of which was run under the caution flag.

*

Al Unser Jr., once the undisputed king of Long Beach with six Indy car victories since 1988, four of them in succession, apparently has fallen on evil days. He qualified 15th in his Penske-Mercedes, continuing a season-long slump.

In the season opener at Miami, he started 10th and finished 27th, completing only 27 of 147 laps because of electrical problems, then last weekend in Australia, he lost a wheel only 10 laps into the race.

"I'm just really frustrated right now," Unser said. "My crew and I have done everything to get the car working great for one quick lap so we could move up on the [starting] grid. Now I don't know what to do because we don't have a race setup. I've really painted myself into a corner."

Here last season, Unser qualified ninth, then finished third with a display of patient driving in another not-quite-right car. Winner of 31 CART races in his 15-plus-year career, he hasn't won since 1995 and has not sat on a pole since 1994.

*

Former driver Wally Dallenbach, who served as CART's chief steward from 1980 through last season, is back in harness this weekend, filling in for his successor, Dennis Swan, who is undergoing medical observation after suffering chest pains last weekend after the race at Surfers Paradise, Australia. Dallenbach has been serving as a special assistant to CART President Andrew Craig.

*

Retired Dodger manager Tom Lasorda, attending to his duties as grand marshal, will wave the ceremonial green flag to start today's grand prix, then will present the winner his trophy in victory circle. Lasorda will be honored before the race with a ceremonial lap around the 1.59-mile track.

*

Another recent retiree, publicist Hank Ives of Orange, was honored at a track gathering for his 40 years in auto racing. Ives, who served as publicity director of the Long Beach Grand Prix in its formative years as a Formula One event, had most recently been working for Texaco, which sponsors Michael Andretti's car in the CART series.

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