DOOL's Peter Reckell & 2004 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race

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Peter Reckell peels out, wipes out and has a great time

Reckell Peels Out, Wipes Out and Has a Great Time

The morning of Saturday, April 17, 2004 was dreary and rainy in Long Beach, CA.  The typical sunny southern California weather made way for a heavy ocean mist – affectionately called “marine layer” by the locals – coming in off the Pacific.  Or was it the beginnings of a major storm?  Regardless, the weather resulted in slick conditions on the race track at the 30th Annual Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race.  Not only was the roadway slippery when wet, there was a fair amount of puddling at every hairpin turn. 

I couldn’t help but wonder if the race officials would call the race due to the inclement weather.  Despite the slow drizzle, there was quite a crowd of spectators. The race would go on as scheduled.  However, some of the pro drivers and celebrities were a bit concerned.

Singing sensation, L’il Kim, who had only just learned to drive a stick shift, was more than nervous.  When reporters asked Sean Aston (Sam, Lord of the Rings) how good a time and speed he anticipated, he commented:  “I just want to concentrate on driving in this weather.”

Pictured at right:  Kelly Moneymaker and Peter Reckell

For Days of our Lives’ Peter Reckell, this was his second year in the race.  As the overall winner of last year’s event, he was driving this time as a Pro.  Was he concerned about the weather?  Yes and no.  He was doing this for the fun of it, and if the weather proceeded to slow him down, then so be it.

Little did he know. 

The race was also a family affair for Reckell.  His wife, singer/songwriter Kelly Moneymaker, was invited to sing the National Anthem.

 “I sang it last year,” Moneymaker shared.  “They were kind enough to ask me back this year. It’s quite an honor. But a little nerve wracking, too – the National Anthem. I am glad it’s over now. Now I can party!  Whoo hooo!”   Moneymaker had nothing to be concerned about.  Her acappella rendition was throaty and heartfelt.

Pictured at left:  Peter Reckell with fellow racer, Sean Aston

After brief introductions of the celebrity drivers who included Sean Aston, Chris MacDonald, Tony Potts, Andrew Firestone, Frankie Munoz, Carlos Bernard, Melissa Joan Hart, L’il Kim, Laila Ali (professional boxer and daughter of Mohammed Ali), Andrea Parker, Cliff Cummings, Liza Snyder, and Jill Pasant -- and the Pro drivers including Peter Reckell, Max Papis, Dara Torres, and Mike Follmer, the drivers took to their cars and secured their position in the starting line up.  The pro drivers had a 30-second handicap.  This 30 second-delay gave the celebs a head start. 

Vroom Vroom and the 1.968-mile race was underway.  The cars are loud and you can’t help but smell the rubber burning as they negotiate the turns.  The first lap went off without a hitch, but as the race progressed and the drivers got more familiar with driving the slick road, they also got more cocky.

L’il Kim was the first to spin out on a hair pin turn.  Despite her novice status driving a stick shift, she immediately maneuvered her car out of the way of the other racers. The experience was harrowing, however, and she sat out the rest of the race.

Chris MacDonald, who ultimately won in the celeb category, spinned out a few times.  Undaunted, he finished the race with the best overall celeb time.

But what of Reckell who was driving as a pro and started 30-seconds behind the celebs?  He was doing great!  By about the 6th lap, Reckell had woven and weaved his way through the pack to take 4th place overall.  He was coming on!

Until the slick track got the better of him.  He clipped a wall at Turn 1 and the car flew across the track to the other side, smashing into the opposing wall crumbling the front end.  Amid gasps from the crowd, the car then bounced backward and landed, nose out, again on the opposite side of the track.  Thankfully, the other racers were able to avoid colliding with Reckell’s disabled car.  But was Reckell alright?

Peter Reckell playing a race car driver? No way. He IS a race car driver. After competing as a celebrity driver last year, and winning the overall race, he was asked to race in the pro category this year!

I was in the Celebrity Press compound, standing very near Kelly Moneymaker, Reckell’s publicist, and a number of his other friends and family.  You could cut the silence with a knife as we all watched the plasma screen monitor in front of us.  As our eyes were glued to the screen and our breath held in anxiousness, the cameras fixed on Reckell’s damaged car.  For what have been only about 30 seconds but seemed like an eternity, the driver’s side door slowly opened.  Reckell emerged, shaken, but safe and sound.  A universal sigh of relief and applause permeated the press compound as Reckell faced the cameras and gave the high sign that he was okay.  Phew.

The race ended one lap short, as the conditions were very treacherous, especially after Reckell’s incident which required emergency vehicles on the track to remove the disabled car.  I caught up with him as he returned from the race course.  He looked no worse for the wear, but I could tell that he was unnerved.  His first mission was to seek out and embrace his wife, Kelly. They held each other close for several seconds. 

He was really bummed about wiping out. “I was having a great time.  We were having so much fun out there.”  One reporter commented that it looked like Reckell had a shot at winning again.  Especially as he had reached 4th place over all, with several laps to go.  “I don’t know if I had a shot at it,” he responded, “but I was having a good time out there.”

Peter Reckell and fellow racer, Tony Potts, with Reckell's race car, after the wipe out.

For Kelly Moneymaker, having her husband back in one piece was her main concern. “Watching the race was nerve wracking this year,” Kelly shared with me.  “It always is.  I think he likes to torture me,” she added with a smile. “Last year he crashed, and he won it. This year, he really crashed!  But, I knew he was okay cos he jumped out of the car and he was smiling! He is quite a trooper.” 

The tow truck brought Reckell’s car back.  Photo journalists thronged to capture the totaled front end on film, but security personal held all back and away from the car.   One photographer called out “You invited us here to get pictures, and now, you won’t let us take them.”  From the looks of the front end it’s a wonder and a miracle Reckell walked away from the crash with not so much as a scratch.  All those helmets, seatbelts, padded dash and steering wheel, paid off in spades in this case.

After the hub bub surrounding the wipe out died down, the racers were interviewed.  Reckell remained upbeat about the near miss. 

“I wish I knew what happened. Hopefully, I’ll watch the tape and figure out what happened,” said Reckell with a smile.  “It was wild. That wall comes up real quick when you’re going that fast.  I had the best time of my life out there. I have to thank Toyota.  Best time of my life.”  The announcer congratulated Reckell on last year’s win and commended him on sticking with it again this year. “That’s what I do for a living,” Reckell enthused.  “I play other people. I was playing a race car driver!”

The Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race helps raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for local area children's hospitals, and the celebrities donate their time to go to the hospitals and visit with the patients.  

As the qualifying rounds for the Toyota Grand Prix which took place Sunday, April 18, 2004 got under way, the marine layer lifted, the southern California sunshine emerged and began to dry out the track.  Ironically, because of the mishap with the wipe out, last year’s overall winner, Peter Reckell, did not even get a time or finish the race this year.  Will he race again?  Knowing Reckell, it’s very likely.  Will Kelly go along for the ride again?  Like all things soap, we’ll just have to wait and see!


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