LOS ANGELES — 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay barely had time for meals April 7 while promoting the April 19 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and its Pro/Celebrity Race, which takes places April 18 on the same street circuit that the Verizon IndyCar Series races on.
All day, Hunter-Reay gave journalists pace car rides and answered questions about everything from the first races of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, which got underway March 29 in St. Petersburg, Fla., and his 2012 win in Long Beach to his penchant for offshore fishing in South Florida, where he lives.
Even when Hunter-Reay wasn’t chatting with reporters, he was busy talking racing with the celebrities signed on for the Pro/Celebrity race – long-time IndyCar fan Alfonso Ribeiro, best known for his role in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and winning “Dancing With the Stars,” was there, as was 12-time Olympic medalist Dara Torres and actor Brett Davern, who stars in MTV’s series “Awkward” and is the celeb race’s defending champion.
“I had a lot of fun at media day at the track, doing hot laps,” Hunter-Reay said. “It’s always a fun way to get people going about an upcoming race and catch up with some friends in the pro/celebrity race.”
When the sun went down, though, Hunter-Reay temporarily got a new job in a different sport: pitcher.
He headed to Dodger Stadium to throw the ceremonial first pitch in the Dodgers game against the San Diego Padres. In return, the team gave Hunter-Reay an up-close look at their famed stadium and his own Dodgers jersey. And he was invited to an impromptu dinner with National Baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda after Lasorda insisted he get some food and sit down.
“If Tommy Lasorda tells you to eat, you’ve got to eat,” Hunter-Reay explained, following instructions.
Afterward, the parade of baseball greats kept coming. Hunter-Reay got a few pointers on throwing the first pitch from icon Mark McGwire, who serves as the Dodgers hitting coach, and met manager Don Mattingly, too.
“To have dinner with Tommy Lasorda and then go down to the batting cages and have kind of a one-on-one with Mark McGwire … and I met Don Mattingly,” he said. “It was like a list of baseball greatness one after the other. It was pretty amazing.”
In the end, Hunter-Reay helped create dozens of new IndyCar fans and the Dodgers’ solidified Hunter-Reay’s support.
“I’m a Dodger fan for life,” he said.