LONG BEACH -- In his fourth trip to Long Beach for the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, Mark Steines has been pegged the one to beat.
Host of Hallmark Channel's "Home & Family" and past "Entertainment Tonight" personality, Steines is one of 19 participants who will race in the prestigious 10-lap charitable event on April 20 as part of the 39th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Asked if he is feeling the pressure, Steines smiled and said, "Not at all. "
"Each year this experience gets a little better," he said Tuesday. "I am looking forward to race day. I definitely feel like I have an advantage being that I've been a part of this race for the past three years, but anything can happen on race day. "
Steines joins stars Kate del Castillo, Jesse Metcalfe, Jenna Elfman, Michael Trucco and Olympic Gold Medalist and Long Beach native Jessica Hardy for the 37th annual charity race benefiting Miller Children's Hospital in Long Beach and Children's Hospital of Orange County.
The April 20 charity race - which has previously attracted celebrities such as George Lucas, Cameron Diaz, Paul Newman, Patrick Dempsey and Keanu Reeves - is one of six races taking place race weekend.
The Grand Prix, the city's biggest event, draws an estimated 175,000 people and brings an estimated $25 million in revenue to the city of Long Beach.
Las Vegas oddsmaker Anthony Curtis, who for fun makes race predictions, has for the past six years bench-marked Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race participants by watching training exercises and drawing on his knowledge of the famed 1.97-mile circuit through downtown Long Beach.
Steines' 6-1 odds are the longest for a favorite since Curtis began evaluating the field, and they are closely followed by the handicapping on actor Trucco, racing analyst Rutledge Wood, motocross champion Andy Bell and philanthropist Carter Lay.
"This year's odds structure paints a picture of a wide-open race with several skilled celebrities challenging the pro drivers for the win," Curtis said. "Watching all the challengers in action gives me insight into who is ready for the adrenaline rush of race day and who needs more practice. In the end, the celebrities and pros alike play an important role of supporting the charitable goal of the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race. "
The Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race is the longest-running, corporate-sponsored event of its kind and benefits Racing for Kids, a national fundraising program supporting U.S. children's hospitals. Since 1991, Toyota has donated more than $2 million on behalf of the race and its participants.
Curtis called this year's charity race the tightest one in the six years he's watched the celebrities, partly because several of the stars are returning drivers.
"Experience is really huge," he said. "So the guys that are coming back ... they've all done this before. ... In the past, we've seen celebrities that come back and do very, very well. "
Hardy, who is no stranger to the streets in Long Beach, said the experience has been surreal.
"This has been the coolest thing ever - I'm really loving it, it's been awesome," she said during Tuesday's practice. "I feel like I know what I'm doing, and actually Toyota lent me a Scion that I have been driving ever since (Willow Springs), so I feel very comfortable. "
She added that she is proud to have her fellow competitors see the beauty of Long Beach.
"This is the prettiest place you could ever imagine having a race," Hardy said. "We are right here on the water, the Palm Trees, there is not a cloud in the sky, this is beautiful - I am super proud of my hometown, to have an event like this and be part of it, it's perfect. "