Friday, 06 December, 2013
Location: Homestead-Miami Speedway
By Ron Beasly
The Southern Automotive Media Association’s sixth annual Rides ‘n Smiles event at Homestead-Miami Speedway in late November put smiles on the faces of about 150 ailing kids fighting cancer from Baptist Hospital and Miami Children’s Hospital.
Rides ‘n Smiles is the brainchild of MotorSports racing legend and SAMA President-elect Bill Adam. He conceived the idea of convincing auto manufacturers to lend SAMA their hottest and most exotic vehicles for use in the event. Then he persuaded Homestead-Miami Speedway officials to donate their facility and staff for a day, thus enabling SAMA members to host the event. Over the years, other private entities and individuals have joined Adam and SAMA to expand the scope of the project. This year he added an exotic car auto show on Homestead Air Force Base specifically for base personnel.
Basically, Adam hand-picks SAMA members to drive the cars on the day of Rides ‘n Smiles. Those automotive journalists are charged with spending the day giving the kids safe fast-paced three-lap rides around the Speedway road course, which, as the event name suggests, is meant to put smiles on the kids’ faces.
“Seven years ago I was asked by Children’s Wish Canada to take children with terminal cancer for rides at Mosport race track in Canada,” Adam says, when asked how he came up with the idea for Rides ‘n Smiles. “My friend who volunteered me accurately predicted that I’d get even more out of the day than the kids would and he was right!”
Adam, a former Pinecrest resident who now lives in Ft. Lauderdale, thought the concept would be an ideal project for SAMA. Officials agreed and he began working on the first event seven years ago. Today, Rides ‘n Smiles has evolved into a major automotive event, with 10 auto manufacturers this year lending their vehicles, Homestead-Miami Speedway donating use of the track, as well as safety and security personnel; Cadillac dispatching its racing team; the Ferrari Racing Team from Ft. Lauderdale attending; Hyundai Motor America hosting lunch for the volunteers and drivers; and multiple private entities contributing cars, goods and services.
More than 200 children – including those from military families from nearby Homestead Air Force Base – turned out for this year’s Rides ‘n Smiles and were given three fast laps around the Speedway’s road course in some of the fastest and most exotic cars on the highway today, including a new Corvette Stingray, Jaguar’s new F-Type Roadster, a Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet, Dodge’s exciting new Viper SRT and Nissan’s hot GT-R sports car. Ford, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Audi, Subaru and Mazda also sent their hottest cars for the event.
Also putting smiles on the kids’ faces this year were several exotic, privately owned cars. Bob Panoff brought along a supercharged Viper and Dodge Challenger, while Ron Vogel drove his gleaming new 2014 Maserati. Tom Gonzales gave rides to the kids in his garage-kept Corvette ZR-1 (he only drives the car once a year for Rides ‘n Smiles); and German Botero piloted his vintage Porsche 356 race car. And Adam was all smiles as he drove William Scherer’s classic Ford GT.
A special treat for the kids was the arrival of the Cadillac Racing Team from Detroit with champion driver Andy Pilgrim. Also making the day more exciting was the appearance of the Ferrari Racing Team from Fort Lauderdale and the 2012 championship Dodge from Penske Racing. All of the teams gave on-track demonstrations of each car’s speed and power.
At the same time, there were several rare and unusual vehicles on display for the youngsters’ enjoyment, including a Testa Rosa Sport Speciale from the Creative Workshop of Dania Beach, an authentic U.S. Army Humvee from SFC Joseph Hawkins; a 1968 Ford Mustang from Kris Adam, a Porsche Carrera GT, a Ferrari 458 Challenge race car from Henrik Hedman; a 1996 Corvette, a 2013 Ferrari from Kris Kavanaugh and Myles Kornblatt brought along a museum-housed classic 1962 Corvette.
Homestead-Miami Speedway treated the kids to a tasty lunch of hamburgers and hot dogs in the cafeteria, while drivers and volunteers from SAMA and the Air Force base were given a barbecue lunch courtesy of Hyundai’s Hope on Wheels project. All of the kids were awarded certificates from the Homestead-Miami Speedway confirming their 100 mph speed on the race track and each took home a gift bag stuffed with about $75 worth of auto-related goodies, including a back pack from Jeep, tee shirts from SAMA and Cadillac, model cars and Beanie Babies.
Adam says he is already thinking about how to make Rides ‘n Smiles better in 2014. “I’ll start work on next year’s event in the next few weeks as I like to plant seeds and get things rolling while everyone is enthused and also full of the Christmas spirit of giving,” he said.