The fifth annual “Rides ’n Smiles” eventrolled into the Homestead-Miami Speedway rolled into the Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 10 and once again it lived up to its name —- putting happy smiles on the faces of deserving children faced with serious medical problems.
The event is organized by the Southern Automotive Media Association (SAMA) in an effort to bring a few hours of joy and happiness to the lives of children fighting cancer and other debilitating diseases. “Rides ‘n Smiles” was the brainchild of SAMA vice president and racing legend Bill Adam, who expanded this year’s event to not only include invitations to 170 children from Baptist Hospital and Miami Children’s Hospital, but also to veterans and soldiers through the Wounded Warrior program.
Nothing can describe the feeling that you get when you see the expression of pure joy on the faces of the kids after their first ride. One driver had a pretty young girl strapped into his car by one of the Army Ranger volunteers who also was attending the event for the day. Noticing that she appeared autistic, he tried to make conversation. “Do you have a favorite car?” he asked. “Are you having fun?”
The girl did not respond. Oh well, he thought, this will be a quiet ride. By the third corner she turned and looked at him with a wide grin and said simply, “Faster, please!” That smile was what the day was all about.
SAMA members volunteer their time to organize the event, fill a few hundred goody bags, make sure everything happens on schedule and drive the cars all day. More than two dozen of the most luxurious and desirable sports cars imaginable – from Chevrolet Corvettes and Dodge Vipers to Nissan GT-Rs and Mercedes Benz SLKs and even a few bonafide racing machines – are donated for the day by auto manufacturers, racing teams and even private owners. The ailing children and the Wounded Warriors are given three laps around the Homestead track at breakneck speed, effectively transporting them to an exotic world of speed and excitement and taking their minds away from their illness and injuries. Adam’s connections with the U.S. Air Force even ensured that a squadron of F-16 fighter jets would make a flyover of the Homestead-Miami Speedway during the lunch break to add just one more element of speed and excitement to the day’s events.
From a Fiat 500 and Mazda Miata convertibles to a Nissan GT-R and a Porsche Carrera GT, there was an exotic car available to satisfy anybody’s automotive desire. Adam’s racing pals even brought in several actual race cars and ran a few demonstration laps, even taking a few guests for very quick rides around the track course. One car owner who had planned on simply displaying his classic 1970 Lamborghini Miura S – worth about $4 million to collectors – actually took a few lucky kids for rides in the car. I wonder if anyone appreciated the sound of those Weber carbs singing at full song as much as he did.
It was a great day and a wonderful event! Each child left with an official certificate from the Homestead-Miami Speedway certifying that they had joined the 100 mph club on that special day. They also left with some great memories and stories to tell their friends.
Rides ’n Smiles has traditionally been held after the last NASCAR Cup race at Homestead Speedway. This year it was moved up to the weekend preceding the race. Whether it was genius planning or just a lucky miracle, that meant it took place during the Miami Auto Show when most of the manufacturers’ representatives were in Miami. So, for the first time, many of them were able to experience what Rides ’n Smiles was all about. Lisa Barrow from Chrysler, Steve Parrett from Nissan and Araba Dowell from General Motors were all in attendance, while Hyundai Motor America representatives brought coffee and donuts in the morning, then provided a delicious catered lunch for everyone – event volunteers, soldiers and the kids and their families.
Of course, Rides ’n Smiles would not happen without the support and assistance of the wonderful people at the Homestead- Miami Speedway who believe this event is important enough to provide the free use of the track and facilities for the day. In addition to the donation of the track, Rides ’n Smiles was made possible this year by the generosity of auto manufacturers Hyundai, Nissan, Chrysler, Porsche, GM, Ford, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes Benz, as well as many individuals and professional racing teams who provided vehicles for the event.
The toughest part of the day was that it had to end. But, one thing was certain — everyone was making plans to return to the Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2013 and do it all over again for the sixth edition of Rides ’n Smiles.