When you’re faced with the prospect of fighting a ravaging disease like cancer, it can be debilitating, if not downright devastating. If you are a child, that battle is even more chilling.
That’s why Rides ‘n’ Smiles has become such an important event each year at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. It’s a day when ailing youngsters can come to the speedway and be treated special, and get to ride around the track in some of the hottest, most exotic cars on the market today at speeds in excess of 100 mph.
On Nov. 26, the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, more than 130 youngsters converged on the Homestead-Miami Speedway for the Southern Automotive Media Association’s (SAMA) third annual Rides ‘n’ Smiles event. At the end of the day, virtually all of the kids sported broad smiles and had a feeling of accomplishment, of having had a day of fun in their lives in spite of being faced with some very difficult days ahead.
Rides ‘n’ Smiles is the brainchild of SAMA vice president Bill Adam. He is an automotive writer, an accomplished race car driver and a popular television motorsports analyst. He conceived the idea of bringing ailing kids from Baptist Children’s and Miami Children’s hospitals to the speedway, where members of the automotive association would spend the day giving them fast and exhilarating rides around the race track in many of the hottest new cars on the market today.
Most of those cars are provided by the manufacturers, although some are supplied by private owners. This year’s participating manufacturers included Chevrolet (Corvette and Camaro convertible), Dodge (Challenger), Ford (Boss 302 Mustang), Mercedes Benz (SLK), Subaru (WRX), Nissan (370Z convertible), Lexus (ISF), and Porsche (911 GTS convertible). Also on track were privately owned cars from Fort Lauderdale lawyer Bill Scherer (Ford GT), Doug Von Allmen (Audi R8 V-10), Tom Gonzales (Corvette ZR-1), and Ron Vogel, vice president of Ferrari of Fort Lauderdale, (with Maserati convertible and Ferrari 458 Challenge race car, and Infiniti G37).
Additional cars were displayed by Miami lawyer Lance Joseph (1969 Camaro 427 and a custom Toyota Celica GT), Aston Martin (new Vantage convertible), Chris Kavanaugh (Ferrari 599), Bob and Jeanne Panoff (supercharged Dodge Viper and a supercharged Dodge Challenger), Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, Subaru, Lexus and Toyota.
“This day has become so rewarding to so many people, that it has grown to become a special part of our lives,” Adam said. “We all look forward to it and, literally, to seeing the smiles and tears on the faces of everyone — children, parents and volunteers. It is a humbling experience and makes all the effort worth it.”
In addition to the exciting rides around the racetrack, the children and their families were treated to a delicious Italian lunch provided by Homestead-Miami Speedway and presented with certificates attesting to their membership in the 100 MPH Club.
At the end of the day, each child was given a gift bag worth more than $50 containing model cars, key chains, a canvas back pack and numerous other items donated by the auto manufacturers and area businesses.
“Rides ‘n’ Smiles just keeps getting better every year,” said SAMA president Paul Borden, who drove one of the cars and gave the kids rides around the track. “I found the children even more enthusiastic than ever and it was a real giggle-fest in the Dodge Challenger all day. I think my very first rider got in the car with some trepidation because he wanted to ‘go slow.’
“I took it easy, of course, but you should have seen the big smile on his face as I went through turns three and four the first time at a moderate speed. I have a feeling that by the end of the day he was like most of the other kids who, when asked if they wanted to go slow or go fast, responded, ‘Go fast!’”
It was a very special day for everyone.