Being a journalist occasionally has its perks, especially for members of the Southern Automotive Media Association (SAMA). Every year, on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, SAMA hosts an event at Miami Homestead Speedway for pediatric cancer patients, their families, and the doctors and nurses who treat them. Called “Rides ‘n Smiles”, the event puts kids into sports cars and race cars, and SAMA members get the opportunity to drive them around Homestead Speedway’s road course at safe but entertaining speeds. At the end of the day, the patients get a bag full of donated prizes, a certificate welcoming them into the “100 Mile Per Hour Club” and sore cheeks from laughing and smiling so much.
Founded by Bill Adam, an accomplished racer and member of the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame, the event has grown larger each year since its inception in 2008. This year’s event brought out some 100 families, which kept us busy driving from 9:00 until mid-afternoon. As luck would have it, I spent my driving duties behind the wheel of both a 2010 Dodge Viper Coupe and a 2011 Ford Shelby GT500 Mustang, and I tried not to look like I was enjoying it more than the kids were.
The kids and their families were great, and I can’t imagine a better way to spend a Saturday. I made sure to tailor my speed and driving style to the requests of my passengers, although I never did manage to go fast enough for one little girl, whose vocabulary seemed to be limited to “faster!” She spent a lot of time giggling (as did her brother), so I’m guessing she enjoyed the ride anyway. Even her mom seemed to have fun, although she did look a little nervous in the first few corners. Another little boy asked me to go slow and admitted to being a little scared. I promised that I hadn’t wrecked a car since the day before and his eyes got really wide until I told him, “just kidding”. I had him laughing out loud by the end of the first lap, so I think I conquered his fear of speed.
Most of the cars were loaned by the automakers, but a few participants brought their own rides (a heavily modified Ford GT, a Porsche 356 vintage racer, a Corvette ZR-1, an Aston Martin DBS and a pair of Ferrari Californias) and generously donated their brakes and tires for the cause. A huge “thank you” goes out to Ford, Chevy, Dodge, Subaru, Porsche, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Mazda, as well as to the staff of Miami Homestead Speedway who donated the use of the track for the day and made sure we had everything we could possibly need.
Most of all, thanks go out to the kids and their families who turned up for the event. Here’s hoping you all make a speedy and full recovery, and that you enjoyed Rides ‘n Smiles as much as we did. I’m already signed up for next year, and I’m counting the days.