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Hearts Racing

Bill Adam’s Rides and Smiles 2013

by James Edmonds
photos by Thomas Murray and James Edmonds

Rides and Smiles. It sounds simple doesn’t it? Well, thankfully, for the special guests it is.

As the brain-child of famed race car driver Bill Adam, this year marked the sixth annual event to be held at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday, November 23rd.  With help from his family and friends from S.A.M.A. – the Southern Automotive Media Association – of which he is president, he collected a stellar field of exotic road and race cars in which to give thrill rides around the circuit to pediatric cancer patients from BaptistChildren’s Hospital and Miami Children’s Hospital.

I took my photographer friend Tom Murray down for the day to see what it was all about.

The event was started by Bill after he returned home from his native Canada having attended a similar event. I take the opportunity to hop into the Nissan GTR that Bill is driving this afternoon and he drives the car (which by the way handles better than a lot of the cars he drove back in the day) around the road course at great speed while chatting to me as easily as if we were sitting down over a cup of tea! “I was invited back to Canada about seven years ago for a Children’s Wish Foundation event. I did it and it was quite remarkable.” He came back having been smitten by the kids he had spent time with and wanted to give back to his own community.

After being rejected by the Children’s Wish and Make-a-Wish Foundations (!), he talked to his colleagues at S.A.M.A., “I came back and talked to the group and said, ‘Look, we get to drive all these lovely cars all the time. Why don’t we start to do something like I just did up in Canada?’ They said, ‘If you think it would be interesting, go for it!’ None of them had any idea what it would become.”

As well as the kids, their families and volunteers from the hospitals, also invited along are wounded warriors and Air Force veterans from the local Homestead base. As a local resident, Bill has strong ties to the base, the track and the local community. “I was over there one day and happened to see these little signs saying , ‘Airmen of the Corps’ and I asked the Colonel, ‘What do they get other than a sign?’ and he said, ‘That’s it.’ I spoke to him a couple of months ago and told him that we always have time in the afternoon because the children get tired. ‘What about inviting your top award winners?’ and he said, ‘Oh my God! Go for it!’

With over 250 special guests in attendance, the event has grown steadily over the years and includes cars donated for the day’s festivities by manufactures Audi, Ford, Chevrolet, Chrysler SRT, Nissan, Mazda, Hyundai, Porsche, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Maserati and Jaguar. Also on hand were a Ferrari Challenge 458 and Cadillac CTS-V piloted by Andy Pilgrim and both fitted with two seats just for the occasion.

Many other historic cars on hand also delighted the kids: notably local philanthropist Preston Henn brought his Ferrari FXX and a recreation of a ‘50s Testa Rossa was a huge favorite. Whoops and hollers of joy could be heard ringing down the pit lane as the passengers got a taste of real speed in the safe confines of the circuit with professional drivers taking care of their precious cargo. Although the speeds are not taken to the extreme, the kids all receive a “100 Mile per Hour Club” certificate from the speedway after feeling the effects of a fast car on the steep banked turn of the speedway. A catered lunch in the media room overlooking the front straight gives everyone a break and a chance to cool down from the Florida heat and swag bags with goodies from the manufacturers keep the kids smiling.

But it’s the enduring memories that will bring the smiles back when times aren’t perhaps so great. For the volunteers and invited guests such as myself and Tom, we were able to reflect on what we have and to see the impression made on the kids and veterans by Bill and his team really does bring a tear to one’s eye.

As a seasoned racer Bill says it best when he tells me, “I had no idea the mark this would leave on my heart.” I bet he had no idea that Rides and Smiles would leave such an impression on the people whose lives it has touched either. Their hearts are racing!