Once a year right around the start of the holiday season, the Southern Automotive Media association puts on an event aimed at lifting the spirits of a select group of patients from Baptist Hospital who have been dealt a raw deal in the game of life by bringing them along for a day at the track where they are all given the opportunity to join Homestead Miami Speedway’s elite 100 MPH club. As much of a charitable function as Rides and Smiles is every year, it is impossible to ignore the fact that as part of our volunteerism we too are fortunate enough to spend a day at the racetrack.
There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to make this even run as smoothly as it does and the manufacturers are certainly a large part of the program’s success by ensuring that there will be products like the supercharged FordShelby GT500, drop top Dodge Viper SRT-10 and a bright yellow Bumblebee Camaro from Chevrolet to help keep the kid’s enthusiasm overflowing as they await their chance to do a smoky burnout and then head south down the pit straight before entering into the twisty 2.3 mile long road course before climbing the banking of Nascar’s turns three and four on the north side of the track which then dropped them onto the front straight where they would reach the magical 100 MPH mark.
There were also a few benevolent individuals who donated both their time and their rides to bring smiles to all of the kid’s faces; like a race ready Ferrari 360, one flame spitting Ford GT, a bright yellow Corvette ZR-1 as well as one very special bright orange Porsche 911 GT3 RS; however we were selected to drive the brand new and equally as orange, Mazda Miata. To be perfectly honest, after receiving the news we were a bit bummed; but hey, it’s for the kids!
Rides & Smiles
Continued after the jump.
This isn’t to say that the mighty MX-5 isn’t a great car, especially when on the racetrack, but sitting alongside a supercharged Jaguar XK-R, Hemi powered Challenger and a turbocharged Subaru Impreza WRX STi the 170 HP Mazda seemed like a bit of a lightweight and to our surprise that is exactly what it turned out to be. Due to the Miata’s tried and tested design derived from classic English sports cars, it was able to scoot around the track with ease all day long without overworking any aspect of the vehicle. The founder of Lotus, Colin Chapman, was right when he said “Adding power makes you faster on the straights, while subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere.” So as the other cars dropped the hammer as soon as they saw a straight, the MX-5 is able to brake later and drive deeper into a turn. Perhaps not better than the Porsche or Ferrari, but we guarantee that the tires won’t wear as much, the brakes will last longer and the Mazda definitely burns less gas in the process. Maybe that is why aside from the GT3 and 360 Challenge, it was the only car there to have a dedicated racing series.
However we weren’t racing to set the quickest lap times, we were out there collecting smiles. It wasn’t the easiest task convincing the kids to ride shotgun in the Miata when you are in contention with a Nissan GT-R, but the lure of being the only other convertible in the field was a bonus, and a factor that made you feel as if you were going twice as fast as you actually are. As soon as our passengers would buckle their seatbelts we would explain that the Miata may be the least powerful car on the grid, but we were going to have the most fun. All of the other cars easily impressed with their boosted big block power levels, but the Miata is King of the corners, and knowing that we were going to get embarrassed on the straights we decided to show the children a bit of what the MX-5 could do when the roads get twisty; because after all, it’s for the kids!
To our surprise and much of the children’s amusement, the Miata was able to hang with any other car that was ahead of us around the first two turn complexes. There were even a few times that we would get enough of a jump on the car right behind us with the wheel sideways that we had enough of a run on them going into a long stretch that they couldn’t catch up even if they tried. At the end of the day, quite a few of the regular cars had been out of commission for quite some time due to burnt out clutches and cooked brakes, there was even a high tech luxury car puttering around in limp mode. Now these are cars that cost more than double that of our mighty Miata with it’s 205 series tires and inline four cylinder engine displacing a mere 2.0 Liters. Imagine spending over $100,000 for a track day toy only to end up sitting in the garage with your hood up, watching guys and gals get their kicks on in a Miata. This just goes to show the kind of value that Mazda’s engineers had in mind when they inject a little Zoom-Zoom into their products, not to mention the feelings we got from giving those kids a day that they will never forget.