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Celebration Exotic Car Festival - It’s all about the kids

Jim Weed

Volume 48 Issue 8

Apr 22, 2023

Fun, fellowship, concours, rally and track time at Daytona, Celebration Exotic Car Festival has it all. Make-A-Wish has benefited from this event for twenty years.

    Each year the quiet streets of Celebration, Florida, are filled with exotic cars. Lamborghini, McLaren, Maserati, Porsche, DeLorean and even Ferrari automobiles grace the streets.

    For twenty years Jeff and Jim Ippoliti have brought exotic cars to this small town to celebrate the automobile, to bring automobiles directly to the public to bring awareness and donations to Make-A-Wish foundation.

    Born out of tragic circumstances, the event was designed to provide a platform of giving to Make-A-Wish and each year donations have allowed many, many children to receive their wishes.

    So far, not counting this year, the Celebration event has contributed over $4.5 million dollars to the organization. Each child’s wish averages about $10,000. You can see how this event has made a difference in so many young lives.

    Celebration Exotic Car Festival kicks off on Friday. One of the things I like about this event is it happens to coincide with the airshow in Lakeland called SUN-n-FUN. There is nothing better than to spend time with exotic airplanes and exotic cars all on the same weekend.

    Friday morning Linda and I drive down to Lakeland and spend a few hours looking at Mustangs and Corsairs. We walk through a C130 and a Chinook helicopter to see how our tax dollars are being spent.

    If that wasn’t enough, the F-35 demo team was making low passes and shaking the ground. I love the smell of jet fuel in the morning… and 100 low-lead… and race gas… I think there is a theme here.

    While walking around looking at airplanes I hear someone call my name. The Air Boss, the one in charge of all the air coordination for the show, sees me. He was a partner in my plane; we had flown into SUN-n-FUN many years ago and now he is a captain for Frontier Airlines.

    You never know how or what you do affects others in your life. This will be a recurring message for the rest of the weekend.

    Enough about airplanes; there is a dinner to attend. Friday night, the Celebration participants are chauffeured to Universal Studios CityWalk. Buses line up in Celebration and you better be there by six o’clock because you don’t want to miss this ride.

    Universal Studios CityWalk on a late Friday afternoon would normally be a 45-minute drive, but we have a secret weapon to bypass rush-hour traffic. Motorcycles, the ones you hate to see in your rearview mirror with flashing blue lights, lead the way.

    Immediately behind the first row of police is a Hennessey Venom F5 in all its carbon fiber glory. This Supercar boasts 1,817 horsepower with a top speed of over three hundred miles per hour.

    For this article I spent some time on the website learning about this special car. I wish I had read about it before I saw one in person as I would have taken better notice. Not to be a Ferrari snob, but I spend every day learning and discovering new things about my business and I don’t get too far into other marques. My bandwidth is just not that wide.

    With the police escort, Hennessey Venom F5 and several buses loaded with participants, we rolled down the road and onto an empty freeway. The motorcycles stop traffic from the on-ramps and clear the way as we arrive at Universal Studios in record time.

    There we were led to a roped off area with three bars. Food kiosks are spread about the courtyard and conversation with friends flows freely. The karaoke bar seemed to be the most popular and several brave souls sang. The band and backup singers help make everyone who “performed” sound great. There was much talent among our group.

    Saturday, the cars are parked up and down the street. Ferraris line Main Street and other marques fill the area around the lake. At the top of the hill there are two GTOs displayed. One is a 288 GTO and the other a 250 GTO.



    It was interesting to listen to people talk about each car. One thought the 250 GTO was a Datsun rebody and did not believe it was real. Another was explaining each car in accurate detail to a child. Who knows what effect that conversation will spark in the future.

    I just had to compliment him on his knowledge and discovered he owns a 348 tb. A true Ferraristi!

    There is a good showing of Ferrari. Mondial Cabriolet and 308. 488 GTB and Spider. 575M Maranello, F355 Berlinetta and 458 Spider, all shown by proud owners along with many more.

    While judges move from car to car the atmosphere is relaxed. Crowds of people fill the streets. Every phone is held out to take pictures and record the sights. Children stand in front of or alongside with huge smiles while they have their photo taken.

    I spot a GTC4Lusso with a Georgia tag. I know the owner and we talk about the enthusiasm of the kids in the crowd.

    He was positioning his car the night before. The streets were quiet and a father with his six-year-old son had come to get a sneak peek of the cars. The boy was excited to hear the Lusso start and the question was asked. “Have you ever been in a Ferrari?” No. “Would you like to ride in a Ferrari?” YES!

    Full of smiles and wonder the boy got to ride the couple hundred yards to the display spot. It will be an experience he will never forget. Another seed sown into a future Ferrari enthusiast.

    One of the fun things about Celebration Exotic Car Festival is ‘exotic’ can be loosely interpreted. Along one street is a mix of American muscle cars, a Willys WWII Jeep and a Ford Model T.

    The Model T was owned by a gentleman who dressed in period 1927 costume and spent much of his time answering questions about the car. It was interesting to see how much interest this vintage automobile generated with the younger crowd.

    After a short rest it was time for dinner at the Waldorf Astoria. Auction items were lined up in the foyer and all proceeds went to Make-A-Wish. After dinner was served the real purpose of our gathering began.

    A short video was presented that highlighted the wish of one young child. In 2006, Charlie Peńa wanted to be coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. His wish was granted for a day. At the end of the video, former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was reunited on stage with a now adult Charlie Peńa.

    Each said a few words about the experience and how it made a difference in their lives. You never know what influence one act will have.

    With that, bidding opened on various experiences and raised thousands of dollars. Four days in Monaco on a yacht to see the Formula 1 race. How about becoming a Navy Seal for a day? Multi-day trip through Napa Valley to enjoy wine. Each could be had with your winning bid.

    The fun continued on Sunday with a rally through the Florida countryside and finished with two track days at Daytona International Speedway where Ferraris and other cars could be properly exercised.

    Celebration is an event like no other. The fun and fellowship, the love of automobiles and the first-class experience is why people continue to support this event and its worthy causes.

    Twenty years of doing good for the community; let’s hope for twenty more years of helping the children through Make-A-Wish. 





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