Five driving teams from the Gulf Coast will help raise awareness of missing children as part of the newest Fireball Run event, and you can follow their adventures between here and Hartford Connecticut from the time they start their engines until each crosses the finish line. “It’s just an opportunity to do some good and experience this beautiful country,” said Richard Ohlsson, a Sarasota driver racing with his wife Bibi on Team Bronco. “I’m blessed to be in this position.”
The event each year sends dozens of drivers on the highway, each one car stickered with the face of a missing child. Team Bronco, for example, will represent for Wendy Hudakoc, a Naples girl missing since 1998. Many of these children today, like Hudakoc, would be adults, while others were taken as recently as last year.
Ariane Dart, a Sarasota philanthropist, actually won the race last year and will be in the No. 1 pole position this year as part of the Kirk’s Angels team. As the team did last year, the team will represent Alexander Erb Sanchez, an Ellenton boy missing since 2007, when he was abducted as an infant. “It’s just so heartbreaking,” she said. “But every poster we hand out is one step closer to potentially to get them home.” Dart knows that better than most racers. Since the Fireball Run started in 2007, a total of 45 children have been found, and one of those was a girl Dart represented in a prior race. “I don’t know if I had anything to do with it, but this couldn’t have hurt,” Dart says.
Steve Murray, who will race with his father John as part of the team Hope and Glory, said this is an opportunity to both enjoy an adventure and do some good. The team represents Jennifer Marteliz of Tampa. Like most of the Sarasota groups racing this year, they got involved through some association with the local nonprofit Forty Carrots Family Center. So did Bengt Niebuhr and Anna Nekoranec, who actually bought the chance to race at a Forty Carrots auction earlier this year at the Firefly Gala. As Team Firefly, they will both represent their child, Adji Desir of Immokalee, but the Forty Carrots organization itself.
The race isn’t so much a speed contest—there are penalties for breaking the speed limit—as much as a test of wits. The teams will stop in eight different cities and engage in brainteasing puzzles. The contest will be broadcast as well, webcast live during the events of the race on the official Fireball Run website a la Big Brother, then edited into a 13-episode series more akin to The Amazine Race and streamed on Netflix after the race is complete. This year, the contest is dubbed the Space Race, and a such will start and finish on the Space Coast. Also keeping with the theme, four astronauts are part of the event. So are other notable celebrities, such as actor Christopher MacDonald (Happy Gilmore) and Queen of Versailles documentary subject Jacqueline Siegel.
But Bibi Ohlsson hopes the real memorable faces will be the ones pasted on the cars and in posters being distributed at every stop. The Sarasota teams all swung by Sarasota City Hall this week to present Mayor Willie Shaw with missing child posters represented by each team, and the Ohlsson’s have paid to publicize Hudakoc’s identity in parts of the world where she may reside today. “Most of all, we would love to bring Wendy Hudakoc home to her family,” she said. “And if she is still alive, we want to tell her it’s ok to come back home. Everyone still loves you.”