Imagine a child not being able to participate in a sport because of a disability. John Bomm from Sunshine State Superkids has taken on the mission to change that by giving special needs children the opportunity to experience box car racing. He called on the support of local body shops in Florida to help turn this dream into a reality.
Hepler’s Auto Body in Kissimmee, Shamrock Auto Body Collision Pros in St. Cloud, Francisco’s Custom Body Shop in Lakeland and Orange Buick GMC in Orlando offered to paint box cars for upcoming races in the Sunshine state.
Bomm said that he and his family have participated in box car racing for years and wanted to share their love of the sport.
In March of 2015, they took part in a race for special-needs children in Florida. After watching how much the children enjoyed the experience, Bomm said he decided to dedicate his time to plan these types of races. This led to the formation of Sunshine State Superkids in 2015, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to hosting free box car races.
Although Bomm said there have been some delays getting started, he is still working hard to get the project off the ground.
The first race is currently schedule for September 24 in Orlando, Florida. Other races are planned for October 15 in Winter Garden, November 19 in St. Cloud, and December 10 in Plant City.
All funding comes from sponsorships and donations and Bomm, as the race director, is currently reaching out to local businesses for support.
Artios Cabinetry built four of the wooden cars that will be used in the races. Constructed without an engine, Bomm said it’s like drag racing downhill.
The cars are specifically built for special-needs children. They have two seats—one for a child driver (10-18 years old) and the other for a special needs passenger (7-18 years old). Helmets are provided for participants and safety harnesses are inside all of the cars.
The first four cars were painted by East Ridge High School’s body shop class.
Bomm then reached out to Bobby Hepler, owner of Hepler’s Auto Body, to paint one of the wooden cars. It was brought in without wheels or a steering wheel. Hepler said it took about 20 hours to sand the car, seal it and paint it. He worked with two other employees in his shop after-hours and on weekends to complete the job.
“We do a lot of things here for charity as far as painting different things,” said Hepler, who has owned his shop for 10 years. “I enjoy the opportunity to do that.”
When asked what it takes to be successful in a small town, he responded, “Do good quality work, reputation, and say what you do, do what you say.”
He also stressed the importance of helping the local community and giving back, especially during tough times. “When the economy hit like it did, we all have to be in it together,” said Hepler.
In addition to supporting local churches and single moms, Hepler is president of the rotary club. “We just try to help out as much as we can to give back. That helps also with your reputation in the community.”
About 10 miles away, another body shop offered to lend a hand. Shamrock Auto Body Collision Pros in St. Cloud, Florida painted four of the race cars. It took four of his 22 employees about two weeks to get the job done. Owner Mike Reilly Sr. said his team decided to paint the cars in the likeness of Batman, Captain America, Hulk and Iron Man.
Reilly purchased the collision repair business 16 years ago. Showing support of the local community has always been an important goal of the family-run business.
“Ever since I came in here, this town has been very good to me. My big thing was always to give back,” said Reilly. “I always set aside x amount of dollars per year to make sure I could give back to the community. I work on that very hard.”
Francisco's Custom Body Shop in Lakeland was involved in prepping and custom-painting three cars, which took about three weeks.
"To me, it's very important to support the community that has faithfully supported me and helped my business grow to what it is today," said Steve Franciso, owner of Francisco's Custom Body Shop.
The small family-run business was established in 1988 and has grown to include 13 full-time employees, many of whom have worked there more than 10 years. "We were very interested in this project as many of us enjoyed soap box derbys in our youth and wanted the disabled children to experience the same enjoyment we had," said Francisco. "We also like supporting youth sports, 4H and pageants. We enjoy encouraging and supporting the youth in our community."
Bomm’s ultimate goal is to hold eight racing throughout the year during the cooler months. He would also like to add “old school-style racing” and allow kids to build cars out of materials found in their garages.
He said few people can afford to go out and purchase a $1,000 car and a trailer to haul it, as well as pay for registration and travel fees. By holding these races, Bomm said it gives special-needs children the opportunity to experience first-hand what racing is all about. “Giving back is a big thing,” said Bomm. “Everything I do is for children.”
For more information, contact John Bomm at email@example.com.