Shea Holbrook, who drives the TrueCar Racing Honda Civic in the Pirelli World Challenge, recently took part in the Fireball Run. It's a little bit like the legendary Cannonball Run…except it requires intelligence, imagination and it's done for a great cause: to raise awareness of America's missing children. Here's her report, with a video summary of the event following at the end.
Race crews enjoy the off season, while drivers typically go crazy. The adrenaline starts to trickle out of our veins and we've got to find something to keep us occupied. Back in May an opportunity presented itself that would keep me in the seat for eight straight days during the off season. So, when my championship race came to an end in August you bet I was looking forward to this so-called “adventurally” called the Fireball Run.
Fireball Run is a live destination-based competition in America with some of the most character-driven personalities ranging from successful business owners, elected officials, celebrities, and corporate leaders from abroad. In the words of Executive Producer, JJ Sanchez, “Fireball Run Northern Exposure will be EPIC, EPIC, EPIC!” You have no idea how many times we heard the word “epic” in one day! For eight days, through 14 cities, and 2,500 miles we got hands-on with grassroots America, receiving unprecedented access and leaving destinations better than when we arrived.
From a fireworks send off in Independence, Ohio on Sept. 21, to a parade finish in Bangor, Maine, we had to navigate solely based off of clues. We could use anything and anyone to solve clues, and accomplish missions. Clues lead us to find pieces of history, road side points-of-interest, attractions, brands, even pop culture. The only address we had was where we were to sleep at night and let me tell you, some days all we were looking forward to was going to bed: Some 80 people and 40 teams went head-to-head uncovering clues, driving and running around like crazy for 12 hours non-stop every day to complete missions and bonuses (which could have been real or completely fake).
You name the personality and Fireball Run had it. You name the car and Fireball Run had it. My teammate, Tarah Mikacich (pro wakeboarder and my lifelong friend) and I competed against an astronaut, the president of the Hard Rock Hall of Fame and even a female lumberjack. Some teams had exotic and sexy cars, others more typical and historic, and then there were the extremely odd cars. To ramble off a few: there was a Lamborghini Aventador, a 1981 DMC-12 DeLorean Time Machine as featured in the Back to the Future trilogy, a Ferrari 458 Italia, a Devon GTX, a Porsche 911, a Fisker Karma, a Rally Fighter, a water truck, an ambulance, and our sexy blue and pink hotrod, a 2012 Honda Accord V6 (with sat-nav of course) provided by Hendrick Honda.
We traveled from Independence to Wellsboro, Pa., Jamestown and Watertown, NY., Waterbury, CT, and Ogunquit and Bangor, Maine. Thankfully, we partnered up with some other more experienced teams to help us as we were the rookies. Using more brainpower than horsepower, we were doing fairly well within the first hour of the first day when we snapped a photo (which we get extra points for) of a fellow Fireballer pulled over by a cop!
Uncovering clues led us to partake in some of the most amazing well-kept secrets in America. We sat in Lucille Ball's Mercedes and held her Emmy, we also sat in Robert H. Jackson's chair at the desk he used as chief prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials, things that no one has done since the pieces were restored. I felt at home when we went to Watkins Glen and met president of the track Michael Printup, then met up with Skip Barber himself at Lime Rock...and then there were pumpkins. Yes, we raced in gigantic 500-1,000lb pumpkins in the water with a paddle. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the hard working people of Cummings Diesel and felt the power of a 500hp diesel engine that they make for 18-wheelers.
Speaking of great people, every town we went to truly hosted us. We would roll into town seeing thousands of proud citizens on the streets welcoming Fireball Run. The community effort was... unbelievable. Have you ever wondered where those little great smiling trees that you hang in your car come from? Somewhere in Watertown, NY., in a remote area… that's hard to find!
You know how every once in a while someone wants to know something about you that not that many others know? Well, I have a thing for graveyards, so when we went to a real graveyard where Pet Sematary was filmed, and had re-enacted a scene, you could say I was in heaven… no pun intended. (OK, maybe a little…) While we actually did many other things, these were some of my favorites.
Lastly, I'll share one bonus that seemed a bit risqué from the beginning. We got very up close and personal with the beautiful Pennsylvania Grand Canyon where we were to wear nothing… well, nothing but a toga. I will never forget the face of a nearby sightseer when we ran by in togas.
I said there were a few “fake bonuses” thrown in the mix. I don't remember the clue but we were to find a specific baseball field. We'd been on a roll, cranking out bonuses and then we ended up at Cooperstown Dream Park where we were to go throw a baseball only to find out the guard at this baseball park had absolutely no idea who we were and why we were there. Nor would he even let us in. It was a fake bonus and we didn't tell too many people about that one.
Everywhere we went we helped a local charity along the way. Together we donated over $10,000 in toys, sports equipment, learning games, and more. Some call Fireball Run a rally, car show, or a game and, in fact, all are accurate but it's so much more. The purpose of the “adventurally” is to aid in the recovery of missing children by being a massive awareness campaign. Along the way people asked us how to donate and the truth is, "We don't need donations to find missing children: We need people looking and we need business owners to be willing to hang a poster.
Each team got a child to represent from their region. Every time Tarah and I stepped foot out of the car we had posters in hand of the missing child we were representing. In our case, it was youngster Donald Jackson. So, we found it only fitting for our team name to represent Donald and put our girl spin on it, PrettyTough4DJ. Fireball Run distributed over 200,000 posters and received $42 million worth in news media. We were covered by live stream webcast and local news everywhere we went. From this live rolling production, Universal will be making a full-length movie for next year's Orlando Film Festival, plus a series of "webisodes" that will air on fireballrun.tv next summer. There were over 350 news stories regarding this year's Fireball Run and its Race to Recover America's Missing Children, which ultimately gave these children a voice again.
Fireball Run gave me a different perspective on life. In Schenectady, NY, at dinner I sat next to a man I didn't recognize. When I asked him who he was, I was very taken aback. He introduced himself with the following: “I'm a father of a missing child you're looking for, and he's been missing for eight years.” Needless to say, I welled up. He told me how every day he wonders where he is or if he's even alive. We hugged and the last thing he said to me was, “I can never repay you all for what you're doing for my family.” Well let me tell you, that hug said everything – and I'm a hugger myself!
The last day of the Fireball Run was probably my favorite. At the end of every day, teams could go online to see where they currently placed in the overall rankings, but in the last two days of the rally that option is removed which, as you can imagine, builds anticipation. Given how competitive Tarah and I are, we definitely wanted to do well. We were at the banquet in Bangor, eating an amazing dinner and sipping on some wine while listening to the awards, when suddenly we heard JJ refer to “The Girls.” We had won the Sedan class! I tell you, I've never been more excited over a plastic road sign in my life!
We have many people to thank for putting us in the Fireball Ball; TrueCar, Hendrick Honda, O'Brien Wakeboards, Lucas Oil, Growing Champions For Life, Race4Girls, Livin Over Board, beatbyagirl.org, Live Your Legacy Summit, Ten-80, and Hangtyte. We also express our sincere appreciation to the communities that hosted us and to the whole Fireball Run production. It was EPIC!
In a week I get to rekindle my love for my fellow Fireballers when we get together to attend the Orlando Film Festival to watch last year's Fireball Run. Before that though, you can read about my Pirelli World Challenge season, here on RACER.com.