Community gears up for eighth annual Racing for Kids to the Hill

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published August 21, 2014

 Caden Wortman, 2, and brother Cole, 3, both of St. Clair Shores, find a racecar that’s just the right size for them during last year’s Racing for Kids to the Hill along Kercheval in Grosse Pointe Farms. The popular street festival returns Aug. 27.

Caden Wortman, 2, and brother Cole, 3, both of St. Clair Shores, find a racecar that’s just the right size for them during last year’s Racing for Kids to the Hill along Kercheval in Grosse Pointe Farms. The popular street festival returns Aug. 27.

File photo by Erin Sanchez

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — The checkered flags now flying proudly on Kercheval can mean only one thing: Racing for Kids to the Hill is almost here.

The eighth annual Racing for Kids to the Hill — a free festival that brings exciting vehicles, entertainment and activities for the whole family to the Farms business district — will take place from 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Aug. 27 along the Hill on Kercheval. There will be bounce houses, a sidewalk sale, a scavenger hunt, digital design demonstrations by College for Creative Studies students, a Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix show car, refreshments, music by Whack the Mole, a Kart2Kart racecar simulator, and an appearance at 2 p.m. by 2014 Formula Drift champion Vaughn Gittin Jr. and his Ford Mustang RTR that will include an autograph signing for the kids. And there will once again be a display of fabulous vehicles along Kercheval for automotive enthusiasts.

The street festival is free, but it’s followed by a ticketed evening cocktail party and auction that has become one of the hottest fundraisers in town. The party — which starts at 6 p.m. Aug. 27 at Northern Trust on the Hill — raises money for the nonprofit Racing for Kids, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. This year, the Dirty Dog Jazz Café will present entertainment by Johnny Trudell, and organizers say all of the Hill restaurants will be offering specialty food presentations. Last year’s party drew more than 525 guests, organizers said. Among the auction items up for bids this year are a VIP 2015 Rose Bowl experience, custom-detailed Racing for Kids 2014 V6 Ford Mustang and a 2015 New Orleans IndyCar Race package. Money raised from this event will benefit children’s programs at local hospitals — Children’s Hospital of Michigan; Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe; and the Henry Ford Health System — as well as Racing for Kids’ yearlong hospital visitation program.

Based on the Hill, Racing for Kids sends professional racecar drivers and their vehicles to spread cheer among hospitalized children all over the world. It was founded in Detroit in 1989 by Children’s Hospital of Michigan pediatric cardiologist William Pinsky and has raised more than $6 million for children’s hospitals and child health care institutions, and it has organized visits to more than 27,000 young patients in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia and Japan.

Organizers say interest and attendance continues to grow for the street festival and the cocktail party.

“Every year, we’ve seen the event get bigger and better, but this year is going to be exceptionally exciting because we’re also celebrating Racing For Kids’ 25th anniversary,” said Racing for Kids to the Hill Steering Committee Co-Chair Tom Buhl via email.

While exact numbers aren’t known for the street festival, organizers say attendance during the day is well into the hundreds.

“The street is pretty full for those three hours,” said Daniel LaLonde, president of the Hill Association. “As long as it’s a nice day, a lot of kids show up. It’s just before school starts, so it’s one of the last things they can do (over the summer break).”

In just a few years, the event has become a huge success.

“Everyone at Racing For Kids — and especially the children we help get better faster — we’re all so grateful for the support we’ve received from the Grosse Pointe community,” said Racing for Kids Executive Director J. Patrick Wright via email. “Through this event, we’ve been able to return almost $500,000 to help sick kids in metro Detroit. That’s an amazing accomplishment for an event that started in 2007.”

Local developer Ed Russell, co-chair of the Racing for Kids to the Hill Steering Committee, said collaboration has been key to the growth and popularity of this event.

“The city of Grosse Pointe Farms and the Hill Association have been amazing,” he said by email. “They’ve helped us every step of the way and made this one of the best events of the year.”

LaLonde said the event is positive for Hill businesses, as well, and both the day festival and the cocktail party add to the appeal of living in the area. He said they’re also happy to contribute to an event that brings smiles to sick children.

“It’s a good feeling and it’s good to be a part of,” LaLonde said. “The amount of money raised (for Racing for Kids) has increased every year. … (The cocktail party fundraiser) is probably the premiere event here on a street level for a benefit.”

To make way for all of the activities, Kercheval will be closed between McMillan and Hall Place on Aug. 27 for the events, but the municipal parking lot behind Rite Aid remains open, and parking is free there that day, LaLonde said.

Tickets for the cocktail party fundraiser are $75 for early registrants and $100 after Aug. 22 or at the door. For reservations or more information, call (313) 882-3403 or visit