Maddy Wagner is fascinated by ultra-high-end sports cars: Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Ford GTs, the opposite end of the automotive spectrum from the minivan her family owns. The 14-year-old's holiday wish was to get a chance to ride in one.
Friday morning, that wish came true -- over and over again. For two hours, she took turns riding in some of the world's fanciest sports cars, 13 in all, some of them so hot that even the other owners were impressed.
"There are a bunch of these cars that I'd like to ride in," admitted Drew Richardson, who took Maddy for a spin in his Caterham, a British race car.
The rides were a surprise for Maddy, who has autism. Her father, Rich Wagner, had told her and her 12-year-old brother, Owen, that they were going Christmas shopping. But when they saw the cars lined up -- $3 million worth in all, from a Ferrari on one end to a Bentley on the other -- her dad seemed as taken aback as she was.
"I just want to say thank you to all of you," he told the owners, admitting that he was struggling to hold back tears. "None of you had to be here today. You could have been home with your families."
He added that it "will take time for Maddy to process all of this. She's going to be saying a lot of thank-yous."
Maddy always has had a passion for speed. "She loves roller coasters," her dad said. The drivers obliged, making use of a road that winds through an office park that was mostly abandoned on Black Friday.
Many of these cars are not the quietest of vehicles. Coupling that with the speeds some of them attained, as the morning wore on, several of the drivers mused that they couldn't believe that the police hadn't caught on to what was happening.
The only one not surprised was Bruno Silikowski, the organizer of the mass ride and owner of AutoMotorPlex, a Chanhassen complex that consists of deluxe garages that cater to exotic sports car buffs. He was convinced that the event was operating under a golden bubble of good karma that accounted for everything from the abnormal November temperatures that had melted the previous week's snow to the serendipity that led him to Maddy in the first place.
"Some things are just meant to be," he said.
Sleepless in Chanhassen
When Wagner asked the Make-A-Wish Foundation if it could help arrange a ride for Maddy, they were sympathetic but not helpful.
"They only arrange wishes for kids who are dying," said Wagner, a single father who lives in Glenwood City, Wis. "They couldn't help me."
Figuring that he had nothing to lose, he put ad on Craigslist asking if someone would donate a ride.
"Like any parent, you want to do anything you can for your kids," he said. But he didn't have high hopes. "I figured that I'd just throw it out there and see what happens."
What happened was that Silikowski was having a bout of insomnia. He was on his computer trolling the Internet in the middle of the night when he stumbled on Wagner's ad. He realized that AutoMotorPlex had just what Maddy needed.
"Right away I knew: We can do this," he said. "But instead of just giving her one ride, let's give her a whole lot of rides."
He was hoping to get three or four tenants to offer rides. He ended up with several times that because everyone he sent an e-mail to said yes. In fact, two owners who were out of town arranged for other people to drive their cars.
A year-long quest
Wagner said that Maddy's fascination with sports cars started about a year ago. "Suddenly she started spouting all these facts and figures about super cars," he said. "At first I didn't pay much attention, but then I realized that she knew what she was talking about." Her brother added: "She has the best memory ever."
Wagner said that it was important that "Maddy not be defined by her autism. I've taught both my kids that they can accomplish whatever they believe they can accomplish. Yes, she's autistic, but in every other way, she's just like every other teenage girl. I hope people don't see her as being autistic but rather as being a beautiful young lady who can accomplish anything she sets her mind to."
After each ride, Maddy gave the driver a hug. Her assessments of the rides were succinct: "Cool." "Really cool." And, "I felt like we were going really fast. I liked it."
Her favorite car line is the Lamborghini; she even knows the name of the company's head test driver. Sports car fans are extremely loyal to their brands, and several of them made good-natured attempts to get Maddy to change her allegiance.
When Judson Dayton strapped her into his Ferrari, he joked that the ride might turn her into a Ferrari buff. But after the ride, she politely announced, "I don't want to be mean, but I still like Lamborghinis more."
Her first ride in a Lamborghini didn't disappoint: "I liked it, but it was kind of scary," she said of the car's tight cornering. "I've never been in a car like that before."
The drivers professed to be enjoying the day as much as she did. Most of the cars were getting their last spin of the year before going into winter storage. In fact, some of the owners had already canceled their collision insurance for the year and had to reinstate it just for the day.
"This is the right thing to do," Chris Penn said as he waited to give Maddy a ride in his Ford GT. "It's a great way to end the season."
Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392