A wheel good time

Deepa Bharath

Don MaCallister knows the pain of a foster child leaving his home.

He knows how it feels to be penniless, homeless and all alone.

That's why MaCallister, a product of the system himself, started

America Works for Kids, a nonprofit organization to help foster

children integrate into society and, more importantly, the work

force.

On Thursday, the 41-year-old Irvine resident brought six of the

world's top automobile manufacturers together in Newport Coast to

participate in the Extreme Gravity Racing Series, an event he

believes will help young people out of foster homes get jobs.

The car companies -- Bentley, General Motors Corp., Mazda, Nissan,

Porsche and Volvo -- unveiled original soapbox models or gravity

racing cars in the backyard of a Newport Coast home during an

exclusive party for sponsors, designers and invited guests. Designers

will race their cars Saturday at the Ford Motor Co. building in

Irvine.

It's a fun project for the automobile companies, which will

benefit a lot of young people, MaCallister said. Proceeds from the

series will go to fund job-training programs, and MaCallister said he

will employ foster children to put on the races as well.

The races are held on an incline about 75 feet long. They average

about 30 mph but can reach speeds of up to 60 mph, MaCallister said.

"These vehicles have no engines, nothing," he said. "They run by

the force of nature."

Designers enjoy the challenge and competition, said Truman E.

Pollard, chief designer for Mazda's North American operations.

"It's good corporate citizenship when we come together for the

kids," he said. "We at Mazda have a history of working with young

people. And as a company, we look at them as future consumers."

The racing series also set off a vigorous contest among the design

teams, Pollard said. He and his team designed two gravity cars.

Pollard welded the chassis himself on both. On the second car, he

painted the image of a dragon using acrylic colors.

"It was inspired by comic books," he said. "But that's the thing.

It's fun when you get to build something that's one of a kind."

Extreme Gravity Racing draws large numbers of young people in the

United Kingdom, said Jim Shore, head of concept engineering for

Bentley, based in Cheshire, England.

"We've mimicked some of our cars in making these models," he said.

"It's exciting for kids. It's competitive, and there's no element of

danger in this sport."

MaCallister hopes the event will continue to draw larger audiences

as it gains in popularity so his nonprofit can help more young

people.

"For them, it's about putting their past behind and becoming

self-sufficient emotionally and economically," he said. "This series

is a just a means to achieve that end."

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