AVON PARK — Car enthusiast Leslie Hollandy received the dream of a lifetime Friday as he celebrated his 80th birthday by riding in the Mobile 1 12 Hours of Sebring Pace Car.

Hollandy, a consumer with disabilities at Ridge Area Arc, was totally surprised as he walked outside in front of the Arc Workcenter on Friday afternoon with more than 50 consumers and staff to welcome in his surprise. Hollandy loves all sorts of cars but especially loves the racing cars. He can tell you just about any make and model of car just by looking at it. He even has a collection of model cars at his group home in Avon Park. So, it was more than fitting that this milestone birthday, which is actually Sunday, Oct. 10, would be celebrated in a race theme.

As Hollandy and his peers walked outside, they were handed a checkered flag to wave. A checkered flag banner was hung in front of the building along with a Dale Earnhardt Jr. cutout. They answered race trivia as they waited for the pace car to arrive. Amazingly enough when they were asked how many have been to the 12 Hours of Sebring race, no one raised their hand. So seeing the pace car up close and personal was a thrill for everyone.

The crowd was instructed to watch the Panther Parkway in front of the agency to look for a bright Sebring orange Corvette. Right at 1 p.m. the car drove down the Parkway and onto Independence Street where they were standing. Sebring International Raceway Public Relations Director Elizabeth Worley drove the car up to the building, honking and revving up the engine. Brittany Underwood, also with SIR, rode along in the car.

“It was an honor to be here and bring the car for them,” Worley said. “It’s great to personally interact and see their reactions.”

As they got out, everyone waved their flags and cheered. Worley presented Hollandy a goodie bag filled with race paraphernalia including a T-shirt, hat, cup and other items. Hollandy put his hat on and posed in pictures with the ladies and the car. But, his surprise was not over. Worley offered to take him on a ride in the pace car.

“Oh wow!” Hollandy said. Even with a mask on, everyone could tell he was grinning from ear to ear.

After the staff carefully assisted him into the car, he leaned out the window to wave goodbye to his friends as Worley drove him down College Drive. Upon his return, everyone waved their checkered flags for the great finish and they sang “Happy Birthday” to him as he exited.

“That car goes fast,” Hollandy said. “That’s a fast Corvette. I like that little Corvette made by Chevrolet. It’s a good car.”

Although Hollandy admitted he likes Porsches, he now has become a fan of Corvettes. “This was the best birthday ever,” he said.

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