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October 5, 2023 - LIMITLESS Magazine

Dream big, drive fast, do good: Helping kids make meaningful memories

Dream Drives for Kids founder Eric Peterson's epic car collection pays dividends in smiles per mile


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When life gives you lemons, make lemonade—and when life gives you Ferraris, make dreams come true. While exhibiting at a car show about ten years ago, Portland sports car collector Eric Peterson noticed that kids kept gathering around his Ferrari, eyes wide with wonder. It made sense: he’d brought a sleek, red 599 GTB Fiorano with dazzling curves, leather interior, and a 620-horsepower engine. However, adults at the event, who would be voting for Best in Show, seemed drawn to a nearby McLaren.

Peterson decided he would let the young fans get a closer look. “Hey, do you want to sit in the front seat?” he’d ask the kids. They could put their hands on the steering wheel and press the horn. “The only thing I ask is that you ask your mom and dad to consider voting for us,” he’d add. Before he knew it, kids were clamoring for their parents to come vote for the Ferrari. And it might have won had the McLaren owner not immediately embraced the same tactic. Nevertheless, the experience would lead Peterson to a much bigger idea.

The following year, Peterson and his wife Amity founded Dream Drives for Kids, a nonprofit that allows sick and injured children to zip around the Pacific Northwest’s scenic highways in revved-up rides. By this fall, some 150 kids and young adults will have taken a ride with Peterson in one of the exotic European sports cars in the Dream Drives collection.

And it’s quite a collection. A tech author and consultant, Peterson started out buying a Porsche to celebrate the success of his first book. After he successfully launched a consulting firm, he got his first Ferrari. Over the past fifteen years, he’s bought and sold more than 30 high-end cars, including a Superformance replica Shelby Cobra, a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, and a “horribly named but awfully fun to drive” McLaren MP4-12C. His current collection includes a Maserati, a Ferrari, and 15 Porsches—but who’s counting.

Obviously, it’s a big deal to insure a collection of that size and scope—more so when kids are involved—and when the Petersons first launched Dream Drives, there were doubts such an undertaking would be feasible. Instead, they found support wherever they looked. Their insurance broker, Marsh McLennan Agency Sales Executive Garrett Hall, was also in their corner was able to cover all the vehicles as part of the nonprofit. He opined, “Really, all you're doing is taking a new friend for a ride in your car, right?”

“Eric loves his cars, and he genuinely loves using those vehicles to bring happiness to people,” says Hall. “He's constantly having a positive impact with these kids and putting them in a place where they can just enjoy life for a bit—you see the pure happiness. It's cool to be able to make sure that the insurance side's taken care of, then get to see all the fun that comes with it.” 

According to Peterson, the hardest part about starting Dream Drives was spreading the word. But, within six months of its inception, the nonprofit started receiving referrals from OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and Shriners Children’s Hospital, as well as from local chapters of the Ronald McDonald House and the Children’s Cancer Association. Many young people who have taken Dream Drives are being treated for cancer. However, there’s no formal application process and spaces aren’t restricted to any particular ailment.

“Basically, if your child’s life has been altered by illness, call us,” Peterson says. Some riders have been battling heart disease, cystic fibrosis, or even recovering from car accidents. Many have requested Dream Drives to celebrate the completion of their last course of chemotherapy.

Peterson recalls shaking with nerves before the first Dream Drive in September 2014, when he took a 13-year-old cancer patient for a drive in a black Lamborghini. He also reflects on the powerful mix of emotions driving a young hospice patient only a few days before his death. But recalling the dozens of drives he’s taken since, he mostly remembers joy in the children’s and parents’ faces.

One of the nonprofit’s coolest features is that kids can peruse Dream Drive’s car collection to pick out a favorite. Fans of James Bond often choose the blue Aston Martin DB11. Comic book collectors typically go for the matte black Mercedes AMG SLS, which features gullwing doors reminiscent of the Batmobile. Peterson says age also plays a part in the decision. “Big kids know what an Italian hand-built V12 engine is going to do,” he says, while “little kids like doors that open upward and brightly colored cars.” 

All these traits may be found on the most popular car to date: a red Lamborghini Murciélago. Others offer clues to why Peterson’s car-collecting habits have evolved since he first launched Dream Drives.

“The earliest part of Dream Drives for Kids was me being a big kid and saying, Which cars do I want?” Peterson says. “Now, we basically go buy cars that we think kids are going to like.” This shift can be seen in recent Dream Drives acquisitions, which include that red Maserati MC20 Coupe, boasting a top speed of more than 200 miles per hour; a Porsche Cayman GT4 RS that offers an uber-satisfying growl and a metallic purple finish; and a Porsche 911 GT3 Touring that goes from 0 to 60 in 3.2 seconds and is a child-friendly shade Peterson calls “raspberry.”

“It's a fun way to buy cars. It gives me license to buy a pink Porsche,” he says.

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