Brothers Jeff and Jim Ippoliti have loved cars since before they could walk. But if there is one passion they have more than cars, it’s helping kids. That’s what led Jeff, a recent Barry Law School graduate, and Jim, in his third year at Barry, to create a charity event combining their two passions: the Celebration Exotic Car Festival.
Now it in its ninth year, the Celebration Exotic Car Festival is a four-day event held in Celebration, Fla., that benefits children’s charities. Despite being in existence for less than a decade, the festival has found success with both its charitable and entertainment efforts: more than $800,000 has been donated to children’s charities, and the festival made the list of Five Best Exotic Car Shows in the World by Made Man magazine. The 2012 festival will be held April 12–15.
The idea for the festival came after the brothers moved to Celebration and envisioned the town as an ideal location for a car show. The brothers grew up around cars – their grandfather was a Ford dealer in New York – and wanted to showcase exotic cars and racecars while helping children in need.
“My brother and I have always had an interest in exotic cars and had been to a lot of events across the country,” says Jeff, who traces his love of exotic cars to when he watched The Cannonball Run as a kid and now owns the black Lamborghini used in the film. “We also both really love helping children and thought it would be great to put on a world-class event and have all the money go to children’s charities.”
In its first year in 2004, the event was a one-day show with 50 cars, but it still raised $20,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, where Jeff was a member of the Board of Directors. The festival has grown each year since, with more money going to more charities. The 2012 event is expected to draw 40,000 guests and will feature Ferrari races at the famed Daytona International Raceway, a concourse of 250 exotic and Hollywood movie cars, an exotic car road rally, and a food and wine party at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando. Benefitting charities include Make-A-Wish, Special Olympics and Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital. The money raised this year will bring the festival over the $1 million mark in donations since being formed.
The Ippoliti brothers are the driving force behind the festival, but they rely on a board to help organize the event. The entire board is made up of volunteers, ensuring that all money raised goes directly to the charities.
“There are a lot of moving parts during those four days, so it takes a lot of coordination,” says Jim. “We probably spend 1,000 hours a year putting it together. We have a small but very good board that helps us out. Since everybody is a volunteer, it’s a job of passion and everyone is doing it for the right reason.”
Other Barry Law students have also become involved with the festival, volunteering their time at the event and earning pro bono hours.
“The festival shows that pro bono work can be fun and exciting and have a great benefit on the local community,” says Jim.
The Ippoliti brothers have been able to grow the festival while going to law school full time. The foray into law will be a second career for both after successful business stints. Jeff, who completed his degree in December, served as CEO of CellVentures Group, a distributor for AT&T that he grew into 100 retail locations along the East Coast before selling the company to AT&T in 2007. Jim, who is scheduled to graduate in December of this year, worked in the hospitality business, owning and operating restaurants in Syracuse, N.Y.
“We have always been entrepreneurs and were looking for the next project to get involved with,” says Jim. “Both of us always had an interest in the law, and both obviously have an interest in business. Law school seemed like a good opportunity.”
Once Jim earns his degree, he plans to join Jeff in launching a commercial litigation firm, combining their business expertise and legal studies. And even once they begin legal practice, they vow to continue the car festival so that they can make a difference in the lives of children.
“These charities help kids who are in a situation in their life through no fault of their own,” says Jeff. “It only takes a few minutes talking to one of these kids to see how much difference you can make in a child’s life. It makes all the work and effort put into the festival worthwhile. For us, it’s very important and gratifying.”
For more information on the Celebration Exotic Car Festival, visit www.celebrationexoticcars.com.