The much-anticipated “Fireball Run” online reality show came to Liberty County on Thursday and Friday.
The show — which was filming for its upcoming ninth season, called “Space Race” — features 40 teams, including celebrities and four international astronauts, who raced down the East Coast to raise awareness of missing children.
The race was scheduled to end Saturday on in Sanford, Florida, near Orlando.
Each team was assigned a missing child and throughout the eight-day race participants passed out fliers and team trading cards as well as talked with the public in hopes of helping find the child.
On Thursday, participants drove to the Liberty County finish line on Commerce Street under gray skies and light rain to an intimate crowd of residents and Hinesville Farmers Market attendees at Bradwell Park.
A red carpet was placed in front of a stage for drivers to roll up on and be interviewed for the show.
The Bradwell Institute band and cheerleaders from Liberty County High School welcomed the teams and entertained spectators.
The four astronauts — from India, France, Brazil and the United States — were seated on the stage after they reached the finish line, answering questions from the series’ executive producer J. Sanchez.
Before going on stage, Lt. Col. Marcos Pontes, the Brazilian astronaut, said he is racing because of the kids.
“I have a foundation in Brazil and I am very attached to helping kids — education especially — but this, because of this race, is very important: finding missing kids,” he said. “So I am very glad to participate...”
On Friday, residents came out to say farewell and good luck as the drivers headed to Sanford. Spectators were able to see the cars lined up on Main Street and meet the teams.
Beth Shaver with Team Space Rangers, had a “Men in Black”-themed 2015 white Mustang convertible. She and her husband, Jim, both wore versions of the famous suit.
“It’s a great cause and a lot of fun along the way,” Beth Shaver said.
Her husband has been doing it for five years, and she has joined him for three years.
She said the cause to help find missing children drew her. Since the show’s inception, more than 43 children have been found because of the show’s fliers, she said.
“One in six kids go missing every day in the United States,” Shaver said. “It is an amazing number. It is a huge problem. When this race started nine years ago, social media wasn’t as big as it is now. Social media has helped close the gap in helping us get the word out faster.”
Along with the driving and bringing awareness of missing children, the teams must also complete different missions. On Thursday, they visited Fort Stewart and got to hold different guns, including one owned by former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and another from decorated Army combat veteran Audie Murphy.
State Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, added Thursday evening that the race teams paid a visit to Dorchester Academy and learned its history.
“So getting those epic moments and life-changing opportunities along the way just makes it even more fun for us. But this,” Shaver said while motioning to her missing child flier “is what it’s about.”
Before the cars left, the teams gathered for a group photo and speeches from Sanchez as well as Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas and Liberty County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette.
“We have really and truly enjoyed you guys. We wish you would all come back to Hinesville. You are all part of our city and now officially citizens, so come back when you feel like it,” Thomas said.