Miami:Through the Formula Smiles foundation, NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya is raising awareness of the problems plaguing his native Colombia.
With a new NASCAR audience, he and wife Connie were able to educate the community about his native country with a black-tie gala on Thursday in his adopted hometown of Miami.
The BeLive Gala in the art district drew NASCAR chairman Brian France and a slew of drivers, including title contenders Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.
"We were planning for 300 people, it was maximum 350. Then it went up to 500 and now its up to 600," Montoya said. "It's been amazing and overwhelming with how much support we've had."
The event benefits six Colombian charities, all aiming to raise awareness about the difficulties in the country.
Twelve-time Latin Grammy winner Juanes was to perform, and Colombian golfer Camillo Villegas and Carolina Barco, the Colombian ambassador to the U.S., were both scheduled to attend.
"I don't want to take away anything from the problems we have in the States, but the problems in Colombia - the poor people in Colombia are 10 times poorer than the people here," he said.
"In a cynical way, the poor people here are middle class in Colombia. And when people are poor there, they have nothing. They don't have houses, the kids hardly go to school. They just have nothing," he added.
The Montoyas use their Formula Smiles foundation to build playgrounds in Colombia to encourage sports participation in a country that doesn't have physical education programs.
The foundation also hires instructors, provides equipment and athletic gear and encourages children to also attend school.
"It's more than just giving them playgrounds and teachers," he said. "You need to go to school because school will help you. We are trying to help the kids and educate them."
Montoya credited Connie for spending the past several months planning the gala. He never doubted she could pull it off.
"I'm really proud, but I'm not surprised at all," he said. "Everything she does, she works so hard - anal is probably the word for it, about everything. But she puts it all together and pulls it off."
Connie has organized several fundraisers for Formula Smiles and successfully runs the foundation.