NASCAR Racing is more than an event – It’s a meaningful journey…

In Susanne Bowyer’s inspirational story
she represents ‘The 5 B’s’ perfectly!

When I was a child, I would dread race day.  Watching race cars going around the track was intellectually painful for a young girl. Especially when I knew that Little House on the Prairie was waiting for me with just a few clicks of the rotary dial. We had one TV set and it was the type that you had to turn off/on without a remote.  I often entertained myself by feeling the static electricity on the screen and watching the picture fade into a little white center dot when I pushed in the bulky power lever on the front.  Being the youngest and only girl of three children, I didn’t have many opportunities to choose the programs I watched. Mostly I was subjected to shows like M*A*S*H, Magnum P.I., Knight Rider, A-Team – and yes of course, racing. 


After everyone went to sleep, it was my time to browse the choices between the three stations we had—ABC, NBC, and CBS.  Not many “girlie shows” or “cartoons” on at that time of night. More often than not, though, I would fall asleep on the couch after about 30 minutes, only to be awakened later by the National Anthem on TV stridently proclaiming the program was over and it was time to go to sleep.

Apparently everyone else in my extended and immediate family enjoyed racing.  I’ve heard stories about the great times they had as they went to local and even NASCAR racetracks. My dad is one of six brothers who grew up a lot like Junior Johnson—in a farming community and with a ‘good ole boy’ mentality.  He’s been around mechanics and cars his entire life. I never went to the races but, living in a small town in Virginia, it’s hard not to get exposure to the sport. 

By the time I was 17, I was in a serious relationship and racing came back into my life.  My boyfriend loved Darrell Waltrip. I recall vividly the words “Tide Machine” and “Tide Ride” being in just about any conversation we had. Although, I suspect he never truly knew how to use the sponsor’s product.  He owned an old farm pickup truck; the type that was ‘primer gray’ with big fenders protruding out from the back wheels.  His idea of a romantic date was lowering the tailgate of that pickup truck and hanging out listening to the race in the parking lot of the grocery store where he worked.  In order to be included, I chose a driver and went for the coolest sounding name.  I chose “Awesome Bill from DawsonVille”.  You couldn’t go wrong with a guy who had that southern accent and kinda resembled Howdy Doody.


When college entered my life, I left my boyfriend and racing behind… my life changed dramatically.  With a degree in hand, I moved to big cities, started a career, and travelled the United States, met people and friends of many cultures.  I ate exotic foods, drank a lot, and made some great decisions – and A LOT – of bad decisions along the way.  It wasn’t uncommon for me to leave Pittsburgh on a Friday and drive as far west as Wisconsin by myself just to purchase a bag of cheese, and then drive back before work on Monday just to say I did it. I was a daredevil.  I went sky diving in North Carolina, bungee jumping in Vegas, scuba diving in Hawaii, snowmobiling in Colorado, skiing in Vermont. I worked hard, and I played hard.  It didn’t’ matter—if something looked like a good time and there was risk in it, I was up for it! I really didn’t value life or feel that I had a purpose in it. As far as I knew, no one was really proud of what I did or who I had become and I probably didn’t offer much to anyone except good times and a lot of laughter and excitement. 
  
A few years ago, I moved to North Carolina and started watching racing again.  I don’t recall why but it probably had to do with a challenge or a boy.  Most of my decisions back then had to do with one of the two. I attended my first pit crew challenge in May 2010. During the event I entered a ‘twitter’ contest and my first tweet ever led to winning tickets to the All-Star race that same week. I was officially hooked on this southern activity.  There was a tug at my heart to learn as much as I could about it, about the pit crews, about these hidden heroes of the sport. These guys were cool! Their life was daring!  Who runs in front of a car with a 17 pound jack or a 20 pound tire – on purpose!? Talk about daredevils!
  

In 2011, I won tickets to go to the Charlotte Race in May. I had invited my brother, sister-n-Law, and niece so she could attend her first race. For the past few years I had been a Tony Stewart fan, but during the pit crew challenge I had met, in passing, two of the ‘Helping Hands’ pit crew for Clint Bowyer who I found to be exceptionally well mannered and fan-friendly. Also their fire suits had this cute little glove on it that I thought was a cool mascot! That’s another story for another day.  So I decided that if these pit crew guys were for Clint, why not give him a try? After all, I shared the same last name as this new driver.  


Before the race, there was going to be a ‘tweet-up’ event. At this, my first tweet-up experience, there was a lady introduced by Jeff Gluck – journalist who heads the tweet-ups – as the wife of Clint Bowyer’s crew chief, Shane Wilson. She was giving away a signed crew cap and as fate would have it, I ended up with it that day.

That’s probably when the most important journey of my life really started. 

I have never been someone that is hooked on material belongings. I have nice stuff, but I have few items that I would be upset if I lost them forever. I still own the same sofa I had 20 years ago, as well as the same big ‘ole fat TV that weighs a ton. Just ask all the people who have helped me move through four states with it.

Charlotte 2011: Picture of crew cap given to me
On the dashboard of the car
before we went into the race. 
Nick’s autograph is to the right
of the Helping Hand Mascot.

This crew cap though – there was something different – I felt a connection with it.  We went back to the car to put our belongings up and get some drinks before the race started. I gazed at that hat and ran my fingers over all the autographs. 


I was not one to get ‘autographs’.  In fact, I can’t think of anyone’s autograph, other than my high school yearbook, I’ve ever had or wanted. So this experience was pretty new to me. 


There was one that caught my eye – something different about it – but the race was starting and we had to go in. Now the dilemma, what to do with the hat? I was worried that someone would steal my hat! 


Looking back on it, I’m surprised my brother didn’t insist I had sun poisoning as irrational as I was being. I was known for not locking my car or house doors at the time. I just never thought I had something that was worth stealing. But, today, I would not leave that car until someone took a picture of the hat – just in case it got stolen in the car while we were gone – Illogical right?  If ya know me, you’d know that this was irrational behavior on my part. I just can’t explain it.


As we got to our seats the National Anthem started to play. I felt my niece’s hand grab mine and give it a squeeze. I looked down at her and realized that I had tears streaming down my cheeks. Maybe it was remembering the late night sleeping  and having the National Anthem as my alarm clock, but something about this particular anthem made me emotional. That National Anthem was like an alarm clock waking me up to the spiritual journey I was about to undertake.

After the race, the hat survived without being stolen, and I went home. I went through each autograph and researched on line to see who everyone was. And, let me tell you that’s not easy—some of these guys have doctor’s signatures. I began writing it all down, who was on the hat and what position they had within the company. But there was one signature that kept coming back to me. There was something more than the ‘#33’ car number written underneath it.  I had no idea what it was but he had written an additional message! I had a clue! This was a mystery and I wanted to know what it was.

I took a picture of the hat and started tweeting ‘thank you’s’ to the crew members that I could figure out signed it. Kevin Hamlin – Spotter – was the first to return my tweet with some witty comment. Then the over-the-wall pit crews returned their ‘you’re welcomes’ as time went by. If they responded, then I would ‘follow them’ on twitter. Nick Terry, jackman for the #33 Hamburger Helper Chevrolet Clint Bowyer team, responded.


In the coming weeks, since I was now following this jackman, I found some of his tweets interesting. At that time, I was what you called a ‘lurker’ in the tweeting world. I didn’t tweet much but I watched and read the tweets that came in.  Amongst all of these personalities on this online social fad, everyone was tweeting opinions, discussions about family, arguing, talking about celebrities and TV shows, and this guy, Nick, he was tweeting scriptures from the Bible.  A light went on.  I quickly went back and grabbed my hat! I think I knew what was written under that autograph!  It was a scripture!!!! I had to find out what it was! I had solved my mystery of the additional writing on the hat. 

Looking at the hat, and right beside the little white Hamburger Helper Glove that I liked so much, was Nick Terry’s signature and underneath he had signed “#33 John 14:6”.  I am ashamed now to say that I had to look up that scripture to find out what it said. 


Luckily I had a Bible. Remember I said that I had few belongings that I would be upset, if I lost them?  One is my dad’s Bible that he had been given when he went into the military. My dad returned from Germany unharmed but the rest of his platoon went to Vietnam and most were killed or injured. When I heard this story I wanted his Bible and asked for it. I was proud of my dad’s service to the country and had only hoped that one day someone would be as proud of me as I was of his service. That Bible was dusty, it probably was as used by him as it had been by me over the years.  As I flipped through the pages to find a chapter called John, I got excited over what a cool clue this scripture was going to show me and solve my mystery!

John 14:6—Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (NKJV)

Wow, this guy could write anything below his autograph he wanted and he chose that?! This must be something pretty important for him to want to share it with the fans.

Over the next few months I kept following him on twitter and every time he would tweet a scripture I would get out my Bible and look up what it said. He normally wrote more than just the verse number on the tweets. 


As I read through each scripture, though, they were confusing.  I didn’t know the stories of the Bible, and I didn’t know what most of them meant, but I could feel this was something important. 


Truth be told, I considered myself a Christian, and when I was a teenager I had acknowledged that I believed in Jesus and that he died for my sins, but I never took action on this. Going to church a few times in each state that I lived in was about all I could attest to my Christian journey thus far.

So I went out and got a devotional calendar and read through each day. I liked how they made me feel and how they peaked my curiosity. So I began tweeting devotionals. I am sure people thought I was some weirdo. I don’t keep up with the # of followers I have on twitter. I couldn’t tell you if it’s 10 or 1,000. But I’m sure that whatever that number was at the time it probably plummeted. I’m sure I spelled some of the devotionals wrong, had no idea what most of them meant and people probably thought I was a ‘fake Christian’. They wouldn’t be too far off.  But tweeting those devotionals ignited a spark inside. Maybe they would make other people feel the same way Nick’s tweets did for me?!

So, what is the next step? I started to tweet some devotionals and positive comments to the pit crew of the #33 team every Sunday before the race. Working in the IT field, I’m usually up until 2:00 a.m. – sometimes later – so often times before going to bed I would send out tweets to each of the crew members. Just so they would have something positive when they woke up the next morning before they left for the racetrack. 


Most would respond with a kind “Thank you” or some variation to acknowledge that they got it. Remember what I said about being respectful and fan-friendly?  These guys have it down pat. 


I’d always take special care on what I’d tweet to Nick though. When I read his tweets they were thoughtful. He loved God! And he loved his family! In fact, there wasn’t much this guy didn’t love. He had a love of life and love of family and love of God, and love of his kids, and love of his friends. He just seemed happy. It seemed like he was proud of his family and friends and they were proud of him. I wanted that happiness and so I tried to emulate what he did. 

   
As the 2011 race season came to an end, Clint Bowyer was not going to re-sign his contract with Richard Childress. His pit crew was moved to another race team within the organization. And eventually, at the end of the season, Nick Terry, the jackman who had sparked something inside of my heart for God, was leaving the team. I was devastated. That is, until he mentioned that he would be a Chaplain for the MRO – Motor Racing Outreach – for the NASCAR community.  I had no idea what that meant. The only thing I knew about the MRO was that they had put on a ladies race for charity before the Charlotte race.

As I found out more about the MRO, I thought this was really a great organization. It is a non-profit organization that serves the NASCAR racing community by introducing them to a personal faith in Christ, to growth in Christ-likeness, and to active involvement in church through relationships that provide care in times of stress, knowledge of God’s word, and assistance in the development of leadership skills.  


Interestingly enough, that guy my boyfriend liked many years ago, Darrell Waltrip, was the founder of this organization. It was founded the same year my boyfriend and I would sit on the tailgate and listen to the races – Coincidence?  I don’t believe in coincidences anymore.


As Nick started on his new adventure and purpose in his life, in parallel, I was continuing on with mine. When he announced he was going to be a Chaplain it meant some new beginnings for me too. It opened up avenues that I would never have in my spiritual journey had he not made that decision. I tweeted to him that I wanted to read the Bible and was wondering if he had any ideas of how to start.  Not something I would have likely done had he been a jackman still. 

I told him my story, exposed my fears that God would not be proud of who I had become and laid my spiritual baggage on the screen of his computer. Nick confidently explained who God really is, that I was saved by grace and not by deeds, and that all of my sins had already been forgiven. And with that a huge weight lifted from my shoulders as if by wings of an angel. I think I cried for two full days. 

All those years that I felt I would never measure up. I had self inflicted tattoos of sins that I felt were unforgivable and would not allow me into His Kingdom. The darkness that I had felt was lightened by just the understanding that Nick was able to provide and I was ready to move on with life to live out my purpose.  

Nick gave me my first Bible reading process. His first suggestion was to read Roman’s and then the Gospels. I tell this story as humbling as I can because I was disappointed that I must have the wrong ‘version’ of the Bible since the book/chapter called “Gospels” was not listed in the index.  It took internet research for me to find out that the “Gospels” consisted of a four books or chapters in the Bible, each giving a unique recount of the story of Jesus Christ’s life and yes, it is funny. I recall that feeling every time anyone mentions the books of the Gospels…J.  But it showed – I had a long way to go!  

It has been a humbling experience and uncomfortable to acknowledge how little I know and how far I have to go to learn what I need to each day. Nick had a lot of sheep to take care of, but he would always find time to answer my questions or direct me back onto the right path. I can directly relate to the parable of the lost sheep that Jesus tells in Luke 15:3-7. And I hope every time I repent for each of my sins that heaven is rejoicing! 

I’ve also had Nick’s wife, Amy, who helped me find a Bible study program and is consistently reminding me that God is faithful and to pray over the problems that I have. I’ve found a local church and became a member, I’ve attended my first communion, started serving at my church, attending multiple bible study classes.  I have even said opening prayer in a class – All in four months. I have many more milestones to go, but I take them each day at a time.  

Last week, the NASCAR race was being held in Richmond, Virginia. Incidentally, where my cousin lives and works as a safety worker at the track. My cousin had asked if I wanted to go to the race. Absolutely! We got free tickets from friends and I made the trip up north. I purchased pit passes so we could hang out in the pit area before the race. I wanted to see where he worked, and what he did. 

As we got to the track, we started seeing the drivers coming through from inspection. We stayed there so I could get some pictures of them. As the battery of my phone started to die, I was ready to head back to find my seat when I looked up and saw one of the other Chaplains of the MRO, Steve Keller, I recognized him from videos on their website. Without thinking I yelled out his name. To my surprise he and Nick Terry both turned around and came over to say hello. 

Richmond 2012 – Nick Terry & Steve Keller
In front of the fence I was standing at
when I saw them at the Nationwide race

This was my first encounter meeting Nick as a Chaplain. He came around the fence and gave me a huge hug. We talked for a while, made introductions, and they were off to their Chapel services for the drivers and pit crews. 


Steve invited me to the service, but none of us were sure if my pit pass credentials would let me in, so we decided to play it by ear. 


As they said goodbye, Nick leaned in and gave me one last hug.   And – almost in a whisper – he said the words that I longed to hear from someone for many years – He said “I’m proud of you.”


One day, I’ll be at the gates of Heaven, and God will lean down toward me and he’ll say those exact words.  Or maybe he’ll say something like he did in Matthew 3:17 to Jesus.  “And a voice from heaven said ‘This is my son [daughter], whom I love, and with him [her] I am well pleased’”. 

MRO Services at Richmond:
“As Iron Sharpens Iron”
Special Thanks to Susanne Bowyer for sharing her meaningful journey. Fans will see more from her as she plans to be in Charlotte for the Pit Crew Challenge and All-Star race later this month and Michigan later this season.  


Susanne has a unique travel and race companion named “Quackers.” In a future blog, we will learn more about Quackers, but in the meantime, you can see him in Susanne’s Richmond photo blog as this past weekend’s Fan at the Track.  Enjoy!


Fans can follow Susanne on Twitter @2weety13

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