“All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” 1 Corinthians 9:25-27 NLT
Within the world of these crazy and sometimes confusing times, faith can be found at the forefront of many popular stars of racing. Athletes are seldom proud to be second, but those of faith, willingly say “I am second,” placing their faith first and foremost in their lives.
Setting itself apart from other sports, faith has a presence for many of NASCAR’s drivers, crew chiefs, crew members, and owners. It is the only major sport that includes in their pre-race ceremonies not only the National Anthem and well-timed military flyover, but an invocation prayer of faith and thanks. This is a practice going back to the its southern roots and humble beginnings in the ‘bible belt.’
On July 23, 2011 prior to the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Nashville, Pastor Joe Helms gave an invocation that garnered a lot of attention with a prayer unlike any heard before. His prayer seems to belong more in the movie ‘Talladega Nights’ than in real life as he thanks the Heavenly Father for “the mighty machines you brought before us,” “Roush and Yates partnering to give us the power we see before us tonight,” “GM performance technology,” “Goodyear tires that bring performance and power to the track,” and for his “smokin’ hot wife.” Pastor Helms then ends his memorable prayer with “in Jesus name, boogity, boogity boggity, amen.” His prayer had drivers and crew members cracking up on pit road because it was so unexpected and amusing at the same time; a break from the typical pre-race invocation.
Beyond the humor of Pastor Helm’s invocation, many drivers and their families turn to Motor Racing Outreach at the track. MRO Chaplain Stephen Keller, along with several other chaplains travel with NASCAR week after week lending their support to any and all who need them. They are often spotted on pit road before each race, meeting and praying with drivers and their spouses. Melanie Self and Danielle Bolin are also seen at the track supporting the wives and children of NASCAR’s stars.
|Morgan Shepherd’s Familiar Race Car|
An older 70-something driver in NASCAR, Morgan Shepherd, with Faith Motorsports continues to bring his car to the track throughout the season eagerly displaying his religious faith on his car. Many younger drivers, Justin Allgaier, Trevor Bayne, and Blake Koch to name a few, are also open about sharing their faith orientation.
Occasionally, the expression of faith may also create issues involving those promoting the sport. A recent example includes ESPN refusing to air an ad with Blake Koch for “Rise Up and Register.” Many reports claim ESPN’s refusal to air the ad is on the basis, it is too political in nature in addition to Koch’s open statements of faith on his website. However, ESPN claims religion played no role in their decision to not air the ad. On the positive side, although the sponsor lost their promotion exposure, they stood behind their driver and continue their sponsorship of Blake Koch for 20 races this season.
Several drivers of faith, both young and veterans including Darrell Waltrip, recently participated in a video project with other athletes called “I Am Second.” In the video, each of the drivers reveal moments of their past experience where God became evident in their lives. Many of these drivers live their faith beyond being a NASCAR celebrity, as they are also public speakers sharing the Gospel and their personal testimony throughout the country with fans who may or may not have previously embraced their faith.
For Michael McDowell, it was at a friends funeral with a question from another friend asking ‘Where are you?’ spurring him to wonder about his perspective. Attending a church service with his wife shortly after, the message about forgiveness spoke to him, reaffirming a new meaning of faith in his life.
Trevor Bayne put his faith in God by leaving home and moving to North Carolina at the tender age of 15 with an intention to explore his abilities in racing within the ranks of NASCAR’s top series. His reward in faith came in his first Sprint Cup event, winning one of the sport’s biggest races – the Daytona 500 – and becoming it’s youngest winner ever. Even after winning the 500, Bayne remains the same down-to-earth guy with his feet firmly planted in reality. Even with limited sponsorship, Bayne continues as a star of the sport, inspiring many young fans.
In the “I am Second” video, Trevor Bayne recounts his historic win at Daytona, saying, “I’m feeling a little bit of butterflies for the first time for the whole race. The whole time I had been patient, just waiting and riding it out and here we are leading on the last lap. It’s getting hotter in the car and I start to just feel this overwhelming, what is going to happen, this is the first time I have been nervous. I am thinking there is no way we can win this race; I mean it is impossible pretty much. And then we are coming off turn four, and I just feel this feeling sitting back in this seat and kind of looking up in the mirror and seeing everyone behind me, and we get to the finish line and we are still in the lead; and even at that point I am still thinking there is no way we are going to win this race; and then my crew chief and spotter came over the radio and said, ‘We just won this race!’ Man, I mean I screamed on the radio, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Because that’s what it felt like! It was just like how is this even possible? It’s never happened, no one has ever won that race in their first attempt.”
“To know that He did it, it is because of His power and just surrendering that, saying, ‘Whatever it is that You want to do; whatever it takes I just want to know You.’ And at that moment it was just a change, this is who I am; and to experience that is just incredible. God is in control and He is powerful and He can do whatever He wants to, whenever He wants to, with whomever He wants to.”
“The Daytona 500 win is great but it doesn’t define me, Christ defines me.”
It’s somehow comforting to know that within today’s busy and crazy world, these NASCAR stars show it’s rewarding to be second, by living 1Corinthians 9:25-27. With discipline and purpose in their lives, these stars shine a bit brighter by sharing their faith within the world of racing.