It may be a NASCAR race day, however, we know the Lord has a plan for such a time as this because we know the LORD’S loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3: 22-23) Race day or not He never changes!
NASCAR has a rich history with Christianity and MRO is at the center of this today. Following is an article the official NASCAR website carried. While the article speaks of the famous NASCAR Cup Series and Xfinity Series the core and important focus is the same as Kathy’s and mine in NASCAR’s ARCA Menards Series. While we might not have the resources to accomplish the ministry outreaches that are done at the superstar level, our hearts, dreams, and focus on our racing community in which we have the honor and call to serve, are just as vibrant.
Please take a few moments to enjoy this article from January 6, 2011:
Christian faith still a large part of NASCAR lifestyle
November 10, 2010
12:04 PM EST
The cross has been there since the beginning and so has a strong spiritual presence in NASCAR. The sport was founded on faith and God evident by its pre-race invocations and the welcoming of Motor Racing Outreach in the late 1980s. It’s not uncommon to see drivers praying on pit road before a race or to hear them count His blessing after a solid, safe run.
More than that, NASCAR’s display of faith has yet to waiver in a society where legislators fight to keep prayer out of public schools, and talking openly about Christianity is frowned upon in mixed company.
Yes, NASCAR was born in the country’s “Bible Belt,” but the sport has outgrown its southern roots and is racing in front of more diverse crowds than ever.
For years until his death, The Reverend Hal Marchman delivered the Daytona 500’s pre-race invocation — something other major leagues banned years ago — and ended his Christian prayer with “Shalom and Amen” to allow some inclusion.
Still, the sport calls specifically on the Christian faith and no one takes NASCAR officials to task nor do drivers take offense.
“It’s been that way since the beginning,” Ramsey Poston, NASCAR’s director of communications, said. “The sport may have outgrown the “Bible Belt,” but it likely will never outgrow its Christian roots.
“Certainly faith plays a role in our driver’s lives like it does so many people in NASCAR. It is the only major national sport that begins every event with a prayer and it is televised. It’s a part of the sport’s tradition and heritage and it is in line with many of our fans as well.”
Michael McDowell and Trevor Bayne are just a couple drivers who have bonded through their faith
Testimony of the drivers
That was made clear this season after Jamie McMurray won the October race at Charlotte Motor Speedway and moved thousands of fans with his Victory Lane speech that referenced the power of prayer.
For months, McMurray, winner of the Daytona 500, had wanted the opportunity to express his feeling about his faith. After struggling in the sport for the past few years, McMurray turned to prayer.
“I found the power of prayer and it is something that I really believe in,” McMurray said. “And when I got to Victory Lane in Daytona, that’s what I was thinking about. You know, I was crying, obviously because I was happy, but also because you feel like a prayer has been answered.”
During the race at Charlotte, McMurray thought he might have a second chance to talk about it.
“I thought about it the last eight or 10 laps. I was like, ‘you know, if I win this race, Lord, if you don’t throw a caution,’ is what I said, ‘and I win this race, I’m going to explain to people my feelings and why I felt that way,’ ” McMurray said. “And I think that’s important. I watch other professional athletes, whether it’s bull riders or basketball players or motorcycle riders, you hear them get out and you hear them thank God and talk about the power of prayer, and I just think that that’s important for people to understand, and understand why my feelings were the way they were.”
Not only did McMurray impress the fans, he also gained a tremendous amount of respect from a number of his fellow competitors in the garage.
“Jamie, with the speech made witnessing about God is cool. It’s not an easy thing to do in front of that many people because it is not widely accepted, but I’m glad he did,” Trevor Bayne, driver for Roush Fenway Racing and one who often posts scripture on his Facebook page, said.
Bayne is also one of the up-and-coming drivers in NASCAR and already he is seen as a leader among his peers — a spiritual leader.
At the beginning of the season, Bayne formed a small-group Bible study that began meeting at the race tracks each weekend. A few drivers gathered to read Crazy Love by Francis Chan and discuss their lives as Christians, as well as race car drivers, and how the two can intertwine. By mid-point of the season, the group expanded to more than a dozen men.
Michael McDowell, who often ministers to local churches on the NASCAR circuit, said he attends the study because it has become a brotherhood for him, so much that they’re planning a mission trip for the offseason.
“Up until this year I’ve been an outsider, but this group of guys gives me encouragement,” said McDowell, who races in the Cup and Nationwide series. “Now I’m not the only lone ranger out there with my faith. We have the same beliefs so it’s cool to know other guys in the sport I can talk to.”
McDowell said the group is a good mix of guys who are winning races and some guys who aren’t even in a car at the present time. The differing levels allow a much more relatable atmosphere.
“It’s just good to know we are there to build each other up,” McDowell said. “There are different seasons in this sport.”
No one knows that better than drivers like McMurray, Reutimann and Bayne.
All of them have given their lives to God, relinquished control to a higher power and that is what helps them most when the frustrations of racing year after year — with or without results — begin to take a toll.
“When you get into a race car there’s a very strong reality that what you are doing is very dangerous and it may not work out in your favor,” Reutimann said. “You may not come back, so I think I’m a person that needs more prayer than most and we all have to believe that there is someone higher than the spotter’s stand looking out for us all.”
That is what gives Reutimann comfort as he climbs into the car and glances at the cross one last time.
“Now that doesn’t mean I’m perfect, I said I try,” Reutimann said with a laugh. “But you would be amazed at how hard you pray when you’re about to hit something.”
Prayer is front and center in NASCAR, a rarity in the sports world in the 21st century.
Strength in numbers
Nevertheless, he is one among many examples being set inside the garage of NASCAR drivers relying more on their faith. On any given Sunday at the track, more than 150 drivers, crewmembers and their families will gather for religious services held through MRO, according to director of support services Billy Mauldin.
“Stories like Jamie McMurray’s bring attention to the strong faith the NASCAR community has. But the reason our sport is so different from the other leagues is because we are in line with most of America and we don’t hide it,” Mauldin said. “In our society, separation of church and state is impounded in our heads and we are pressured not to talk about prayer. But to think our society doesn’t live with faith is foolish.”
Bayne feels the reasons other leagues’ governing bodies shy away from public prayer is the leagues are looking for acceptance from the masses. But NASCAR stayed firm in its beliefs, which Bayne admires.
“Faith is a big part of our lives off and on the track and the reason the presence hasn’t changed in NASCAR, despite our growth, is because our drivers who lead by example are in the sport for years,” Bayne said. “If you look at the sport, a lot of who made this sport are still here and it’s still a family affair.”
When most racing fans think of Motor Racing Outreach, they think only of invocations and church service sat the NASCAR Sprint Cup and superstar level. But MRO, founded by pastor Max Helton in 1988 after a chance meeting with Darrell and Stevie Waltrip, serves the racing community in a variety of ways. Among them are the MRO Association Chaplains serving the NASCAR Touring Series like Kathy and myself. None of these are paid and raise their own finances to continue to minister at each race.
Many times people have ask me why Kathy & I along with the others like us do this. My simplest answer is “For Jesus Christ.” Besides this, I have grown up in this sport since childhood and love giving back just a small gift to the people that have been like family almost my entire life. If Kathy and I can give one gift to someone it is to prepare these young men and women looking to make a career in the sport a strong foundation to build upon when stardom comes someday, …or simply be by their side to help in times of crisis or trauma. We are Pastors, pure and simple!
In addition to the religious aspect of the organization, MRO acts as a central community center for the drivers, crew members, wives and families at the track each weekend. There are scheduled activities filling very long days and nights at each track. In addition, the chaplains and staff members act as counselors and liaisons. Competition in sports brings not only a short time of glory, but for most …pain of losing, frustration, misunderstandings, and long, demanding hours away from home to even come close to being successful. We understand this sport and the mindset and these people are family as we said before; …and we love them.
It’s all about building relationships within the racing community. And that we have for many years now. The Drivers, Owners, Team Crew, and Officials may move on to other Series, but are always friends and Kathy and I keep them in prayer and follow their careers through the years. Then it is special when we meet at some track around the country, …sort of like “old home week.”