A conventional minister sometimes has to talk over crying babies or the occasional snoring parishioner, but part of Bob Butcher’s job involves preaching over the snarl of a V8 engines. That’s what happens when you’re NASCAR’s ARCA Menards Series West chaplain holding your Chapel Service in a race car hauler or pit area grandstand. Sometimes it even happens in the main grandstands with all the fans too! Normally racing on Saturday, Sunday is a usually a travel day back to the race shop for the teams hurrying home to get ready for next weeks race.
“I could be a church pastor in a local church, but Kathy and I have always felt led to a “mission field” outside the local church,” Bob says. “I’ve done the short-term foreign mission field work, but I always dreamed to be able to give back to the sport I love and have been involved in since youth.” Mission accomplished. Bob is one of the self-funded NASCAR chaplains along with the full-time chaplains working for Motor Racing Outreach (MRO), a non-denominational Christian organization that provides the same services for the NASCAR Cup Series and numerous other racing series besides Bob and Kathy’s.
MRO’s, home offices are based at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Charlotte, NC since 1988, however the spotlight came upon Motor Racing Outreach in the aftermath of the famous driver, Dale Earnhardt’s death. Dale Beaver, then the NASCAR Winston Cup Chaplain conducted the Feb. 22, 2001 memorial service, which many fans watched on live television.
The racing Pastor deals with a tragedy like that and other life issues facing their racing community from the heart and Bob and his wife Kathy are the same. “We personally know all our Drivers, Teams, Car Owners and NASCAR’s ARCA Officials and take each person seriously as a friend”, says Bob. “That is our heart and very important to us.”
On race day, Bob Butcher and other MRO chaplains perform a short church service for drivers, their families, crew members and anybody else with a garage pass. On the grid, Bob and Kathy visit each of the cars at the starting line to pray with individual drivers and team members if they desire, besides always having a last word of encouragement.
During races, Bob and Kathy and other MRO chaplains are always on hand around the pit area at race tracks all over North America encouraging the teams during both good times and tough days on the track. They are immediately on scene during a serious accident and assist the racer’s family and crew at the track and at the hospital when the need arises.
In these traumatic situations they don’t lie if a child’s father is involved; or tell them Dad will be OK until they know for sure. Instead, they pray with them, which always seems to calm the kids. The same is true with the adult family and team members, though they work to encourage and stand in faith alongside them.
Bob and Kathy look toward the day when they are able to provide more personal and home base support for the wives and children of the race teams involved, similar to the NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series, and Gander Outdoor Truck Series. That home proximity support is important for the growth and team building for the race shop life as well as each family.
As they often demonstrate during interviews, many, if not most, of the drivers are religious. That holds true for crew members, too. “I think a lot these men and women are coming to realize how close to the edge of life they are in this business”, says Bob. During the year Bob and Kathy get to work with men and women from all over the country now. It’s a national business. It seems that because these people are away from their families so much, the travel, and because of the nature of the sport — it can be dangerous — they’re becoming people of faith at some level. And since Dale Earnhardt’s death more NASCAR people then ever are interested in Christian guidance. “Many wives, mothers, dad and siblings are more concerned then ever when their loved ones get into the car,” Bob says. That is why we are here …but …only one of many reasons.
(For more of what MRO provides see: “What we provide to the racing community”)