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God and NASCAR

On any given Sunday, drivers pray before they take to the track

From the low-key presence of chaplains to spontaneous moments of prayer on the infield, the NASCAR community is more than comfortable with religious expression.
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California Speedway - On any given Sunday morning during race season, it is not uncommon to see the likes of Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon and No. 6 Viagra driver Mark Martin repeating these words from the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty.”

They may be at the racetrack, but it is Sunday morning, and that means setting aside time for worship, prayer and meditation on the word of God.

In fact, America’s No. 1 spectator sport, with 75 million fans coast to coast, is a growing community of faith. And the most prominent figures in the sport display their faith as proudly as they do their corporate logos.

For the unsuspecting, or neophyte, NASCAR fan, stepping onto the speedway may provide a glimpse of what faith looks like in the workplace, even an asphalt one.

Veteran driver Michael Waltrip is one of the most outspoken Christians in his sport.  Despite NASCAR’s heavy reliance on corporate sponsorship, Waltrip unabashedly carries his faith on and off the racetrack. “If you want to sponsor my car, you’re going to get the whole me, and a part of me is my faith in Jesus,” he says. “People want to know about their favorite driver. They want to get inside of their favorite sport and when you get inside of me, you’ll understand right away that the life I live is that that has God with me and Jesus walking with me.”

The NASCAR congregation
That drivers like Waltrip have such a missionary zeal is no accident.

“NASCAR is another community, another workplace ... and any workplace is a mission field. If you want to call us missionaries, sure, but we’re here amongst our friends. For us, it’s an opportunity for us to help our friends,” says Billy Mauldin, president of Motor Racing Outreach, a ministry based in Charlotte, N.C. The ministry spends nearly $ 2 million a year to spread the Gospel to spectators and fans. 

Motor Racing Outreach makes sure that NASCAR is served by Christian chaplains who are dedicated to shepherding this congregation. Maudlin’s clean-shaven spiritual warriors dress in polo shirts and khaki pants, and stand at the starting line before each race. Their mission includes gently and unobtrusively ministering to those who want a spiritual touch. Sometimes, it is just a friendly smile and a soft pat on the shoulder. More often than not, the drivers welcome the opportunity to receive prayer. The prayers are brief and discreet. They usually include just a few words asking God for protection, safety and a simple blessing. It is a sacred moment, the words whispered into the ear and intended for the soul.

The ministry is best known, however, for hosting Sunday morning chapels on race days. Chapel is held immediately following the traditional driver’s meeting. The 20- to 30-minute service has all the trappings of a traditional Protestant service: an invocation, guitar-strumming worship leaders and a sermon.

It is a version of church that could fit into any white-steepled Baptist church in America. This one just happens to be on the infield of a racetrack.

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