Faith Costs NASCAR Driver Sponsorship
ESPN Rejects Blake Koch's Ad Because of Beliefs on Personal Website
April 11, 2012 - Citing Blake Koch's Christian faith on his personal web site, ESPN rejected a pro-vote commercial, citing "political and religious overtones," leading the "Rise Up and Register" campaign to pull the plug on a 20-race sponsorship.
"If anything it's strengthened my faith. Here I am sponsorless right now and I've never had so much peace in my life."
— Blake Koch, NASCAR driver
By Trevor Freeze
Any day a race car driver loses his sponsor it's a bad day.
But when Blake Koch, a driver in NASCAR's junior circuit, Nationwide, lost his 20-race funding contract partly because of his outspoken Christian faith, you would think things couldn't get worse.
That, however, is not how Koch (pronounced Cook) rolls.
"If anything it's strengthened my faith," Koch, a 26-year-old devout Christian told the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association recently. "Here I am sponsorless right now and I've never had so much peace in my life."
And considering the timing, having peace during such uncertain times speaks as loud as the engine in Koch's No. 41 car coming down a straightaway.
Koch's in the process of buying a house just north of Charlotte, N.C., and his wife, Shannon, is due with the couple's first child in August.
But in late March, Koch was informed by ESPN that his commercial for "Rise Up and Register" was denied by the network for "political and religious overtones." And without the ESPN-aired commercial, the "Rise Up and Register" campaign decided their sponsorship would not have the same impact and pulled out of their commitment to Koch and Rick Ware Racing.
That has left Koch riding with an American Flag on the hood but without a primary sponsor, both in the last race (Fontana, Calif.) and this Saturday (Fort Worth, Texas) and his future remains uncertain.
A voicemail to Blake's father explained ESPN's decision: "It was declined for political and religious overtones, which we avoid by all of our standards. We looked at the (Rise Up and Register) website as well as Blake's website and do see the religious aspects of this. So those are the reasons."
Ironically, the "Rise Up and Register" campaign does not support either political party and the website has little religious material on it, other than a small ad promoting Koch's church-speaking tour and one paragraph about his faith.
Similarly, Koch's personal website is mostly about his racing career. Only the last paragraph on his biography and a tab labeled "outreach," which outlines his church-speaking engagements, talks about his faith in Christ.
But Koch, who is quick not to bash ESPN over its decision, has been uncomfortable even being linked to the drama. "I don't like controversy," he said.
But he's not about to shy away from his faith.
"As a Christian, we know that things aren't always going to be easy," said Koch, who is currently involved in Christian TV programing with the Daystar Television Network, last year's sponsor. "But I feel that God is with me 100 percent."
And Koch is not shy talking about God on race weekends, where he usually can be found at a local church sharing his testimony or in the infield sharing his faith with fans in what he's termed "Guerilla Evangelism."
"I'm not willing to hide my Christianity," Koch said on a recent "Fox and Friends" interview when asked if he would tone down the Christian material on his website. "That's the one thing I will not do, is deny my faith just because a particular sponsor might not like how I express my faith."
"I believe God is a big part of my racing career," said Koch, currently 20th in the Nationwide points standings. "I don't feel He would allow something to pull me out of racing altogether. I feel there's a bigger plan that God will bring the right sponsor along, someone who agrees with my beliefs."
Koch has been inspired by all the support, including hundreds of fans who have started a grass-roots effort through Twitter to convince Chick-fil-A to sponsor the No. 41 car.
A group of fellow Christian drivers in NASCAR sent him a text, telling Koch they were praying for him.
"It was really nice to see that text message saying they have my back," he said.
And Koch's family has also been a major source of encouragement.
"My dad called me this morning with a great devotion about how we have to be prepared for persecution and for battles in our life," he said. "It's expected on a daily basis, but I know that God's in control. I just need to be obedient to His Word."