On and Off the Track, Racers Rely on God
October 12, 2012 - Even as they compete at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 in Charlotte, N.C. this weekend, several drivers will run alongside each other as brothers in Christ.
My only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. ~ Acts 20:24
by Trevor Freeze
The picture is not altogether unusual. Five young men sitting in a living room, trying to figure out life together, meeting for Bible study, conversation, accountability, prayer and undoubtedly a few laughs along the way.
Trevor, Blake, Mike, Justin and Josh.
If they sound like five guys in their 20s, it’s because they are. But these are no ordinary guys, just plugging along, aimlessly taking life as it comes.
These are five friends who are on fire for Christ. They love the Lord and desire to follow Jesus with all their heart.
Oh. And it just so happens, they’re all NASCAR drivers, too.
“It’s really just doing life together,” Mike McDowell said. “Obviously racing is a huge part of our life. But we’re not getting together and talking about race strategy, I can tell you that.”
It’s a beautiful picture of the Body of Christ, McDowell said. From their different personalities and gifts to their styles of evangelism, these five complement each other well. And more important, they’re all heavily invested in each other’s walk with the Lord.
They’re all bold about their faith, whether at the track or at home in the race country of North Carolina. But McDowell and Blake Koch are the two that get their wheels moving most when it comes to outreach evangelism. Trevor Bayne and Josh Wise tend to share Christ in more of a relationship evangelism context, while Justin Allgaier is a mix of both.
“It’s a good group of friends, and we happen to be Christians,” explained Koch. “The thing that drew us together in the first place is we had something in common as believers in Christ.”
In NASCAR, finding other Christians isn’t as challenging as, say, winning the Daytona 500. But finding Christians who are active in their faith?
It might be easier finding a checkered flag.
“The faith community might seem large in NASCAR,” McDowell said. “God and Jesus are well accepted in our sport. But there’s not a tremendous amount of drivers who are intentional about growing in their faith.”
All That Matters
So what does growing in your faith look like in a racing community?
For starters, these five are committed and active in both the chapel services and Bible studies at all NASCAR Nationwide race weekends.
But that’s just the launching point.
This fivesome lives out their faith through regular outreach events, in race cities across the country. One week it may be sharing their testimony at a local church, another may be speaking at a school or youth event.
“A personal relationship with Christ is the most important thing we can get in this life,” Bayne said. “It’s all that matters.”
On Tuesday nights, they build their faith by attending Charlotte One—a “citywide worship gathering for 20 and 30 somethings”—that meets regularly from fall to spring in uptown Charlotte.
“They live what they believe,” said Lonnie Clouse, chaplain for Motor Racing Outreach. “From Bible study at the race track to chapel to going to church, to going on mission trips to looking into adoption … they’re definitely the real deal.”
Clouse started meeting with these drivers for Bible study nearly four years ago, before taking a two-year break from MRO to do missions work at an orphanage in Mexico. But recently Clouse returned to MRO, and one of the things he’s revved up about is leading a small group Bible study at the McDowell house for these five particular drivers and their wives (all but Bayne are married).
It’s no ordinary bunch of guys, Clouse quickly realized.
“They’re all rooted and grounded. I’m just there to be the organizer,” Clouse said. “They’re solid in what they want to do and how they’re going out doing it. They’re seeking to surround themselves with godly people. It’s a cutthroat sport. They’ve got to have accountability.”
And they all know it.
“What’s nice about this group of guys,” Koch said, “is we all know the only way to get through life is with Christ and relying on Him.”
The couples Bible study is not unlike what’s going on in thousands of living rooms across the country. They’ve used DVD series like “Discipleship Explorer” and Francis Chan’s “Crazy Love.” They’ve studied several different books of the Bible, from Romans to James to Ephesians.
“We talk about what’s going on in our lives, what can we pray for,” McDowell said. “We read through the passage, talk about how we are challenged by it and what the application looks like, in comparison to our prayer needs.
“It’s really important for all of us. We’re not able to plug into a local church because our schedule is so demanding. We’re gone 36 weekends throughout the year.”
They Pray Through It
“Swapping paint,” long a NASCAR tradition for what’s considered just racing hard, may create some hard feelings on the track. A little bump here. A little grinding there.
But what happens when that Saturday night altercation happens to be with two guys who are in Bible study together?
Can you say awkward moment?
“Happens all the time,” McDowell said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s your buddy. Your job may not be to hit somebody, but your job is to race as hard as you can.”
And after talking—and sometimes hugging—it out, many wrinkled relationships have been ironed out, especially in the reality of living life in real relationships.
“We’re all human,” McDowell said. “We’re not perfect. Our human nature is to be selfish and prideful. But things get smoothed out.”
And cracking open Scripture has a way of “putting a perspective” on any potential bad blood.
“Some of the guys in our study have brush-ins on the track, but when we get in small group, they work it out. They pray through it,” Clouse said. “Their priorities are right. They know the greatest command is to love the Lord God with all your heart, soul and mind.”
Hearts of Gold
Training for a triathlon this summer, the five have managed to create a bond that crosses bicycle tires, swimming trunks and running shoes.
Follow any of the five on Twitter and you’re bound to hear about a 50-mile “epic ride” or “time for a 1600-meter swim.”
But you’ll also find out about the depth of these young men. All five have shared with the more than 200,000 following them on the Twittersphere a verse or passage of Scripture, just this summer.
Trevor Bayne sent out Philippians 4:6. Blake Koch talked about Proverbs 16:3. Mike McDowell shared Matthew 10:1. Justin Allgaier passed along Deuteronomy 6:5. Josh Wise posted Proverbs 1:7.
“As long as we ask Him to lead us and guide us, we’ll be OK,” said Koch, who lost a 20-race sponsor at the beginning of the season partly due to religious beliefs on his personal website. “There’s no way I could go into this industry without faith in Christ.
“None of us have complete faith in our job. It’s crazy. We all have to rely on Christ and know that He knows what’s best for us.”
And that extends all the way to their relationships outside the quintet. They don’t look at Christianity as an exclusive club.
“They’re not cliquish,” Clouse said. “There’s a lot of other guys, who are not followers of Christ, who they hang out with.
“They’re very inclusive of other guys. They’re trying to win their other drivers to Christ through their lifestyle.”
And if you ask Clouse, they’re not just spinning their wheels.
“They’re amazing,” he said. “Super, super guys. Hearts of gold.”
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