NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip knows well the dangers of racing. In 1990 he was involved in a horrific wreck at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee. In a video produced in cooperation with Motor Racing Outreach and INSP Media Group, Waltrip described his experience: “That was a wild day. I was racing my car, and it was fast. I had been to the lead. I had a pit stop, and I was coming back to the lead. I got together with another guy, and I ran into the wall. I hit it so hard that my car totally disintegrated.
“It slid to the bottom of the race track. The body was gone; the engine was gone. Many people say it was the worst wreck they’ve ever seen.
“They dug me out, [pulled] the roof off, and there I sat. I was fine, unscathed–a little confused because of the hard blow that I took, but it was amazing that a car wrecked like that and the driver got up out of it and walked off.
“There is no car built to withstand the crash that this thing had. There is no other way to answer how I could be fine, unless God was with me and His angels just didn’t allow me to get hurt. I reaffirmed my faith in Jesus after that.”
As this issue of Decision went to press, Waltrip was scheduled to give his testimony Oct. 9 at the Heart of America Billy Graham Crusade, in Kansas City. Like Waltrip, many NASCAR drivers, crew chiefs and spouses have put their faith in Jesus Christ.
And some of them, like Waltrip, use the platform of NASCAR to proclaim their faith. Veteran driver Morgan Shepherd calls his team “Victory in Jesus Racing” and has a big decal with Jesus’ name on the hood of his car.
“What better way to reach people than through racing?” he said. “I’ve received fan mail from people in Russia, Germany, Australia and all over the world, saying they appreciate my stand. There are very few people such as Billy Graham who are great evangelist preachers. But the opportunity is here for NASCAR to be my mission field.”
Before the August race at Bristol this year, Shepherd spoke at an open-air chapel service at a campground outside the track. As a singer from a local church led praise music, Shepherd went from camper to camper, introducing himself and inviting the NASCAR fans to come.
“I’m not a preacher, but I can be a good witness,” he said. “I can tell what God has done for me in my life, and how He has changed me.”
As time for the race drew closer, Shepherd and many other drivers, crew chiefs and their family members gathered for a chapel service. After the service, Christian drivers continued to focus on God, leading their teams in prayer.
Jeff Gordon’s crew chief, Robbie Loomis, also relies on Christ–in good times and in bad.
Loomis had guided Gordon to the NASCAR championship in 2001. But in August 2002, the team was in a slump–a 23-race slump. Gordon, a five-time champion, had yet to win a race that season. Pressure was mounting on the entire team–especially on Loomis. He tried everything. Different car setups. Different tire pressures. Nothing worked.
“Sometimes the deeper you get in a hole, the harder you try to control things and make it happen,” Loomis said.
As the pressure, frustration and criticism built, Loomis realized where to find release. He knew he had to rely on his faith in Jesus Christ. Before a night race in Bristol, Loomis dropped to his knees.
“I was about to leave the hotel room, and I just stopped,” he said. “I walked back in and got down beside the bed. I said, ‘Lord, I’ve been trying to control all this and to control my destiny. You know I love my job, but maybe You have other plans for me. If You mean for me to do it, then help me to understand what Your plan is. If it’s meant to be for us to win tonight and to get back on track, then may Your will be done.’”
A few hours later, Gordon returned to victory lane. The slump was over. But long before Loomis saw his driver take the checkered flag, he knew that his prayer had been answered.
“It wasn’t that we won the race,” he said. “It was the calmness that I felt throughout the whole evening, knowing that whatever was going to happen was going to be God’s will. Finally, after a couple of months of fighting it, I just turned everything over to Him.”
There are no slumps for Gordon’s team this year; he is a leading contender for the championship. But win or lose, Loomis’ reliance on God remains the same as it did that night in Bristol two years ago, when he stopped trying to control his own destiny and instead turned it over to God.