There is something electrifying about standing on pit road prior to a race.
It is in those moments standing on the asphalt next to a field of race ready machines, surrounded by the movement of teams, presence of media and colossus nature of the grandstands that you realize the magnitude of our sport. Nothing short of organized chaos, it is a unique mixture of fanfare, excitement, glitz, anticipation and adrenaline that is bottled up waiting to be uncorked with the most famous words in motorsports.
Amidst the clamor, moments of still and quiet are taking place all around.
Teams are huddled for one last time prior to going to work.
Families are engaged as wives and children kiss their dads before they strap into their chariots.
Crew chiefs are having last minute conversations in the ears of drivers and teams.
It is during this time that moments of conversation are paused for moments of prayer with competitors, teams and families. Whether with chaplains or on their own, these moments of connecting with God are happening up and down pit road.
It is a time of expectancy as everyone awaits the start of pre-race ceremonies. The ceremony is a culmination of the pre-event activities unlike any other in professional sports; highlighted by a invocation to God and recognition of our country through the presentation of our flag and National Anthem.
The atmosphere quickly turns from dynamic to hallowed as tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people quiet themselves for the Invocation and National Anthem.
It is a moment of thankfulness.
Thankfulness for God’s love for us through creation and through our passions. Thankfulness for God’s goodness to us. Thankfulness for those who serve our Nation and protect our freedom.
Simultaneously it is a moment of request. A request for God to be a part of what we are doing; and for us to be aware of Him with us as we work.
While the invocation is traditionally given by guests of a particular race track, over the course of my twelve-and-a-half years of involvement in motor sports I’ve had the honor of offering the invocation countless times, from local short tracks to National series events. Each and every time is sacred to me.
It isn’t that it is the only opportunity we have to pray at the race track; we certainly have plenty of opportunities to share in conversations with God throughout the course of a given weekend. Rather, because it is a very profound moment when that many people pause to acknowledge God together in one place, at one time.
Offering the Invocation is something I never take lightly; yet one that I have to manage with great restraint. Wrapped within the opportunity is a momentary platform in front of many people; an opportunity to be seen and an opportunity to be heard.
With all of the lure that surrounds a ‘moment in the spotlight’; it is with great self-discipline that we have to exercise the reality that we are talking to God for men; and not to men for God.
While there is nobility in seeing the opportunity as a chance to share the Gospel or state a stance to a group of captive ears; in its purest form an Invocation is simply that, an invitation and acknowledgment of God’s presence and a moment of thankfulness for His goodness. It is a beautiful collision of Heaven and Earth in the middle of a racetrack.
When I am invited to offer the Invocation, it is the reiteration of a prayer I will have been praying throughout the course of an event weekend. It is one that becomes a source of meditation, reflection and strength; one that I’ve prayerfully typed out in the notes on my phone. One that has become locked into my memory through its repetition.
A pre-thought, written and memorized prayer? I can almost feel the blood pressure rise as some of you read this line.
Prayers are supposed to be sincere. Authentic. From the heart.
So why would I write my prayer?
I ask that you consider this.
You are invited to stand on the stage prior to the start of a race. In front of you is a sea of people; tens of thousands of them. Separating you and the people are cameras; lots of them. Those cameras will be bringing you into the living room of millions of people. In a few moments every single ear will be on you. As if that isn’t enough pressure; everything is timed to the second to orchestrate with the flyover that will follow the National Anthem. Then there are the distractions; all around you.
Are you comfortable just ‘winging it’ and hoping it turns out okay?
Yes it is a prayer; but it is also a part of the ‘show’; and as an invited guest of the track it is important to execute our part with excellence.
There is nothing less holy about a prayer that is written over a prayer that is impromptu. When I give the invocation it is a prayer I am praying throughout the entire weekend. It is my heart and my request that I continue to lay before God.
Every week I do a few keyword searches on social media just to see what conversations people are having regarding the invocation. Amidst the bulk of those who voice their thankfulness and appreciation for the prayer there are two other voices that seem to emerge.
The first voice is the panel of those who are ready to critique the prayer.
Did that Pastor just read his prayer? How insincere…
Did that person just thank the sponsors? How disingenuous…
Did that person just say (or not say) in Jesus name? How sickening…
Did that person just exclude other religions? How offensive…
The second voice is that of those who would like to see the invocation slip into the history of our sport.
There are conversations about how the invocation no longer belongs; that it isn’t inclusive and and doesn’t represent our sport as a whole. I recently read an article that said, “Tradition does not justify exclusion, and NASCAR can do better in this regard. In fact, it is high time for us to do so.”
Unfortunately, reducing invocations to mere tradition minimizes the reality that prayer is a public part of our sport because the people of our sport value the importance of it.
In the middle of a very high-stress and high-risk industry, I can think of no more relevant way for our sport to start competition than with a moment thankfulness and request. One thing I can assure you of is this; I assure you it is not a part of pre-race to be a moment of offense or exclusion to others, rather to be a source of strength to those who are at the frontline of our sport.
I am not upset if you don’t bow your head and I’m not offended if you don’t participate. I won’t think differently if you slip off to the concessions or the restroom during that time. I’m even okay with you sharing your thoughts and opinions after every invocation. I love you anyway; and am thankful that there is room for those that do and for those that don’t.