Well it’s a new year and with that it’s time for next season of sports to kickoff. Time to put on the fire-resistant suit, helmet, and gloves; it’s NASCAR season! Before the start of the race, they will have many rituals to perform, one of which will be the invocational.
Soon the subtle glow of the orange sun will glisten above the Daytona International Speedway and all of its excitement. Everything is quiet now, however, in the hours before the race, the track is going to be humming with engines, clanking with tools, and permeated by the smell of burnt rubber and fuel. 3300-pound speed machines will be cruising over 200 MPH within mere inches of each other. Yet, before the command to start engines is given, and after the national anthem has been sung, they will give an invocation or prayer. NASCAR is one of the only sports to televise this important event.
I find it strange that the only sport to televise an opening invocation is a sport that was basically created by a group of bootleggers who wanted to show off how fast their modified automobiles could go. But, the more research I did, the more I realized it’s more than that. It is true that early NASCAR drivers did have ties to bootleggers and even some of the first ‘Hall of Famer’s’ had ties to bootlegging. NASCAR officials actually attempted to ban drivers who had a history of unlawful activities. They decided to allow it for the first race after fans were disappointed that they paid money to cheer on their favorite drivers and upon arriving were told they wouldn’t be able to see them. The officials ultimately conceded and allowed them to race only to put the ban back in place later.
I set out to write an article on faith in sports, but the research I started kept taking me in different directions and my curiosity got the better of me. There are a lot of athletes that pray prior to playing or even during an actual event. Some even give “props” to the Lord while playing, but very few professional events start with a prayer. NASCAR racers are generally considered “good ol’ boys” who have a love of God and an appreciation for family. When I think of professional stock car drivers, I picture them sitting on a porch drinking moonshine while the ladies are in the kitchen making dinner for multiple generations. Before you get offended, let me explain.
Some of my greatest and fondest memories are when multiple generations of my family members and close friends would get together for a cookout or a special occasion. Almost every time we gathered, the men usually ended up doing their own thing, while the women did their thing. As I get older and have more responsibilities, it seems that it happens less frequently. As an adult, it seems that we are always racing (no pun intended) to get the kids to baseball, dance class, soccer, school, or wherever they need to be, all while juggling a career. I long to slow down and take the time to enjoy the smells and sounds of a NASCAR race once again. They take me back to a time when it seemed like life was easier.
I digress. How could professional stock car racing, that was started by people who were breaking the law, be the only professional sport to televise an invocation that asks God for the safety of the drivers, crews, and fans? One of the reasons I discovered is that NASCAR is one of the only professional sports that is owned by a family, founded by Bill France Sr. in 1948 and still run by a member of the France family; Brian France. That probably has a lot to do with it. Another reason is those ties to the good ol’ boys and if you really take a closer look at history of the sport you can clearly see it is an extremely family oriented event. The Pettys, Allisons, Earnhardts, and Waltrips (just to name a few) are multi-generational families with ties to racing.
So, why is it that many other professional sports are played and televised on the day most Christians give praise to our Lord, but NASCAR is the only sport that televises its invocation? Personally, I believe that they aren’t worried about offending anyone and they want to stay true to their roots. Let’s face it, driving at those speeds, with limited real estate, mistakes can and will happen. While they do take every precaution and safety regulations seriously, I wouldn’t blame them for wanting to have “the Big Man” looking out from them as an extra precaution. All sports can cause injury, but the violent speeds can put the drivers, crew, and even the fans in danger. I can’t think of a better ending for this article than to end with a prayer.
Thank you for this beautiful day, our friends and family as well as, giving us the opportunity to witness such an amazing event that engages every sense we have. We pray for the safety of the drivers, their crews and the fans. We ask that other sporting events see the light and follow their lead.