BURIEN — There's good news for Puget Sound youth with a need for speed. Summer's coming and Victory Racing Camp—a summer racing camp for middle and high school aged youth—is only a few hours away. So, let's go racin', boys!! (And girls!)
NASCAR Western Regional Series driver and long-time Burien resident Jerrod Sessler is the founder of the local karting ministry Hope4Youth and a staunch supporter of Victory Racing Camp. Sessler said the camp, located northeast of Portland, is the only summer camp of its kind in the West.
"It's focused on evangelism. The counselors have the message of sharing Christ," he said. "It's something like any other summer camp, but with a racing emphasis."
The racecar driver has seen kids learn to have hope in their personal future through racing.
"Whether it's riding a fire truck [or] being a mom, whatever their dreams are, if they believe in that, they will make different choices on a daily basis. I love to encourage kids to follow their dreams," Sessler said.
Victory Racing Camp founder and president David Glass said he learned to love racing as a kid when he and his dad spent time together at Pacific Raceways in Kent.
"It was a bonding time with my father, a 'guy time,' a time for me to see what it's like to be a man," Glass said.
It's an experience he aims to duplicate for other children to grow through at racing camp.
"I wanted to provide that opportunity for these kids, maybe kids who are already into racing," he said. "It could be kids watching NASCAR on TV or out racing on tracks already—or closet race fans who just want to go fast. Some of those who would like to participate … think they can't have the opportunity, or there's no money for it. For some reason, they think they can't do it."
VRC is geared toward evangelism and participants learn the application of Christian values, self worth, personal accountability and teamwork.
"We see ourselves as an evangelical ministry," Glass said. "One third of the kids have never set foot in a church in their lives. Another third go to church because their parents make them go, and the other third are already dedicated believers."
Throughout the week kids take part in racing labs while driving on the track.
"Kids learn the skills of racing," Glass said. "These karts are fast and powerful enough you can't just put your foot on the gas and everything will be cool. They'll spin out."
He estimates the number of kids at each camp runs between 60 and 100. Up to 20 percent come from Washington state, largely from the Puget Sound area.
"A camping situation is pretty intense. It's amazing how in one week a kid can go from not knowing anybody at all and come out having lifelong friends," Glass said.
The camp founder said the weeklong experience also gives the camp leaders a chance to earn the kids' respect, mentor them, and opens the door to tell them about Jesus Christ.
"Over the five years of camp, we've had over 10 percent of the kids who come to the camp make a first time commitment to Christ," he said.
VRC has sponsors and participates in Christian community fundraising activities, but also depends on donations to some extent, particularly after a winter storm destroyed much of their equipment a year ago.
"We are working really hard to break even," Glass said. "The flooding last year was a terrible setback."
In spite of this, VRC has a program for those who can't pay their way.
"We don't turn anyone away because of money," he said.
The racing camp will partner with churches to host kart racing fundraisers.
"If someone tells their church about us and we get a call from the church, we will partner with them to raise funds for both the church and Victory Racing Camp," Glass said.
VRC will bring out pilings, bales of hay and other materials and equipment to hold a racing event in the church parking lot and split the proceeds with the sponsoring church. "We already have three scheduled in Oregon," Glass said. "We would be happy to do the other three in the Puget Sound if a church asks us, or a Christian school. It's something different and a lot of fun."
Sessler encourages kart racing opportunities for kids.
"It gives them an increased sense of their own value," he said.
While the NASCAR racer is making plans now to begin competing nationally, he still wants to work with kids.
"I'm willing to be contacted by kids in this region," Sessler said. "I love to encourage kids to follow their dreams."
To learn more about Victory Racing Camp, go to www.victoryracingcamp.org. Jerrod Sessler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.