FONTANA, Calif. On March 27, five carslined across and door-to-doorwill accelerate to speeds exceeding 200 mph while racing to win NASCAR'S 2011 Auto Club 400. During pre-race festivities on the infield campground, Raceway Ministries of California, also plans to be heading for some significant triumphs.
"We support Christian NASCAR fans by providing activities they can enjoy," said ministry director Bruce Hammett, who said their purpose is to reach out to fans and direct them to a pre-race Sunday morning church service and ultimately Jesus Christ.
Even before hundreds of motor homes begin rolling into the raceway campgrounds for a gigantic tailgate party, Raceway Ministries will start creating a Christian environment to "provide families with a safe haven," Hammett said, adding that they will begin staging their own campground three days before the race by setting up a 60-foot circus tent.
"Then, we'll make our facilities available to thousands of children and families," he said.
Activities will include face painting, table games and coloring tasks.
"We'll also have Christian bands and extreme sports like skateboarding and BMX riding," he said. "Everything culminates with the Timothy Cup."
"At essence," Hammett said, "Timothy Cup racing is a pinewood derby in which 7-inch blocks of wood are turned into race cars and rolled down a race track competing against other cars."
Clubs like Awanas, Royal Rangers, and Boy Scouts typically run these races where the kids build their own cars. But at the speedway with such a short window of time, Raceway Ministries provides pre-cut cars that look like the vehicles on the track complete with fenders and spoilers.
At the ministry event, families register for their free car, then sand and paint the wooden racer before turning it over to tech and impound. Ministry volunteers pre-weigh all cars to equalize them.
"Each kid gets their own car and we'll race 250," he said.
Start your engines
Traditionally, the Timothy Cup runs on Saturday, after the track activity ceases.
"We give away prizes for various art awardsbest-looking car, best NASCAR theme, best Christian, and best overall. We roll the cars to a final award of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th based on time."
Prizes include trophies and items provided by vendors such as T-shirts and hats.
"We have a three-lane track with electronic timing. Each car runs each lane once, and time is totaled for the grand prize," Hammett said. "Throughout the two hours of Timothy Cup racing, there are constant references to drivers' Christian backgrounds, Christian themes as related to car racing, and a consistent matter-of-fact call to knowing Jesus.
This year's event is called the Dale Earnhardt Memorial. Earnhardt's death 10 years ago opened many hearts to Christ through his memorial service and stories about the man."
Hammett said that intentionally planned fast-paced events keep the Raceway Ministries' tents alive from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Ongoing activities for the Timothy Cup, in addition to other forms of entertainment, get families involved.
"One of the objectives throughout the weekend is to engage kids and their parents one-on-one," the director said. "We make several varieties of tracts specific to the racing world available in addition to books, pamphlets, and NASCAR New Testaments. As the families work on their various cars, or have faces painted, or listen to music, our team is constantly aware of the need to engage these people about their Christian walk. "
Because of the limitations involved with the number of volunteers, Hammett said the ministry must be selective.
"We request knowledge," he said. "Our volunteer base is naturally oriented to talking to people about Christ. We use pastors, church evangelist teams, Bible college groups, and men's and women's groups who understand the narrow opportunities when dealing with large numbers of people at large events. And, we make sure there's always a quiet time for the gospel message to be given."
This year's plans include hosting at least three services on Sunday morning.
"Most NASCAR teams and their families attend a special private Christian service before the race," he said. "There's also a church service for the driver teams who haul the trucks containing vendor items."
The 9 a.m. service is just for fans.
"It involves a full worship team, a Christian message, and an invitation to come enjoy cookies, cake, orange juice and coffee with us afterward," Hammett said. "We'll wrap up that fellowship two hours before race time."
A winning team
Sometimes, Hammet said, the most unlikely individuals receive the greatest spiritual trophies.
"A wealthy man brought his motor home to Fontana every race weekend," the leader said. "His intent was to be the No. 1 fall-down drunk at the speedway. One weekend he brought a neighbor friend whose wife read an advertisement about our church service in the speedway's Infielder bulletin. She asked if they could go, and he said 'yes.'
"Something spoken at that church service turned that drunk's life around, and he became an active part of his Victorville church. It saved his marriage and family. Three families, who either found Jesus or renewed their lives with Christ through specific contact with us, now participate in RMCF leadership. They are part of our team."
In addition to the on-site activities, the team attempts to follow up with those they impact on race weekends. According to Hammett, besides offering support for raceway events, The National Fellowship of Raceway Ministries (NFRM) helps with finding churches for people close to where they live.
NFRM has member groups from Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, all the way up to the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, and over to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
That type of involvement keeps the checkered flag waving.
For more information, send an e-mail to Hammett at InHisDraft@aol.com or call (760) 250-3048.
National Fellowship of Raceway Ministries