Is anybody sitting here? Mind if we join you?
Not at all. Be my guest!
This was the scene God created and repeated at the infield picnic tables at the Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowatwo weeks ago during the Iowa Corn Indy 250. As the lone Kingdom Racing representative in attendance, I took every chance possible to interact with race fans and sitting down to share a meal provided the perfect opportunity to meet new people. To share God’s Word, you must go to where the people are. It’s that simple.
Iowa proved to be an interesting, inspirational weekend. The trip measured 781 miles driven in each direction, completely devouring Thursday and Sunday of the four day affair. This left Friday and Saturday at the race track to reach out and meet fans for Christ. There was no time to waste.
On the racing side of things, Simon Pagenaud and the Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports team was having a tough time getting the No. 77 car comfortable and quick. When asked his thoughts about driving the short oval in Iowa, Simon simply called it “evil.” There became an air of tension amongst the whole team. So, you do what is best in that particular situation and give the team distance to work things out.
That afforded time to grab a bite to eat, so I headed over to the infield concession stand and dining area. I deliberately selected an empty table to see who God sent forth. Within minutes a couple of jovial fellows saddled up seeking permission to sit. They were welcomed with open arms.
After a few moments of introductions, pleasantries, and idle chit-chat, I asked if they knew about Kingdom Racing. Neither did. So, I gave them some hero cards and let them know of our mission to deliver God’s Word through motorsports. One was definitely more interested than the other, who himself simply pocketed the hero card without taking so much of a glance at it. The other one was actually a Sam Schmidt fan but had never heard of Kingdom Racing. He has now! Even more, he was pleased to learn of our mission. I gave him extra cards to pass on to others. That’s how it works. I tried to gain the other man’s focus, but he was more interested in quenching his thirst. Upon leaving, I simply encouraged them both to look us Kingdom Racing on the Internet and send us email.
Afterward came a meeting with Bob Hills and David Storvick of the INDYCAR Ministry, hosting the local Area Director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Dave Turnball, and his wife for an afternoon introduction to INDYCAR racing. Neither had ever been to a race before. Their eyes were opened. Concerned mainly with stick and ball sports, the Turnballs gained a new appreciation of the discipline and athletic ability required to be a racing driver.
During their indoctrination to our incredible sport and explanation of how God is working through us within its ranks, we discussed plans for increasing the reach of our ministry into the local community next season. By the end of the night, we all came away with a decent plan of how we might be able to partner together to accomplish that task over the next year. While they left to return home to Des Moines, I stayed and took in the excitement of the USAC Midgets and Silver Crown racing to finish off Friday night’s action before returning to the hotel in Marshalltown, 30 miles to the north. Along the drive, the cornfields were sparkling with what could only be described as thousands of fireflies. It resembled a scene from Star Wars. It was beautiful and I gave thanks to God for such serenity.
The late Saturday schedule afforded an opportunity to catch up on some sleep before heading to the track in the early afternoon. The first item on the agenda was to grab a quick bite to eat, where again I took an empty table and waited for fans to drop by. It didn’t take long. A middle-aged couple asked to join and was given a warm KR reception. We got to talking and it was evident that the man and his wife were huge INDYCAR fans, having attended the Indianapolis 500 off and on since 1985. It was a great conversation and you could tell that they were quite enthusiastic about the sport.
When they asked what I did for the team, I let them have it, or as we like to say, I “gave ‘em heaven.” Neither of them had heard of Kingdom Racing, though they were already fans of Sam and Davey. By the time we were finished, they were also Kingdom and Simon Pagenaud fans. They offered thanks for the hero cards and information shared about serving God in the racing world. When they left, they promised to root for the No. 77.
I was stoked. There are few things as exciting as reaching people for Christ, especially at a race track where they least expect it. I returned to the car to drop off a few things and restock on hero cards.
As I stood there looking around the burgeoning parking lot and prepared to return to the infield, I felt God sending me in a different direction. He explicitly directed me to go and talk to the fans. With a handful of hero cards and a smile on my face, I went from tailgate to tent alike, greeting fans and spreading the message about Kingdom Racing. This went on for nearly two hours and I met some amazing folks. They spoke of how much they loved INDYCAR racing and the fact that we raced at Iowa Speedway. Most of them could recall with clarity their favorite moments in every INDYCAR event held there over the past five years. The fans in Iowa are incredible and ravenous.
God knew exactly what he was doing with the assigned mission of walking the parking lots. I easily met one hundred people or more and was able to share the Kingdom Racing mission with every single one. I only wish I could have stayed longer, but as chapel service was scheduled for 5:00 pm, I had to return to the infield to help Pastor Bob.
INDYCAR Ministry chapel service is always inspirational. It seems that Pastor Bob Hills always has the right message at the right time to deliver to the racing community. On Saturday, the Message was about God’s Speed versus the concept of luck. He explained how he always wished the drivers and teams God’s Speed rather than “good luck.” With Simon and the No. 77 team starting from dead last position, 25th, it was a poignant sermon.
No sooner had the chapel service ended than the skies opened up and rain descended upon Iowa Speedway. The media center lobby grew packed with folks seeking shelter. It was there that God presented the opportunity to meet up with a couple of Kingdom Racing Facebook fans and biological brothers, Chris and Brent Nielsen. While the rain soaked the facility, we enjoyed some time to get to know each other and I was able to give them a small stack of hero cards to hand out to their friends. One of the great things about social media is that it allows us to interface with fans from around the world. It then becomes so gratifying when the opportunity arises to actually meet those fans in person. With the Nielsen brothers, the path had come full circle and it was all afforded because of a rain delay. It’s always fun to see God work like that!
Slowly, the rain subsided but the entire facility was inundated with water. It became apparent that the Indy Lights race scheduled to run prior to the INDYCAR race would not be getting the green flag on time. Facility staff began efforts to dry the track before the sky opened again. By that time, feeling the pangs of hunger and knowing that it was going to be a long night, I grabbed dinner and went back to meet fans at the picnic tables where once more I was joined by a wonderful couple who’d never heard of Kingdom Racing. We sat and chatted about INDYCAR, Iowa, and the mission to deliver God’s Word through motorsports for nearly an hour while crews worked to dry the track, this time for good.
The Lights race was pushed back to follow the main event and amazingly the track was ready to go racing by 9:30 pm, only thirty minutes later than originally scheduled.
There comes a point that you go into race mode, snapping photos while the crew prepares car and driver for the big contest. For the first time in his career, Simon Pagenaud would be starting from the rear of the field. That the fact excited him is a testament to his incredible mentality. He saw it as a challenge and was ready to tackle it headlong. What happened next could easily become legend.
From last place on the grid, and going down a lap to begin the race, Simon and the No. 77 team charged to the front of the field, reaching as high as second before finishing the night in fifth place. Sometimes it’s not the winning driver that captivates the crowd. This was testimony in Iowa on a cool, damp Saturday night. Simon thrilled the crowd by overcoming 20 positions and a lost lap over the course of 250 extremely quick laps.
What’s more, many of the top title contenders were taken out of the race through engine failures and crashes. The solid Top 5 finish helped move Simon 18 points closer to the championship lead than he was going into the event, though he remained in sixth place in the standings.
It was learned on race day that Simon’s girlfriend’s father passed away earlier in the week and it weighed heavily on his heart and mind. Simon was very close to Lucy’s father. He watched every one of Simon’s races. He said after the race in Iowa that he could feel him right there with him in the driver’s seat. Following the race, I approached Simon and offered our condolences for his and Lucy’s loss. There in the pit box, Simon and I prayed, asking God for strength, compassion, and fortitude for all of those affected by his loss and offered gracious thanks for his having blessed and inspired so many lives. It was apparent when Simon emerged from the race car that he was emotional. If you are reading this, please offer your continued prayers for Simon and Lucy’s families.
What an incredible weekend! It was incredible for God, for teamwork, for overcoming adversity and for never giving up. Yep, that just about sums up the entire Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports and Kingdom Racing team effort and attitude. Never say die. Never give up. Keep going even when things appear most gloomy. When you hear God telling you to go out and meet the fans, you don’t squabble. You simply go. You show up. In doing just that, you’ve already won half of the battle.
As I departed Iowa for a twelve hour drive home, I had time to reflect on what happened during the weekend. God was definitely at work, not only through Kingdom Racing, but also through the entire No. 77 crew. Over the course of two days came many peaks and valleys, both in ministry and racing. But the team overcame and persevered through to the end, never betraying the mission to obtain results.
Who knows what all of those people introduced to Kingdom Racing and urged to cheer for Simon Pagenaud were thinking as they witnessed his amazing drive toward the front of the field? The impact is unknown. But what is certain is that they all took notice. As engaged and enthusiastic as the Iowa fans were, you can absolutely bet they took notice. And when they got home and pulled out those memento hero cards, I pray that God let the Message soak in that there is more to us than racing, that we humbly serve an Almighty God and His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. I pray that they visit KingdomRacing.net and find out more about what we do and stand for. And I pray that all of them reach out and touch base however God leads them.
More than anything, I pray that they see that no matter how exciting and incredible a race team’s efforts are that all glory and praise belongs to God for giving the platform to spread His Word. Amen to that!
Don't forget to check out our photos from Iowa HERE.
As Christ leads…We are…KR!