Thursday, May 24, 2012


Like a lot of boys growing up in the South I was once enamored with stock car racing.  My parents regularly attended the NASCAR events in Charlotte, NC and Bristol, TN, and always brought me back souvenir programs.  I would spend hours looking at the action photos and reading the drivers' biographies.  When I was six years old my dad took me to a race at the old Asheville-Weaverville Speedway.  Remarkably, though, I only attended one other race, the National 500 in Charlotte, when I was a teen.  Most of the time we listened to the races on the radio; and I had a part-time job at dad's radio station, giving the station ID and running spots during the cued breaks in the live feed from the Motor Racing Network.

One funny story: when I was around four or five we were traveling on winding US Highway 441 over the Great Smokies toward my grandparents' home in Sevierville, TN (at that time the section of I-40 that follows the Pigeon River was not yet complete).  Just over the state line there had been an accident which brought all traffic flow to a stop.  My dad got out of our car to stretch and take a walk to view the accident scene.  On his way he discovered that driver James Hilton was towing his race car to an event.  A few minutes later he brought the driver to my car window.  "Look son, this is James Hilton."  He reached in to shake my hand.  "Yes," I said, "I saw you race at Weaverville."   "Who is your favorite driver?" he had to ask.  "I pull for number 21."

At the time number 21 was driven by Cale Yarborough.  But that made little difference to me.  I rooted for the car, the white car with a red top and 21 emblazoned in gold numerals on its doors -- the Wood Brothers car from Stuart (as in J.E.B. Stuart), Virginia.  I can't account for it; I just fell in love with that car, and I "pulled" for it no matter who was driving it.

By high school, though, between homework and part-time work and girls my interest in NASCAR -- as with the NFL -- began to wane substantially.  Years later, as a commuter between my home and Charlotte (the speedway being between those two points), I actually began to detest NASCAR.  "Race week" (in October and May) meant nightmarish traffic to and from work.  The sport had become a big money, corporate enterprise.  And it evokes some of the most over-the-top state-worship I've seen associated with sports.  Apache helicopters and sundry fighter jets rumble over our house en route to a flyover of the speedway during the pre-race mass hysteria (Red Square had nothing on the Charlotte Motor Speedway).

So I've ignored racing and simply put up with with the inconvenience it creates semi-annually for most of my adult life.  Except that now, for some odd reason, as inexplicable as my attachment to the 21 car as a kid, I find myself ready to "pull" for the driver of that car at this week's 600 mile race in Charlotte.  I still like the car; it gives me some of those fuzzy memories of childhood.  But I also like the driver, a young man named Trevor Bayne from my hometown of Knoxville, TN.  Last year Bayne was the youngest driver to ever win the Daytona 500, taking the checkered flag in the legendary Wood Brothers car at the age of 20 years and one day.  He is an outspoken Christian.  And he is battling Lyme disease, which has partly caused him to miss a number of races.  But he said something in an interview that stuck out to me: "Whether I win or wreck, I am the same person."  I'm fairly certain he said that in the context of his identity as a believer.  It reminded me of what Barry Cooper points out in Discipleship Explored: that those who believe and have been justified in Christ are counted no less righteous on a bad day, and no more so on a good one.

That's a good point of focus for running a good race.

So, for this Sunday: "boogity, boogity..."

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