NASCAR drivers say prayer, faith important on and off the track

Prayer is still held before many sporting events, but NASCAR is one of the few professional sports that proudly encourages racers to be vocal about their faith and broadcasts the prayer during the pre-race traditions.

“Ever since I’ve been a part of it — for 23 years — the invocation has always been part of pre-race, just like the national anthem and ‘Drivers start your engines,’” said Brian Crichton, president of Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway.

“It’s something that I’m supportive of, and I feel that it’s something that the racetracks do to provide that thought. This prayer is toward a safe race and protection of the drivers and the fans and all of the staff, and to be thankful for what we have.”

‘Faith affects everything’

NASCAR has several drivers who are outspoken about their faith.

Darrell Waltrip, who competed from 1972-2000, was one of the first and has been active for years in Motor Racing Outreach, which is still providing prayer and spiritual support for racers and their families today.

Another driver, Michael McDowell, was asked how his faith affects his racing. “I don’t want to give you a generic answer that’s avoiding the question, but it’s not — it’s my answer.

“My faith affects everything I do — not just my career, but my life and my family and the choices we make and the things we do. I can’t separate it. It’s ingrained in the DNA of who I am.”

McDowell took this question one step further when he shared his faith with NASCAR fans on the Sunday morning of the 2023 Talladega race.

After explaining about being asked about his faith the day before, he said, “It caused me to reflect and think about the gospel, the message of John 3:16. The gospel in its fullness is radically scandalous. It’s incredible.”

He continued by sharing how he “went from here, literally to a 180” and how he went “all in.” He encouraged those listening that “it doesn’t matter where you’re at or what you’ve done.”

“God loves you and has a plan for you. But it requires us to ask Him into our lives and give Him everything we’ve got — all in,” he said.

On track and off

William Byron, sponsored by Liberty University, had a different take on this question.

“I think it’s just living my [faith] off the track. I don’t think it really changes my decision-making inside the car, because the racetrack is really its own thing once in that zone. But certainly off the track — just the way I live my life, reading devotions, just living from Monday to Saturday or even Sunday morning (until the race).”

Driver Aric Almirola said, “I think it helps me not allow the highs to get too high and let the lows get too low. It’s really an emotional sport. You can easily fall into the trap of feeling like your value is based on your result that weekend. I think that’s what my faith has really done for me.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. went into this season with many more losses than wins. However, his faith stayed strong.

“Our lives are ever-changing, but we just know that we have the one constant — and that is our faith and our belief in God,” Stenhouse told the U.S. Sun after winning the 2023 Daytona 500.

“That’s what we stick to because we have a lot of bad days at the track. The good days are few and far between.

“It’s hard to win races and it’s hard to have good runs these days with the competitiveness, so it’s our faith that we try to stick to.

“Ups and downs are tough. That’s part of the sport. I know that our purpose isn’t always for what we do every weekend. It’s more about what we do before the race, in chapel.

“I grew up in church at an early age with my family. If I wanted to race on Saturday nights, Mom made sure that we needed to be at church on Sunday morning. That was always a big thing throughout my life, and I still do that today.

“I know we race on Sundays, but we go to chapel on Sunday mornings, and I think it puts into perspective how important your priorities are in your life. Racing is important, but it’s not the top priority.”

— Tracy Riggs Frontz writes for The Alabama Baptist.