(February 18, 2001)
The grandstands at Dover Downs International Speedway in Delaware
are packed with nearly 145,000 anxious fans waiting for the MBNA 400
NASCAR race to begin. Minutes before the green flag drops and the
36 competitors maneuver into the starting grid, Dan Schafer, pastor
of Calvary A/G in Hightstown, N.J., steps to the infield podium. Facing
a sea of bowed heads he offers a prayer of thanksgiving and Gods
protection for the drivers, officials and fans. Loudspeakers blast
his voice throughout the one-mile track. Schafer has been doing this
at Dover Downs since 1991 because, as he says, "It creates an
open door for Christ to be presented."
|Dan Schafer gives
the race invocation.
In the racing world driv-ers and their crews are a close-knit subculture
leading a nomadic, hectic lifestyle. Fiercely competitive, they live
on the edge facing death or crippling injuries in every race. Their
high-performance V-8 cars roar like rockets around banked turns hitting
speeds approaching 160 mph. But all the glamour, big-money payoffs,
lucrative endorsements and adulation of fans do not bring peace. Loneliness,
family problems, fear and temptation go along for the ride.
Because many races are held on Sundays, many involved in the racing
world cannot attend a traditional church. Yet the Holy Spirit is drawing
them into the Kingdom. "They are open to the gospel," says
Dale Beaver, touring chaplain with Motor Racing Outreach, a specialized
evangelistic ministry. "There is a deep need for God in their
Schafers racing ministry began in 1982 after he witnessed a
tragic accident at a speedway. "The driver was killed right in
front of us," he recalls. "As a pastor I sat in the bleachers
and was moved by the fact people didnt know what to say or do."
Challenged to meet a need, he offered to serve as chaplain of a local
speedway in New Jersey. When the owner agreed, Schafer and his wife,
Ruth Ann, launched an outreach to those involved in motor sports.
Schafer was also able to use his photography skills to shoot action
photos at races for trade newspapers and magazines. As a member of
the Eastern Motor Sports Press Association he is welcomed at national
During last years racing season Schafer ministered regularly
at three New Jersey tracks on Friday nights and Saturdays. Along with
invocations, he leads chapel services, prays with drivers and fans,
conducts funerals and shares the gospel individually. When a driver
is injured, Schafer rides along in an ambulance to a hospital. Schaffer
is accepted by the racing community and enjoys access to the pits
and the garage where the cars are prepped before a race. "We
felt the best way to reach these people was to build a bridge of friendship,"
Building trust took time. His first chapel service incited jeers
from drivers telling him to go home.
But Schafer persisted. Calvary A/G sponsors a Racers Sunday every
Easter when the speedways are closed. Race cars are displayed in the
church parking lot. Drivers and crews from drag, stock car and quarter
midget races eat a hearty buffet breakfast, receive trophies and hear
the gospel. "Its a Kingdom-building ministry," he
says. The event attracted 138 visitors last year.
Peter K. Johnson