Alabama Baptists minister to race fans in Talladegacomment (1)
May 17, 2012
By Brian Harris
Twice a year a pilgrimage begins for many throughout the Southeast. People pack up their belongings and relocate to Talladega Superspeedway in east central Alabama. Approximately 108,500 fans of drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards live in tents, recreational vehicles or commute in over the three-day event making the area the fifth largest in the state. They proudly wear attire that proclaims their allegiance to their driver of choice and yell loudly their disdain or approval for the other drivers. To say they are passionate, is an understatement.
As fans drive into Talladega they can’t help but see Frank Nelson and a large group of volunteers from North Highlands Baptist Church, Hueytown, manning the tents set up along the entrance to the speedway. They hand out free coffee, water and a race schedule with information printed on the back about what it means to be a Christian.
Dawn Welliver, a race fan from Orlando, Fla., stopped by the area asking for information about the next day’s race and landed in a 10-minute conversation sharing about herself, her life and her walk with Christ.
Welliver thanked the volunteers for their work as she headed on to her destination.
It was quite possible Welliver happened upon more volunteers from Alabama Baptist churches because several were present around the speedway grounds as part of Alabama Raceway Ministries (ARM) — just like North Highlands Baptist.
ARM was formed in 1982 by Frank and Betty Stark, raceway ministries pioneers from Missouri, in order to reach out to fans that gather at Talladega.
The ministry has grown to eight ministry locations around the speedway grounds. All sites are sponsored by Alabama Baptist associations and churches. Each site has a unique purpose and vision as to how they minister to the race fans, but all work to serve as the hands and feet of Christ as they do so. Each site also has a volunteer-led worship service for race fans on Sunday morning at 9 a.m.
The sites are Commuter Site, sponsored by North Highlands Baptist; Champions Corner, sponsored by churches from Southeast Alabama; Family Campground, sponsored by Columbia Baptist Association and churches; Infield, sponsored by Morgan and Russell Baptist associations and churches; West Park C, sponsored by St. Clair Association and churches; North Park, sponsored by Birmingham and Calhoun Baptist associations and churches; C & C Campground, sponsored by Coosa River Baptist Association and churches; Dove Ridge Campground, sponsored by First Baptist Church, Montgomery.
At Champions Corner Campground, Allen Singley, youth pastor at Grandview Baptist Church, Dothan, shared how Alabama Baptists have hosted a site at the unique alcohol-free campground since its opening in 2007.
“When it opened, the track actually called Alabama Raceway Ministries director Mike Jackson and asked about a group serving as campground host,” he said. “We’ve been here since the first race this ... campground opened.”
The ARM volunteers help race fans find where to park their RVs and provide meals.
“Any of the campers that want to eat with us do,” he said. “A lot of the things we do from parking campers to feeding them is about building relationships.
“Race fans are like good Baptists. They find what they like. They like to sit in the same spot. They like to camp in the same campground. So some of them we talk to throughout the year,” Singley said. “They send us email and Facebook messages with different things that we can pray about for them.”
And over the years of this ministry, many people have come to the saving knowledge of Christ.
Jackson remembered one incident that made it all real for him.
“A few years back I met Jerry in the North Park Campground. It was one of those weeks where it rained constantly and attendance was light at our Sunday morning worship service,” Jackson said. “To tell the truth, I was ready to go home. We went into our closing prayer and I bowed my head. When I raised my head standing right in front of me was Jerry.
“Despite my attitude and the rain, it was still all about God, not me,” he said. “I was able to lead Jerry in the sinner’s prayer right there.”
As the NASCAR sprint cup drivers spend the latter part of Saturday morning qualifying for the race on Sunday, there’s a buzz in the infield ministry center. Children and parents are gathered around tables with small pieces of wood, painting them and dressing them up for that evening’s “Timothy Cup” races that will take place following the afternoon race.
Zach Kendrick, a volunteer with ARM ministry partner Timothy Cup Ministries, said, “We have different things like crafts and a wooden block car that is already ready to go. (In the evening) we are going to have a pine wood derby race. It’s an opportunity to bring kids in to our site from inside the infield and have the opportunity to share the gospel.”
With the recent Talladega race where Brad Keselowski brought home his sixth career cup victory, Kendrick is attending his 22nd Timothy Cup race in a row.
“When I first started coming, I didn’t know Christ,” Kendrick said. “After I gave my life up to Christ as a teenager, I can tell a difference in myself personally. ... I’m not just here for a race. I’m here to share the gospel.
“People come in, maybe with a beer in their hand, or whatever. But we don’t care,” he said. “We want to share the gospel and meet people where they are at, just love on them.”
Over at West Park C, Bud Jackson, a member of Bethel Baptist Church, Odenville, talked about his motivation to minister to race fans. “We are in a dying and lost world, and I don’t want people to spend eternity without Christ.”
Many ARM volunteers said they believe if Christ was here walking on earth today, this is where He would be — at the racetrack among the fans.
For more information about ARM, visit www.alsbom.org/racewayministries.
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