Easter and Christmas have always been yearly highlights to our family though never because of gifts — in a time when children received presents only for birthdays and Christmas — or egg hunts and new dresses.
We understood that Christmas and Easter were about the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The gifts and new clothes only added to the excitement.
I’ve never known anyone who loves Easter like my friend, Stevie. Midway through Lent, she starts sending texts about the celebration of the Day of Grace brought forth by the Cross.
Last year shortly before Easter, her only sibling, Carol, died somewhat unexpectedly despite having been sick for a while. Topping that off, Stevie’s husband, former race car driver, Darrell Waltrip, was going to Bristol for the NASCAR race to participate in a church service before the race and then in the broadcast.
Stevie, glumly, was telling me that she would be alone for Easter. I hated to hear that; but more importantly, I was stunned. NASCAR, racing on Easter?
When I worked in the sport, and decades after, NASCAR always took off the Sundays of Easter and Mother’s Day. They raced on Father’s Day. I found it meaningful that the sport celebrated mothers, who were often at home, while their husbands traveled, and Easter because, especially in the South, it is a monumental holiday.
“They’re racing on Easter?” I knew that Mother’s Day had already been snatched away.
But the upside was that the only way that the town of Bristol and track folks would agree to it was if there was a church service, televised. The Waltrips are founding members of the sport’s ministry, Motor Racing Outreach, and have served on the board for 35 years. I was one of 15 who attended the first chapel service that MRO’s original minister, Max Helton, conducted. Over the years, MRO has become an invaluable resource for the NASCAR family.
Bristol, a community of faith, got their way. Renowned pastor and author, Max Lucado, conducted the service and famed musicians Chris Tomlin and Gary LeVox sang. Though I hated to see racing on Easter, I decided that it could be a good thing — that people who never attend church but who would pile in for the race, could hear the gospel of salvation. Hopefully, some found Christ’s grace at a dirt track in East Tennessee. Too bad, Bristol didn’t require a baptizing at a nearby river, too.
To comfort Stevie, Tink and I went to Nashville to spend the weekend with her and attend church. Their pastor, Dr. Grant, is a favorite Bible teacher of Tink’s. It was a lovely, reverent service and not one kid ran through the aisles, sucking a lollipop and toting a bunny.
Yet, I am troubled that this, another organization, is pushing a Holy holiday into secular gain. Already, retail companies have eliminated the words, “Easter” and “Christmas” from their myriad ads.
When legendary car owner and dealer, Rick Hendrick, was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame a few years ago, he told a story that I will remember always.
He owned one car — the number 5, driven by Geoff Bodine. Quickly, the sport was draining Hendrick’s pocketbook. He called the team together and sadly announced that Martinsville, Virginia, would be their final race.
It occurred on a weekend that Rick had promised his wife, Linda, that he would attend a tent revival with her — this was 1984, before cell phones. So, as soon as salvation was wrought and revival ended, Rick dashed to a pay phone to find out the race results of his last stock car race.
“We won!” was the stunning reply. It was the first of 293 NASCAR wins and 12 premier championships to come for Hendrick Motorsports.
“I made the right decision,” he said, smiling, that night.
I would recommend the same decision to others: put church and family before racing.
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]