Virtual Voices

NASCAR's new ambassador

Sports

Quick. Name the only major American professional sport that opens every event with not only the national anthem but also corporate prayer. And we're not talking about a neutered, politically correct offering to some generic deity but a bold petition to our Triune God in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

If you answered "NASCAR," you would be correct.

With that distinction, it is only fitting that racing's brightest star on the horizon is a young, unashamed believer from Knoxville, Tenn., named Trevor Bayne.

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This fresh-faced kid shocked the sports world last Sunday by becoming the youngest driver ever to win the Super Bowl of stock car racing, the Daytona 500. Just one day past his 20th birthday and in only his second Sprint Cup Series start, Bayne took the checkered flag in front of a slew of veteran drivers who have been trying to win the "Great American Race" their entire career. For perspective, consider that it took two decades for the legendary Dale Earnhardt, who died on a last-lap crash at the track 10 years ago, to finally pick up a Daytona 500 trophy.

It was a great storyline: the young, inexperienced driver piloting a car for the oldest and one of the most esteemed race teams in the sport, the Wood Brothers, which had fallen on hard times in recent years. But there's more to this young man than his unprecedented victory.

He first caught my attention last year racing in NASCAR's "Triple-A" Nationwide Series, running strong throughout the season. But more impressive were his interviews with trackside reporters. He had an earnestness and sincerity in his voice that many young athletes seem to lack these days, and it didn't come across as fake or forced in any way. Something was different about him.

Even when the national spotlight was thrust upon him this week, he maintained that same demeanor.

Other drivers have noticed it, too.

"I'm really happy for him," four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon told reporters after Sunday's race. "And I think it's great for the sport. To have a young talent like that-he's got that spark, you know?"

Carl Edwards, who finished second behind Bayne at Daytona, added, "He is really a nice young man, a great guy to represent this sport with this win. I think the world's going to like him a lot."

(Including a certain 15-year-old girl in our home, who used to complain whenever I watched a race on TV but was by my side and glued to the screen during Sunday's closing laps.)

So who does Bayne credit with his sudden success?

"We pray a lot," he said in Daytona's Victory Lane. "We expect a lot of things. But this just shows how powerful God is."

Their commitment to prayer was evident even during last Sunday's pace laps prior to the start of the race. Most drivers were on their radios talking last-minute strategy with their crew; Bayne spent that time praying with his team.

Of course, sudden fame can change a person, especially when you come home with a winner's check totaling $1,462,563. So what will Bayne do with his share?

"I've got a lot of friends that are in mission work," he told ESPN. "There's a ministry called Back2Back Ministries down in Mexico I'd like to help out."

Bayne not only wants to help this ministry to orphans monetarily, but also has spent time in Mexico with the organization.

"Trevor fell in love with Back2Back and the orphans of Monterrey," writes Back2Back's Lonnie Clouse on the ministry's website. "Trevor was not afraid to get his hands dirty. He worked on several construction projects such as fixing a broken gas line at one of the children's homes (orphanages) and he also played soccer and loved on the orphans."

Clouse first met Bayne through a trackside Bible study and weekly chapel services conducted by Motor Racing Outreach.

"It was evident from the moment that I met Trevor that he was a young man that was not ashamed of his walk with Jesus Christ," Clouse writes. "I would occasionally have him read the Scripture at the start of our chapel services or open in prayer. Trevor was bound and determined to share the story of Christ's love any chance he had."

Now this young man finds himself on a much larger stage to share the gospel with the racing world and beyond.

As Bayne acknowledged on Twitter earlier this week:

".. To whom much is given, much will be demanded.. -luke 12:48 appreciate ur prayers and support!!!"

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