BRISTOL, Tenn. – If you’ve been to a NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway, you’ve probably seen them.
They give out water and cookies; they drive golf carts and vans and help people get around; they hand out Bibles and religious tracts; they hold pre-race church services at 15 campgrounds that surround the speedway.
Bristol Raceway Ministries’ hundreds of volunteers are at every race. They come from more than half a dozen Christian denominations and some 50 churches – motivated by a simple desire to share their faith.
“There’s a large percentage of NASCAR fans that don’t go to church anywhere,” said David Wilson, director of the ministry. “We take the church to them.”
The ministry began in the early 1990s, when a group from a local Bristol church held a service at the All-American Campground near the speedway, Wilson said. That group, which came from Virginia Avenue Baptist Church in Bristol, Tenn., got together with another local church group, and Bristol Raceway Ministries was born.
Over two decades, it has grown from a simple sermon to a coordinated operation of more than 300 volunteers serving in more than a dozen different capacities, both inside and outside of the track, on race weekend.
“We do it because we love the Lord and we want to share His love with all the people, and we want to help the people that come to Bristol Motor Speedway,” said Wilson, who does volunteer work for the ministry year-round and also serves as pastor of El Shaddai Baptist Church in Bristol, Va.
“It’s just a blessing to be able to work there and to have the people come to us and have the speedway trust us enough to help them with what we do there.”
He said there have been many stories over the years of people whose lives were changed. During last year’s two races alone, 71 people came to know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.
“One fellow came to me as I was working in the track, the very first race I worked in 2006, and he came up to me and started talking to me about everything that was going on in his life,” Wilson said. “I began to listen to what was going on, and I was able to share Christ with him, and he was able to know Christ in just 30 minutes of talking there on the concourse, under the stands.”
He recalls another man who accepted Christ as his savior during a campground service – and for years came back to that campground on race day to hear the sermon being preached.
In the big family atmosphere that exists among fans who come back year after year, he said, people who’ve been reached through the ministry’s Sunday services often invite their friends – whether longtime campground buddies or new race-week neighbors.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to share what Christ has done and, in doing that, we have made friends that will last for lifetimes,” Wilson said.
“We are what we are because of Jesus Christ, and we do what we do because he didn’t just love us; he loves everybody. We have the opportunity at the major races to minister to sometimes 300,000 people in a weekend. God brings the mission field to us, and it’s our job and our responsibility as His children to go onto that mission field, and that’s what we do.”
To find out more about Bristol Raceway Ministries, visit http://www.bristolracewayministries.org. To get involved, e-mail through the website. Or call Director David Wilson at 423-646-3243 or Executive Director Tom Elam at 423-383-9507.