Concord ministry brings faith to NASCAR

For more than two decades, Concord-based Motor Racing Outreach has toured the NASCAR circuit, offering people hope through scripture.

Billy Mauldin, president and CEO of the nonprofit organization since 1999, competed against eight others last week in the Faster Pastor School Bus Sloberknocker. The event honored the work of MRO and area pastors and churches that help with mission work at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The event was part of the 18th annual Summer Shootout series, which runs through July 26. Mauldin represented MRO, while pastors and church members represented churches from Charlotte, Mooresville and Salisbury.

Todd Watson, assistant pastor at The River Church of God in Salisbury, won the school bus race. Mauldin finished second, and Tony Arnett, pastor at Central Church of God in Charlotte, finished third. Charlotte media will participate in the Media Mayhem school bus race on June 28.

MRO's ministry organization has been sharing God and faith throughout motorsports communities since 1988. Max Helton founded the organization, in part, so NASCAR drivers, their families, crewmembers, media, speedway employees and others could attend church services while traveling the circuit or working at races.

It evolved from Friday-night Bible studies. Today, it includes a touring series ministry, fan outreach and evangelism, and in-home and race shop discipleship. Its Motor Racing Outreach Association includes about three dozen certified chaplains who tour speedways throughout the nation. MRO's 13 full-time employees and hundreds of volunteers help make sure its presence is felt throughout the track.

"There's not a driver out there we haven't prayed with on a Sunday before the start of the race," said Mauldin, who grew up in Charlotte but passed the speedway every Sunday on the way to church in Concord.

MRO also partners with Cabarrus County churches and other organizations to connect people with resources that range from marriage counseling to weekly Bible study. Cabarrus churches adopt camping areas at the speedway and commit to perform mission work for at least three years.

Mauldin, a graduate of Appalachian State University, said MRO's partnerships and the behind-the-scenes work have the most impact.

"When they roll off on Sunday, there are 43 individuals driving those cars, and there are 4,000 other individuals behind those cars, making them go," said Mauldin. "And everybody has their own story, challenges and pressures."

Reaching out to the fans is another major component of MRO.

"If you imagine this race track on race day, there are probably 200,000 people here total," said Mauldin. "You have everyone from the volunteers to paid staff to the fans to inside the track - the drivers, the team owners to the guys who work on the cars. There's a whole world of people. It's like a traveling small city."

Mauldin said MRO is there to let people know there is always hope.

"For us, the primary thing is to help people understand that there is a God that loves them and cares for them, and when they feel like they're in this alone, (we) show them that they're really not."

Mauldin compared the struggles people face to superstitions.

"Everybody in their lives, at some point, hits a moment," he said. "We all want to pretend there's not a 13th floor in a hotel, but there is. A lot of times, that's the way we live life. We want to pretend there are no problems or issues, but then, finally, Floor 13 catches up with you. Our primary goal is to help people see it's OK, and they're not standing alone."

Fans flock to speedways partly because of the excitement and the danger, but the sport also has become popular because of the sense of belonging fans feel at races, said Mauldin.

MRO and its chaplains have dealt with some harsh realities over the years. Fans have been injured, a mother went into labor, people have had heart attacks and some have died.

"This is how serious it can get," said Mauldin. "It shows why we could be needed."

Mauldin's fondest memory while working with MRO was during a race at Talladega, where he performed his first invocation, or pre-race prayer.

"Thousands of people stood to their feet, they removed their hats and it got so quiet you could hear a pin drop," he said. "I have no clue to this day what I prayed, but what struck me was the respect for God that was shown. And, even to this day, when you hear an invocation done at a race track, the fans absolutely appreciate it."

Mauldin is building a home in Cabarrus County, where he will raise his four kids with his wife.