The annual “Hillbilly 100” dirt track race at the Tyler County Speedway in rural West Virginia is dubbed “America’s oldest dirt late model event.”
It also is a dust-laden missions field for volunteers from Indian Creek Southern Baptist Church in Alma, West Virginia and Upper Ohio Valley Baptist Association in Moundsville, West Virginia.
Why invest Labor Day weekend ministering to race fans? For Chuck Morrow, director of missions for the association, the obvious answer is, “Why not?”
“Every soul is important. Every person that crosses our way is important,” Morrow declared. “And when there’s large platforms and events like this, why not?
“You just meet people the way that Jesus met them. He met them where they were at,” Morrow added. “What better way to be able to meet people where they’re at than going to a race, going to a campground?”
During their brief encounters “we’re being the hands and feet of Jesus. It’s about building relationships, helping them know that people do care about them.”
Thousands of race fans
As the “granddaddy” of late model dirt track races starts each year, thousands of fans descend on the area and hundreds of campers jam into the Tyler County Fairgrounds for a weekend of relaxation, revelry and racing.
This year the first few races went off without a hitch, including the “Hillbilly 50,” the modified “White Lightnin’ 35” and the SportMod “Moonshiner 20.” Race organizers even worked in a cornhole tournament, hillbilly mullet contest and “best hillbilly-themed campsite” judging.
For the third year in a row, however, the marquee “Hillbilly 100” race failed to take off. The legendary race that debuted in 1967 was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, rained out last year and postponed for a month this year, also due to rain.
Despite the disappointing setback, race ministry volunteers still had opportunities to visit with fans.
“One thing that we’ve learned in any ministry is you have to learn to be more than flexible — you have to learn to be fluid,” said Dave Barrick, who coordinates the race ministry in his volunteer role as missions and evangelism team leader for UOVBA.
Barrick also coordinates Indian Creek’s Redline Racing Ministry which serves at other events throughout the year. Redline’s straightforward mission statement declares: “We love Jesus. We love race fans. We want them to meet.”
Chalking up dozens of campsite visits alongside a few other volunteers on Saturday, Barrick said, “I personally approach each camper with an open mind and I kind of let them lead me to how I’m going to share with them.”
Sharing the word of God
Team members distribute brochures that include the weekend’s race schedule, a brief gospel message and an invitation to visit Indian Creek SBC, located just a couple of miles from the speedway. The idea is that they will hang on to the brochure for the race schedule and hopefully read the rest of the information as well.
Barrick said volunteers seek to approach campers “in a way that you’re befriending them, you’re not trying to push anything down their throat they don’t want to hear. … We just like to be able to share the word of the Lord with them.
“Before I accepted the Lord into my heart, I was one of those guys out there in the campground drinking beer and doing what they call ‘having fun,’” Barrick acknowledged. “I’m not proud of it, but I believe that it was a thing that God let me go through so He could teach me a lot of things.”
Professing faith in Christ in his early 50s, Barrick added, “I think they’re much more receptive to me because I can speak their language.”
Describing nonbelievers as “potential Christians,” Barrick said some people “just haven’t had the opportunity of anybody telling them about Christ in such a way that they can understand it. You have to talk to them in a language that they understand.”
Bobby Thomas, founding pastor of Indian Creek, has served the church 24 years and knows the region well.
“Racing is a big part of our community and we have racers in our church as well,” he noted. “The reason this ministry was started was because there’s a desire in the people’s hearts for racing, and then there’s the desire in the hearts of the people to win the lost.”
Making personal connections
Thomas said the key to effective ministry, whether at a speedway or elsewhere, is making personal connections and building relationships.
“They’re giving us that window of opportunity to come into their lives for that very moment,” he reflected. “It’s finding that connection that we have and then moving that to sharing the love of Christ with them.”
Thomas compared the race outreach to the Apostle Paul’s ministry philosophy in I Corinthians 9:22: “I have become all things to all men, that by all means I may win some.”
Encouraging fellow believers, churches and associations to “seek where God is directing you to go,” Thomas encouraged them to “look at the opportunities God has placed in your community around you.
“The design is not for them to come to us but for us to go to them. Jesus told us to go to the world; that’s the model of what Jesus did. … Every opportunity is a God opportunity.”
For race ministry volunteers at the “Hillbilly 100,” those God opportunities are making an impact one person at a time — come rain or shine.