For those who attend the same church every Sunday, it’s easy to take for granted having a spiritual leader who is there for you when needed. The drivers and crew of the IndyCar racing circuit wouldn’t have that help if not for IndyCar Ministry.
“For the average [IndyCar] fan, as you turn on the TV, you see the beautiful cars; you see the crew in matching outfits; you see the ‘production side’ of things. What you see on TV looks really good, really professional,” said Jason Holt, a Florida pastor and IndyCar Ministry chaplain.
That slick, fancy appearance masks a high-stress job. Being away from family and the inherent danger due to the nature of the sport can take a toll.
“It’s a very broken environment, [and] many people try to find a solution for the brokenness,” Holt said. “That turns to a lot of things that are destructive.”
However, the dark environment has “provided a great opportunity for the gospel to be shared, to be lived, to be reflected,” he said.
As an elite sport, the IndyCar community is tight-knit, with its own language and cultural dynamics. And according to Holt, you’re either “in or out.”
Holt was a driver for 24 years, and before he became a Christian, he partied with some of the same guys he now helps.
“They trust me because I can’t pretend to be something I’m not,” Holt explained. “It has really opened the door for some gospel conversations. It brings a little bit of hope when people are dejected, frustrated, depressed, struggling.”
The IndyCar world is rough, both physically and emotionally. People are hard on each other and provide little encouragement. The crews work long hours in the hot sun before race days and have few days off during the season.
Furthermore, they recognize the car they are building — a vehicle with top speeds of about 240 mph — will carry a human life.
“I’ve had stressful days at work, but I didn’t have somebody’s life in my bare hands,” Holt said.
IndyCar Ministry used to look very different, reaching out both to fans and racing professionals. They conducted a Sunday church service, complete with music and a sermon.
About five years ago, they realized they were being spread too thin and that the approach was ineffective.
“We were framing ministry in the lens of the American culture that ministry happens in four walls,” Holt explained. “That’s not accurate. Churches are great, but that’s not it.”
Having a church service on race day meant people were leaving work to worship, even if it was only for the 30–45 minutes the service lasted.
This caused resentment on the teams and put more work on others.
Delegating the fan side to volunteers, they changed their approach.
“We scrapped all of that. [Now] we do a ‘Pit Stop,’ a short devotional at the tech pad, a central location. Guys can leave for 5 to 10 minutes, get a little nugget of the Word, a little encouragement and then go back to work,” Holt explained.
Instead of the five to six who were attending church, 30 to 40 now attend the Pit Stop. “The other side of it that’s been beautiful is that we’ve put such focus on relational connections,” Holt said.
‘God opens the doors’
“We’re finding that the more we relationally connect with people, God opens the doors on His own. We don’t have to barge them open. The consistency of our presence is what paves the way for gospel conversations,” Holt said.
During the 100th running of the Indy500 in 2016, Holt led his regular small group at Andretti’s shop. As the largest race in history with half a million fans, there was increased pressure.
A member of Holt’s small group on Alexander Rossi’s team struggled with getting fuel in the car, costing valuable time.
Two stops in a row, he made a big mistake on fueling and almost got pulled. Holt prayed with him and Rossi ended up winning the race.
“That was a powerful moment of reflection of how God can use us in the little times,” Holt said. “I get to do something most people only dream about — living out [my] passion in a way that’s not just about me. It’s about Him and how He created me to be used by Him.”
For more information, go to indycarministry.org or check out their Facebook page for specific ways to pray.