Tuesday, August 07, 2001

Speedway chaplin has a drive to serve

The Associated Press

        WHITESVILLE — Under the hot sun at Kentucky Motor Speedway one recent Sunday, Michael Morris was waiting for race fans, or even a driver or pit crew member to stop by for a chat or to ask for prayer.

        His on-track ministry, called the Raceway Ministries shelter, is run by him and his wife, Ivy.

        Fans often stop by for the free ice water, bibles and even inspirational books written by drivers.

        “It's inviting,” says Mr. Morris, a former stunt driver who is the volunteer chaplain at the speedway near Owensboro. “They need God just as much as people sitting on the pews. Maybe even more out here.”

        During the week, Mr. Morris works as a mechanic while his wife is a secretary in Evansville. But nearly every Sunday, from May to October, the Morrises are at the track, ministering to drivers, crew members and 1,200 or more fans.

        Mr. Morris isn't ordained and has no seminary degree, though he has taken seminary extension classes.

        He often holds an early afternoon chapel service at the speedway, leads the drivers in a prayer for their safety before races, and gives a public invocation.

        The Morrises are paid nothing to run the ministry, which is in its second year and has taken on a second track on Saturdays in Morgantown.

        Mr. Morris said he became a Christian in 1992 while in a substance abuse treatment program.

        Kentucky Motor Speedway owner Barney Lain estimates that about 75 percent of the race fans at his track aren't Christian. Lain and his wife, Karen, bought the 40-year-old track a decade ago and wanted to change the facility's tradition of holding races on Sunday. But having races on other days never succeeded, he said.

        So in an attempt to blend business with faith, he decided to bring in a chaplain.

        Mr. Lain said many ministers he spoke to weren't comfortable with preaching at a racetrack. He said Mr. Morris didn't have that reluctance.

        “He instantly bonded with everybody there,” Mr. Lain said.


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