NASCAR Takes Religion to the Raceway

Amid the torso-rattling, ear-shattering action of NASCAR thrives a rich vein of religion. Auto racing is the only major sport with a pregame invocation, and some drivers are making a point to actively promote their faith.

Driver Bobby Labonte's car featured advertisements for the movie "The Passion of the Christ," and Morgan Shepherd's car simply bears Jesus' name by way of a large decal.

"When I display it on the hood of my car and these people see it, maybe somebody's life will be changed," Shepherd said.

Evangelical pastor Dale Beaver is the assistant director of "Motor Racing Outreach," a ministry for drivers and their families who spend time away from home on the racing circuit. Beaver ministers to drivers and pit crews and runs a mobile Sunday school for their children.

He also holds pre-race prayer services, which are attended by such high-profile drivers as Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.

"Athletes are so worshipped by the fan base that I try to help these guys deflect that worship to one who is greater than they," Beaver said.

Faith a Competitive Advantage

Faith can provide a competitive advantage in the risky sport. If a driver believes he is in God's hands, says driver Michael Waltrip, it minimizes his fear and maximizes his focus.

"I do all I can do, and then I turn it over to him," said Waltrip. "And that way, I don't worry about it. You know, I go out and race."

Beaver prays with drivers before each race, going from car to car to wish each man luck and safety.

He helped the NASCAR community endure tragedy, as well, after legend Dale Earnhardt was killed in a multicar accident during the 2001 Daytona 500.

"He was our Superman," said Beaver of Earnhardt. "When Superman takes a bullet, everybody starts asking questions about life or death."

Perhaps because NASCAR developed in the Bible Belt, it's probably the most openly religious of all sports.

But athletes in other sports have increasingly become public about their faith -- something some people are uncomfortable with. When players point toward the heavens, pray on the field, or give credit for a win to God, some fans can feel alienated.

"To me, that's saying, 'If you love me, you need to love my God,'" said Sports Illustrated magazine columnist Rick Reilly. "And so, for a Jewish kid or a Muslim kid in the stands, they're like, 'Hey, wait a minute.'"

If NASCAR had a Muslim driver, Beaver said, "I would respect that, and I would ask him if I could pray with them. And he may not want me to, and that would be fine."

NASCAR drivers defend their right to profess their faith. But they are aware that, as they expand to more secular parts of the country, it could turn off potential fans.

But for now, at least, they're unrepentant.

ABC News' Dan Harris filed this report for "World News Tonight."

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