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Driven to Share the Gospel
A seasoned stockcar driver balances his love for the sport and his love for God.

Our world has become a place where people love to compete in the name of sport. Each year, competitors manage to push even harder than before, breaking records that once seemed unbeatable. Athletes run faster, jump higher and hit further than ever before.

Gary Elliott

Extreme Sports have especially altered our expectations. We fully expect to see nothing less than competitors who back-flip motorcycles, leap off snowy cliffs with a snowboard strapped to their feet or perform inverted, multi-rotational aerials on a skateboard. Such feats have become as expected and ordinary as hitting a home run once was.

All this emphasis on competition and pushing the limits of human achievement begs the question, Where does God fit into all of this?

That search has particular importance for Gary Elliott, who found a way to combine his love for the high speed, pavement-pounding sport of stock car racing with his love for God.

Gary's life of racing started in 1969 when he began driving in the Mini-Stocks class on the dirt track at Merrittville, Ontario. This was a dream come true after many summers of watching races from the grandstands along with his family. A few years later in 1972 he took his experience and newly found driving skill and moved up to the Vintage Modified division where the speeds are higher and the competition less forgiving. In this class Gary found his home in the racing world for the next 33 years. He also found a great deal of success along the way including multiple awards for Most Sportsmanlike Driver, Most Popular Driver, Best Looking Car and two overall Series Championships.

Since 2005 Gary has been campaigning a car in the fiercely competitive, and even faster, Late Model division where he took Rookie of the Year honours and was first to the checkered flag on multiple occasions.

Leading the pack at Flamboro Speedway in his Number 36 car, Gary Elliott seeks to reflect his Christian values in the way he competes.

Success at this level of racing takes dedication, time and an ability to push the limits of both the car and driver to a very delicate edge, without going over.

Accepting life with God didn't come quite as early on for Gary. It wasn't until after he married his wife Nonie, and after their children David and Shirley had come along, that Gary started searching for the truth about "this guy Jesus" who he had heard about as a child. Gary had a lot of questions, and God had placed a number of Christians in his life to help him find answers. The turning point was a coming to terms with the reality that Jesus, the great guy he had heard about since he was a child, was in fact, God. Initially this didn't sit well with Gary, but after he realized that only God could be responsible for the miracles Jesus did while on earth, Gary started to believe. His life began to change as his relationship with God grew. His approach to the competition on the track changed too. Gary now saw his competitors as those whom God loves and for whom Christ died, and his prayer became to race in a way that will allow people to see Christ.

So, how does Gary combine oval track racing—a sport of aggression, hot tempers, rubbing fenders and hard pumping adrenaline—with being a Christian? He begins each race with prayer, both with his team and on his own. The time he spends with God helps Gary put the intensity of the atmosphere around him into perspective and calm his approach to the race. It equips him to accept things that go wrong, as they so often do when you put a pack of fiercely competitive drivers on a track together, and to keep control of his emotions. As a result, Gary won't intentionally put other drivers out of the race or unnecessarily bang fenders to get by another racer.

When things go wrong and Gary is on the receiving end of someone else's mistake, or worse—taken out of the race by a competitor—he isn't yelling, screaming or throwing his helmet across the pits ready to explode with fists of fury. While Gary wants to win just as much as anyone else, he values being a Christian example even more than the rush of a win. Adrenaline can act like a drug, and too much of it can warp one's judgment and almost lead to a lust for competition. The heat of the moment, the rush of competition and the desire to win are not reasons to leave Jesus behind. If you are a Christian off the track, Gary maintains, it is just as important to be a Christian on the track.

Children check out the race car after a service at Flamborough Baptist, where Gary worships.

Probably the greatest benefit of combining his love for racing and his love for God, has been the opportunity it has created for Gary to share his testimony with others. His crew, the competition, their crews and the fans in the stands all see how Gary conducts himself in the heat of battle. By maintaining his Christian principles while he races, Gary has been able to have a tremendous impact on others in the sport. They know there is something different about him—something beyond just being another racer who wants to take home a victory.

These opportunities to share the Word of God with others have been an amazing blessing for Gary. Friendships have been created, and those who are searching as Gary once did, are given the opportunity to have a relationship with God. He has been asked to speak at six funerals for individuals he met through racing over the years. At these times Gary has shared his beliefs about what lies beyond this life. If Gary had separated his passion for racing from his love for God, these opportunities never would have existed.

We are a society obsessed with secular pursuits such as competition and sport. Our lives are often in a state of imbalance as we commit ever-greater amounts of time to these pursuits. But for Gary Elliott the balance is really quite simple: "never leave Jesus in the pits."

Mark Wolfe is a freelance writer based in Hamilton, Ontario. He can be reached at mlwolfe@mountaincable.net.

Originally published in Beacon, May/June 2007. Posted on Fellowship Hall, May 2007.

 

 
 
 
 

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