Does It Pay To Pray? Duck Dynasty's Call To Fans Stirs Controversy
Since Sunday's race at Texas Motor Speedway, there has been heavy discussion on whether or not Phil Robertson, head of the Duck Dynasty clan, went too far with his pre-race invocation, calling for fans to "put a Jesus-man in the White House" and that "bibles and guns got us here". On Tuesday's SiriusXm Speedway show with Dave Moody on Sirius XM Radio, the godfather stated that NASCAR should make the pre-race invocation more incliusive, and not alienate fans by praying to one specific God. Some fans that called into the show ripped the host for being too liberal, while others agreed that there needs to be changes made to the invocation so not to offend fans of different religions. So here is my take.
Prayer in NASCAR should not be banned, or changed, or tweaked. It goes back to the early days when track chaplains like Bill Frazier, a reformed alcoholic turned minister, set aside any donation and extra money he had to start his own "church on wheels" after retired racer Ned Jarrett began doing invocations during the 1969 season. Frazier walked around the track handing out religious pamphlets, calling himself "God's Public Relations man" Frazier would talk to drivers as they walked through the infield passing the fans on the way to the restroom. One of those drivers was Maurice Petty, brother of Richard Petty. Supporters like Bobby Allison, Richard Childress, the Petty's and their wives soon followed. In 1974 he approached the Petty family with an idea called "Success Promotions", one of the first to create diecast models of racecars. Frazier resigned in 1976 as Chaplain and handed the reigns over to Bill Baird, a minister from Timmonsville, South Carolina. He was preaching at a crusade when he was approached by the mother of Cale Yarborough, Annie. The sport was in need of a new chaplain, to keep her son and other drivers' faith alive. He served as chaplain amidst an ever growing "congregation", moving from the small trailer owned by Bill Frazier to a tent rented to Bill Baird when the numbers jumped into the 60's, to the formation of The Motor Racing Outreach (MRO) run by Max Helton, a pastor from Riverside Speedway. "He was the only one at the track to make ministry really stick", according to supporter and driver Darrell Waltrip
Over the years, big name cup drivers such as Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and others professed their faith, and used their star power to promote the growth of the MRO. The decades of the 1980 (13 deaths alone) 1990 and 2000 brought the tragic deaths of Bobby Allison, Kenny Irwin, Adam Petty and The Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt. Many drivers either found their faith in God or reaffirmed it. In 2000 and 2001, MRO Chaplain Dale Beaver had his hands full dealing with helping people cope with tragedy. Christian drivers like Matt Kenseth began feeling more comfortable opening up to the public about their beliefs. "I believe when it's your day [to go], it's your day".
When it comes to pre-race invocations, I'm a believer that there's nothing wrong with it, because it was put there as a time to pray for the safety of the drivers, the fans, the teams and crew members. During a time when we needed it the most. All we want is a safe, fun environment where we can enjoy the sport and cheer on our favorite driver. The pre-race invocation is not the time or the time or the place for politics or your own religious beliefs or hidden agendas. As far as fans of any religious denomination being offended by the words "God" or "Amen", they have the right to be. It is a free country and we do have freedom of speech. I myself was born and raised Catholic, and even though I do not attend church anymore, if NASCAR wants to make the invocation more fan friendly but tweaking what can and can't be said, I won't be offended, Just keep our sport safe,