The infield has cleared, with all the heat races completed. Now the track maintenance team is filling in ruts and removing loose clay before they water everything down; so all is ready for the speedway’s grand finale.
Interval is here. Pit crews are swarming over their mechanical projectiles with devotion, tenacity and frustration, and at the pre-race marshalling area, track officials and volunteers have surrounded me.
I see their hunger, from manning the ambulance, the pace car, the push cars, the crash truck, the tow truck, and the fire truck - Fire Truck? Wasn’t he a dyslexic member of Robin Hood’s Merry Men? – but I digress…
They call me their “Sin-Killer:” track chaplain. Recognising that dirt track racing can be risky even with the stringent safety regulations, they ask me to publicly pray God’s blessing before the national anthem starts our proceedings. They also give me free access all night with any spectators, drivers, pit crews or track officials who might want to unload about anything within or beyond their passion for this sport.
At interval, the chaplain travels a second mile; morphing to barbeque chef - armed with tongs, a spatula, and a hotplate.
Michelin’s Guide to Fine Dining will never review our menu. But I enjoy preparing their burgers or sausages, with mushrooms and onions as sides; and watching them wrap their sizzling selections in sliced bread or buns, paying lip service to any salads, to immerse them in their choice of sauces.
It’s hard to keep up, or even ketchup, for in no time flat, my locust-bred friends have demolished the lot!
The sweet, pungent aroma of methanol fumes pervade the air at speedways, but even die-hard speedway folks’ nostrils widen at the whiff of frying onions...
How does this fragrance leap across olfactory sensors and zero in on male stomachs - bypassing any trace of masculine restraint - to activate such desperate hunger?
With apologies to Sherlock Holmes, the answer cannot be purely alimentary, it must be more primal.
During interval, their voices relax to a conversational volume, so all kinds of comments fly…
“Hey Stan, you ought to go on a diet!”
“I did, but I needed more food, so I went on an extra one!”
“Is this food cholesterol free?”
“Yup, all this cholesterol and gluten comes at no extra charge!”
“That meat better be cooked - I don’t want it eating my salad before it jumps off the bun and trots away!”
With all those mouths to feed, there isn’t ‘mushroom’ for debates, but we discuss any life or faith issues that they feel comfortable to raise. Like the night Dave told me – in front of everybody: “Hey Chaplain - this prayin’ really works!”
Wow - a breakthrough with this gruff, no-nonsense character? “That’s great, Dave. Tell me how it’s worked for you.”
His face broke into a grin: “That driver in car 22 hasn’t stopped complaining about how we run our programs, so I prayed that he’d crash out. And he did!”
I just laughed along with the others.
Another night Dave started bragging about Hell: “I can’t wait to get there, with all the beer and dirty women I could ever want!”
A cheap shot at Dave’s less-than-athletic physique would have been easy, like: “Hey old man, how many of those dirty women would line up for a slob like you?” But, biting my tongue, I explained that I had no plans for them or for me to ever be there; and that Hell will be a place of absolute emptiness - with no opportunity to satisfy any desires – good or bad.
One night next season, Dave quietly called me aside after racing was finished: “Chaplain, are you gonna be here in two years’ time?”
“I hope so Dave, why would you like to know?”
“Our silver weddin’ is comin’ up, and Kerry and I’d like you to help us renew our vows.”
“Dave, I’ll be glad to help.”
On the way home, I thanked God for the privilege of sowing good seed in the speedway’s clay, dust and mud; and in hearts like Dave’s, with his fresh, genuine expression of love for his wife showing a clear contrast to his loud, empty bragging of a year earlier.
And who could know whose heart God might stir at our next barbeque…
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