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Reaching out at ‘The Rock’

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. (BP)–The week begins on Wednesday.

When it’s a racing week in Rockingham, the tents go up early, before the hardcore race fans begin to arrive on Friday.

Wayne Tuttle, director of missions for the Pee Dee Baptist Association, first got involved in raceway ministries when he was a pastor in the association. At the time, leisure ministry was still a relatively new idea, and he wasn’t so sure it was a good one. Despite his reservations, Tuttle agreed to cooperate and volunteered to set up the tent.

Twenty years later, he is still helping to set up the tent, except now there are two of them, located on opposite ends of the expansive speedway grounds.

Tuttle had a heart attack last November, followed by surgery. He has had to slow down, but he was back at the track for the Feb. 22-24 NASCAR events at North Carolina Speedway.

Tuttle’s longstanding relationship with raceway officials has earned an important measure of trust. They know that the Pee Dee Association’s ministry will be a positive, but not coercive, influence at the track.

The white and blue striped tents are located in two large camping areas. They host “gospel sings” on Saturday night of the two main racing weekends, and worship services prior to the main event on Sunday. Many race fans come back year after year, and not just for the warmth and the free breakfast. In 20 years of ministry to racing fans, Tuttle has built lasting friendships with many of the regular patrons.

When Sunday comes, local volunteers roll in at the crack of dawn. Like a well-rehearsed pit crew, they cook up ham and sausage biscuits, pack them into insulated containers, and then distribute them to campers from 7-8:30 a.m. Campers line up wearing colorful gear that promotes their favorite driver, shivering in the cold. Along with the free food, volunteers distribute warm smiles, hot coffee and a tasteful gospel tract that features testimonies from NASCAR drivers.

Afterward, most volunteers head on to church rather then stay for the race, but the ministry doesn’t end there. Campers are invited to a worship service from 9-10 a.m., and many attend.

Tuttle also assists track officials in recruiting an appropriate person to lead the invocation prior to the nationally televised race. Jim Royston, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, spoke at the worship service and offered the invocation on Feb. 24.

The Pee Dee Association’s efforts do not go unnoticed. “We think it’s great that our guests can come, enjoy our events and still be able to participate in a worship service,” said Chris Browning, executive vice president and general manager of the speedway.

“At every race we receive compliments on the program that Rev. Tuttle has put together here at the race track, and we look forward to continuing our relationship for future events.”

When the next racing weekend arrives Nov. 1-3, the Pee Dee crew will be back in force, and race fans will be reminded of Jesus’ call and Baptists’ care.

The ministry Tuttle coordinates has counterparts across the country, including Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., where Cabarrus Baptist Association director of missions Randy Wadford provides leadership. The North American Mission Board offers resources and encouragement through an umbrella organization called “Raceway Ministries.

“It’s a lot of work,” Tuttle said, “but it’s a good ministry.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: PRAYING AT ‘THE ROCK,’ WORSHIP AT ‘THE ROCK,’ BREAKFAST AT ‘THE ROCK,’ and TUTTLE AT ‘THE ROCK.’

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  • Tony W. Cartledge