(Originally posted by Paul to Planet-IRL.com.)
Once in a while, there is an opportunity for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to open its doors and allow the casual fans to mingle and interact with some of the legendary names that adorn the halls of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame and Museum. This past Monday evening was one such time when the IRL Ministry hosted A Night of Memories at the Museum. This fundraising event brought together fans, drivers, media, and Indy Racing League officials in a casual, open atmosphere and afforded more memories than can be fit on this webpage.
The impeccable timing of the event (the night before the annual winter drivers’ meeting) allowed several drivers to be in attendance. Among the former champions who graced the gathering were three-time 500 winner Helio Castroneves, two-time winner Al Unser, Jr., 2007 champion Dario Franchitti, and 2008 victor Scott Dixon. Also among the crowd were Tony Kanaan, Ed Carpenter, Sarah Fisher, Scott Goodyear, Team Penske president Tim Cindric, Versus reporters Jack Arute and Lindy Thackston, and IMS Historian Donald Davidson. (Even internet blogging sensation Roy Hobbson of the Silent Pagoda made an appearance to the delight of me and approximately three other people.) It was a wonderful opportunity to speak with these men and women on a personal basis and have a conversation with them involving much more than just the typical “Hi, thanks for coming.”
If I had one complaint about the evening, it would be the lack of attendance and apparent support from Indy Racing League and Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation officials. I did not see Jeff Belksus in attendance, nor either of the Indy Racing League presidents, though they were all in town for events at the Speedway on Tuesday.
This night, though, wasn’t about the Speedway. It wasn’t about the drivers or the history of the track or the rights and wrongs of open-wheel racing in America today. This night was about the IRL Ministry. Many fans of the IZOD IndyCar Series may not be familiar with the IRL Ministry or even know that it exists, but to those men and women who travel with the Series on a weekly basis spending days, weeks, and months away from their families, the IRL Ministry provides an invaluable resource when a helping hand is needed most. Racing is still a dangerous sport — though we have been blessed with tremendous safety advances and innovations over the past 50 years, it is still a cruel sport that can and will change the lives of those involved in a split-second. Occasionally, we on the periphery are reminded of this when we read of a Dale Earnhardt being killed, or a Henry Surtees, or a Greg Moore. Those on the inside, though, need no reminder of how cruel the sport can be. There isn’t a person that works with the Series in any capacity that hasn’t known someone that was seriously or fatally injured in auto racing. We pray that the risks are mitigated, but we all know that it will never be a safe sport.
Most fans have probably never seen Father Phil or Pastor Bob pray with each driver individually before driver introductions each weekend. Most fans have probably never seen these men accompany the wife or girlfriend of a driver to the care center following an on-track accident. Most fans have probably never seen these men visit a driver in the hospital. Most fans have probably never seen the chapel service or mass that many team members and drivers attend on race morning. I promise, though, that these things do happen and there isn’t a person walking the paddock who isn’t grateful for these services. The IRL Ministry is an invaluable part of the Indy Racing League.
The IRL Ministry is not an official part of the Indy Racing League. Though it is sanctioned by the League, it is not operated by the League, and as such it does not receive any funding from the IRL. This organization relies on the gifts and donations of individuals and several great partners to continue its mission. Like everything else in racing, it takes money to make this organization happen, and like everything else in the world, it is hurting for finances right now. I know it is difficult for many folks to donate money these days, especially to a cause that you may never receive any direct benefit from. With the everyday stress of making pennies go further than they have ever had to go before, donating money to a sport like auto racing, where budgets are routinely higher than $5 million annually, might not make much sense. But to the men and women of the Indy Racing League who, in their time of greatest fear, need and long for the reassurance of a familiar face and a spiritual presence, there is no greater cause than the IRL Ministry.
I don’t pretend to know either the need or the resources of the IRL Ministry. I don’t even know whether Father Phil and Pastor Bob are compensated for their efforts with the League as it is absolutely none of my business. What I do know is that they provide an invaluable service to the Indy Racing League and they need support from the IndyCar family. Scripture tells us that “To whom much has been given, much shall be expected.” (Luke 12:48) I know many in the IndyCar Nation are hurting but, by and large, we are all very blessed.
If you don’t feel that you can support the cause financially at this time, I would ask that you try to support it in another way because it’s more than just finances that make this operation run. Even doing such a simple thing as writing an e-mail to Pastor Bob and letting him know that you support his efforts and that they are important would be a great step. I hope that you will join me in supporting the IRL Ministry and helping to support the service that this organization brings to the Indy Racing League.
For more information about the IRL Ministry and its mission or to contact the IRL Ministry, please visit their website at http://irlministry.com.