By Sharon Mager
The sun was shining, flags waving, hot dogs sizzling, motors roaring, and a tangible excitement humming in the air at the Dover International Raceway on the weekend of June 2. Over 100,000 people filled the stands, browsed vendor tents and poured into campgrounds.
“Do you see a field white for harvest?” asks Jim McBride Jr., motioning with his hand out the window as he drives along Route 13 in his pickup truck. McBride Jr., is the race ministry coordinator, receiving the mantle from his father, James McBride Sr.
“We started 25 years ago,” McBride Jr. says. At the time, he was a cocky college student riding with his dad, James McBride Sr., who served then as the Delaware Baptist Association director of missions.
“We were in the car and we passed the race track. I did one of those things you do when you’re in college and want to catch your parents in something and want to sort of set them up,” he laughed. “’I said, ‘Dad, what do you have going on at the racetrack?’ He said, ‘Nothing, why?’
“I said, ‘This is something that happens twice a year and you don’t have to pay a penny. You don’t have to market it. You don’t have to ask them to come. The race track is doing that for you. There are over 100,000 people at each race in your backyard that you can reach out to!”
The godly light bulb went off.
So, they began with a few volunteers at a tented area near the rear entrance to the field and gave race fans cookies, lemon-aid and Christian tracts with race car driver testimonies as they entered the track area.
The following year they began handing out free ham or sausage biscuits and doing a short traditional church service.
They’ve been moved several times over the past two-plus decades, but through the years they’ve developed a strong partnership with the Dover Raceway leaders. Now there are three sites.
One camp area is led by Greg Weigel, associate pastor of First Baptist Church, Elkton. A small group of volunteers man a stand with boxes upon boxes of homemade cookies, lemon-aid, tracts, and fun booklets for the kids. They offer cookies to passersby in cars, and they walk around the campsite, inviting campers to a continental breakfasts, concerts and worship services.
McBride Jr. oversees ministry at the largest campsite, which has more of a party feel, the alcohol flowing and the marijuana smell strong in spots. At least one camper passed out at the ministry site and woke up the next morning during chapel, McBride Jr. related. Another lost their way “home” and had to stay at the ministry site overnight till morning. Other campers wander in at 2 a.m. needing to talk. Rich and Barbara Matney, members of Greensboro Baptist Church, bought a small camper so they can stay over, and they’re thrilled to be able to help and offer support as needed.
A third site opportunity opened up this year at the Delaware Agricultural Center, where New Harvest Baptist Church meets.
Several Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware disaster relief workers used the opportunity for a food service drill, and prepared free food for campers around the center. New Harvest Church members set up tables, served meals and invited campers. Almost 100 people responded.
“We’re planting seeds,” said Jim McBride Jr. “We don’t always see the harvest, but sometimes we do,” he said. Often, it’s after years of building friendships.
McBride Jr’s 16-year-old son Ben grew up at the racetrack helping his father and grandfather with the ministry.
“I always had fun. It was a huge thing to go to the races,” he said.
Now, Ben enjoys sharing the Gospel. He has a huge smile and outgoing spirit. He chats with people easily, asking where they’re from. People open up.
“It doesn’t start out remotely religious, but they know why you’re out there and eventually they’ll bring it up at their own pace, their own time. You see a glimpse of the hurting,” he said.
McBride Jr. said there are 10 campsites, but less than 20 volunteers are working only at two sites plus the Agricultural Museum. What if there were enough people to minister in all of the campsites? The opportunity is enormous, McBride Jr. said.
“And this isn’t just a Delaware ministry,” he stresses. Darla Lewis, who does clown ministry, travels from LaVale Baptist Church in Western Maryland and brings other volunteers with her. “This is a great opportunity for all of the BCM/D churches to get involved,” he said. Volunteers are needed for hands-on work, and there is always the need for homemade cookies.
In September, there will be a 25h anniversary celebration of the raceway ministry. Hundreds of thousands of people will once again flock to the “Monster Mile” track. Time is racing by. If you or your church can help, or would like more information, contact Jim McBride Jr. at [email protected].