By Carissa Beard
Reflecting on Hebrews 12:1-2, West End Baptist Chapel is in the race to win souls for the kingdom of God – with a race car!
The church has rallied around their lead pastor, Shane Wilt, and his passion for racing. They have a car “wrapped” with the church’s name and logo and Wilt is the driver.
Recently, the church hosted “West End Chapel Day” at the Hagerstown Speedway races. The church bought a block of tickets and 100 members and friends wore their church T-shirts. The praise band sang the national anthem and a member led a pre-race prayer.
“Many of them had never been to a race before. The people expressed a desire to reach that community with the Gospel. They are beginning to see the passion that God has to reach the lost at the Hagerstown Speedway,” Wilt said.
Wilt grew up watching his father race cars. He remembers when he was five years old saying, “Dad, I’m gonna be a race car driver like you!” After a high school and college career in basketball, God called Wilt to vocational ministry. He attended Lancaster Bible College, but he never completely lost his racecar roots, spending seven years as an announcer at the Hagerstown Speedway and conducting interviews on Pit Row.
Interestingly, God used Wilt’s weight-loss journey in 2013 to bring his dream to fruition. Wilt began to intentionally exercise and eat healthy to drop some weight. During this time, God started to encourage Wilt to pursue his racing dreams. Wilt prayed, “God, I dreamed about this when I was five years old. I could do this with my life. But you have to speak to my dad, because I can’t afford a race car.”
Soon after that prayer, Wilt’s father, wanting to motivate his son on his weight loss journey said, “If you can lose 150 pounds, I’ll buy you that race car.” To date, Wilt has lost 230 pounds and can easily slide into the car.
The next prayer was “God, I need a mechanic.” God answered that prayer, too. While having lunch with a friend who used to race with Wilt’s father and had given his life to Christ after an invitation by Wilt years ago, the man volunteered to be Wilt’s mechanic.
The third thing Wilt needed was money for gas, tires, helmets, and fireproof clothing. While at a church picnic, he had three different individuals offer to sponsor him if he decided to race. God answered prayer number three.
But Wilt still wanted confirmation, and God graciously provided one.
Wilt was at a race in Charlotte, N.C., with his dad. Out of 25,000 people, Wilt found himself on the backstretch next to a man wearing a jacket embroidered with “RACING WITH JESUS.” Wilt struck up a conversation with him and discovered the man was a 30-year racecar veteran and a North American Mission Board missionary from Montana who had a special ministry as a racecar driver. As Wilt spoke with this missionary, there was no doubt that God had orchestrated their meeting. “It was as though God kept saying, ‘I want you to reach people at the racetrack.’”
This summer season, Wilt had his first race. “I was scared to death!” he revealed, “but I knew that God wants me to reach people at the racetrack. For me, racing is my ‘in.’ Everyone has a different way they can reach people for Jesus. For me, it’s racing.”
This summer, Wilt raced twelve times. Several teens from the church youth group are part of the pit crew.
Through the race ministry, God is already opening doors to plant seeds and share the Gospel for Wilt and the church, and they have had at least one visitor as a result of the ministry. Also, at a block party in August, four drivers attended in their racecars and let visitors take pictures with the cars. The church received a strengthening churches grant from the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network earlier this year, which they’re using to offset some of the ministry costs.
West End Baptist Chapel is being intentional about building relationships with owners, drivers, mechanics, and flagmen. “Making connections with these people so that I minister to them is what racing is all about for me. I am asking God to open greater doors in 2017 for this ministry,” Wilt said.
Written by Carissa Beard of the Blue Ridge Baptist Association. Sharon Mager contributed to this story.