I’m the elder of two sons born to a Southern Baptist pastor and his wife. I grew up on the island of Anna Maria, Florida, where I always wanted to be fishing! I was a pretty good kid and became active in athletics in high school. But I also found drinking and partying as a teenager and fell out with my coaches and away from the sports I loved. Life wasn’t headed in the right direction.
By God’s grace, I began dating a Christian girl. The testimony of her life in the faith caused me to question my own salvation experience. On the day I turned 18, I recommitted my life to the Savior and was born anew! I went from being a lost, drunk preacher’s kid to a child of God and became involved in youth ministry only a year later.
Further down the line I developed a passion for, and began working in, homeless/street ministry. Cathy, a nice gal from my church, joined me in my outreach and we fell in love and married a year after we met. Not for love at first, but because she was a great partner who would go to the end of the world with me! Now almost 40 years have gone by, and my love for her is deeper than it ever was, and we have served the Lord together in unique ways all these years.
After graduating from Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, I accepted a position in my home church back in Bradenton, Florida. While serving there, Cathy and I had three children — Benjamin, Levi, and Hannah. It was during this time that I first was exposed to the ministry of Racers for Christ. One of our church deacons invited me to the races (I’d never been) and I accepted. I found the people and atmosphere at the track far more serious and committed than the wild hellraising I’d first imagined, and one evening the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart: ‘Tom, look around — there’s no one here representing Me. Will you?’ I left that night, determined to go back to my church and present to them a new mission field at the racetrack. They sanctioned my starting a formal outreach, and I began visiting the track more regularly.
I soon realized that drag racing at the local level wasn’t really a spectator sport and that if I was going to reach racers, I was going to have to become one. So, I began to pray and seek the Lord’s guidance for obtaining my first race car. I ended up with a 1971 Chevelle SS that ran 11.90s at about 110 miles an hour in the quarter mile. At this point, I hadn’t told anyone why I was really at the dragway; they didn’t know I was a minister at a local church, and I didn’t want them to know right away. I simply went out and involved myself in their lives and competed with them, allowing them to teach me how to race. After about a year, I went public with our outreach ministry, which we called “Rods for God.” At first people were taken aback, but — because we already had a relationship — when they got over the shock of knowing I was a pastor, our friendships simply moved forward.
One weekend, I took a day off from my church job to compete in the Super Chevy Show at the track. As I was checking my tires, an RFC chaplain named Jim approached, introduced himself, and invited me to the chapel service. To that point, I’d thought I was the only person on the planet representing Jesus to the racing world! I attended chapel and felt inspired to look into Racers For Christ. A few months later, I was going through the process of joining RFC’s ministry; in a year’s time I had resigned from my church position, stepping out in faith with my family as a full-time RFC chaplain.
Thirty years have passed since I left my pastorate at my church. Cathy and I served for nine years as the series chaplain for the Super Chevy Show, traveling across the country, loving people, and making friends coast to coast. During those years, we homeschooled our children so we could travel together as a family. In 2000, I was asked to fill the role of Region 2 director, following Dale Anderson who had been ill and passed away. At the time, I was still the series chaplain for Super Chevy. But a year later, I decided the regional director’s position was where God wanted our family, and it allowed us to move back to Florida close to relatives.
Serving with RFC has given me the opportunity to be a missionary to the world of motorsports which is, in many ways, its own nation with its own people. The folks in motorsports are a tight-knit community which — by the grace of God — we’ve been able to impact in truly remarkable ways. Over the years, I’ve repeatedly seen first-hand the difference Christ makes in individuals lives who then have made a difference in the sport itself. What at first seemed odd and out of place is now normal and expected among racers: Jesus is welcomed and an integral part of racing life! On a normal weekend at the track, we pray personally with hundreds and corporately with thousands. We conduct chapel services at most events, proclaiming the truth of the Word of God to people who may not hear it anywhere else. We perform weddings and funerals, make hospital visits, and attend birthday parties. We rejoice and celebrate with those who are experiencing success, and we suffer and mourn with those who are broken. Team RFC is not just something we do but who we are as God’s ambassadors for His Son, and the people we serve are not just parishioners but have become our dear friends!
The day may come when Cathy and I must slow down a bit and quit traveling as much with Team RFC, but I don’t see us ever not being involved with this life-changing ministry! Just as I am aging, so are those I am serving; and as they move on from racing into other areas of motorsports, so will Cathy and I. You see, it’s not about the sport – it’s about the relationships you build with the people in the sport. Those relationships go on regardless of change.
I could go on and on about the miraculous things God has done in this ministry over the last 31 years, but I’ll just close by saying all the glory belongs to Jesus, both now and forever and ever! Amen!