Reggie goes to Bristol

March 25, 2007

As i write this, i’m at a Starbuck’s in Augusta, Georgia, en route from last night’s gig in Sumter, SC to tonight’s in Athens, GA. .. It is 12:15, mid-day, and, in a short while a couple hundred miles from here, the NASCAR race in Bristol, TN will begin. It’s been on my mind all morning, not just because i’ve become a racing fan, but because of … well, let me just tell you the story.

At the Harris County High School, where Gary and i spend time as Young Life volunteers, there is a beloved student in the special ed class named Reggie. He is an enthusiastic, friendly, helpful, lovable fellow who, known to everyone who knows him, loves NASCAR – Jeff Gordon in particular. Reggie did not speak much until he was 3 years old, the same point in life that he saw and developed his fascination for racing. Seems that all those fast cars woke up something in Reggie. He has followed it avidly, and i do mean avidly, ever since.

While Reggie has a somewhat difficult time with some of the traditional high school subject matter, he has a steel trap memory for the facts and figures of NASCAR. Want to know the angle of turn 3 at any racetrack in America, or who won third in points back in 2003, or who drives the 27 car, or who is crew chief for Kyle Petty – just ask Reggie.

My brother, who often substitute teaches at the high school, met Reggie a couple of years ago, when Reggie was a underclassman. Now that Reggie is a senior, just a couple of months from graduation, Gary wanted to do something special for him. (When Gary decides to do something special for someone, i make sure i’m in a position to take notes, to be inspired, to catch the joy that spills out of the cup of his intended beneficiary.)

i’ve a friend, one who i met through Young Life years ago, but who, to my regret, i rarely get to visit these days. Kathy is an integral, well-connected member of the NASCAR organization and, more importantly, loves Christ and loves kids. When Gary asked for her phone number, having in mind to ask for her help in getting tickets to any race, anywhere, i offered him little encouragement. i didn’t have much hope that Kathy, an extremely busy person during race season, would be able to make time for him. (You do know about the popularity of NASCAR and the scarcity, especially at races like Daytona and Bristol, of tickets to those event , don’t you?) Gary, undaunted and against the odds, called her anyway to make a bold request. “Is it possible to get a couple of tickets to a race and – gulp – maybe get Reggie a pit pass?”

One of the most coveted tickets in NASCAR is the one to Bristol Motor Speedway. The venue seats 160, 000 people who look over a track that is less than half a mile long. When Kathy, just two weeks ago, told Gary that she would send him 2 tickets to the race, he cried. When he told Reggie’s mom, she cried. When Reggie found out that he’d be gong to the race, he immediately packed his suitcase for the longest trip he’s ever taken away from home.

Yesterday, Gary and Reggie drove to Asheville, NC, their stopping point before leaving for Bristol at 4:30 this morning.

Just minutes ago, i spoke to Gary. The gladness was palpable. So far this morning, thanks to Kathy (God’s instrument for “such a time as this”), Reggie has taken a ride in the pace car around the Bristol track (a rare privilege), courtesy of driver Jeff Bodine. He has met a number of drivers and crew chiefs. He has spent the morning in the pits around the people who he has watched every week on television for 14 years. He is walking on the track which, to this point, has been pictures and statistics. He has been given hats, shirts, and, best of all, a lug nut off the 24 car, driven by Jeff Gordon.

Is it my sense of smell, or does this have the aroma, the sweet perfume of Christ all over it? Is not the aliveness of this happy moment redolent with goodness and the reality of “life that is truly life”?

Might it be that, when i met Kathy and her family years ago, God was setting in place a gift for Reggie (as well as the gift of my friendship with Kathy and her family)? Might it be that, when Kathy began her career that put her in a place of influence with NASCAR, He was giving, in addition to an income and vocation for Kathy, a gift for Reggie? Might it be that, when Gary met Reggie as a sub at the high school, God was planning a gift for Reggie? Might all these small dots have been placed on the map of time and lace t be connected at “such a time as this”?

In the grand mystery of cause and effect, might all those things have happened for the sake of a lug nut, some handshakes, a wish-made-good?

The God revealed in scripture is a God of grand things – of light years and lunar eclipses, of landscapes and longitudes, of quasars and earthquakes. But, on this day, at this hour, He is also Lord of loud cars and lug nuts. He is Lord of life well-lived.

Thank you, Kathy. Thank you, Gary. Bravo 24 car.

Gentlemen, start your engines.