As the calendar lunges forth into 2012 to be welcomed with open arms and hearts, it is well worth taking a look back at the year God graciously provided Kingdom Racing in 2011.
Southwest Airlines preaches to its employees that it's not an airline company. It is a customer service company that just happens to fly airplanes. Keeping customers happy is their core business. Quite similarly, many people are pleasantly surprised to learn that Kingdom Racing is not just a racing team, but rather a Christian ministry that races cars. That aspect is pertinent. Among everything He charges us with, racing comes second. The Kingdom of Christ always comes first and foremost.
Without question, the 2011 INDYCAR season beaconed to be one of great promise for Kingdom Racing. By season's end, it had surpassed even our most extravagant spiritual imaginations.
On the surface, it could be said that everything began in May at Indianapolis. The reality, however, was that so much planning, coordination, and re-organization had gone into the off-season just to make the Indianapolis 500 happen for Kingdom Racing and Davey Hamilton.
God tested us early and often throughout the entire year. 2011 began with the expectation that Davey Hamilton would team with fellow INDYCAR veteran Tony Kanaan at De Ferran Dragon Racing. That deal unraveled unexpectedly, leaving both drivers searching for rides. Davey quickly recovered by signing a deal with Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for three races, Indianapolis, Texas, and Las Vegas, while Tony landed safely at another team. Heading into Indianapolis, Davey stated that he’d been given the best prepared car he's ever had for The Race and was looking forward to driving in his 11th “500.” He was right. We showed up and the car looked sharp, a definite attention-grabber.
The fabulous month of May began on the 13th with load-in day at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Though things got off to a slow start in the initial practice sessions, excitement and anticipation filled the air for what the month had in store. Davey was part of a four car effort at Indy, teaming with Paul Tracy, Justin Wilson, and Ana Biatriz. On Pole Day, Davey thrilled the crowd by placing the No. 11 car on the outside of the 5th row in 15th position. We'd asked our fans around the world to pray for Davey's qualification run and so many fans later contacted us to let us know they did just that. On that run, Davey somehow found speed he'd not had all month long. We're giving credit to the prayers, though the team did a superb job as well.
May 29th brought the Centennial running of the famed Indianapolis 500. For anyone who loves The Race, it was incredibly special just to be there on that day, 100 years after the first running of such an iconic American sporting event. Following last year's first lap heartbreak, Davey and his Dreyer & Reinbold team started from 15th and held strong all day, finishing 24th. Though we didn't win the 500, we definitely won the month of May at the Speedway for Christ.
So much more went on in the background throughout the month of May that showed everyone that Kingdom Racing was exactly where we were supposed to be. Through our infield outreach programs we touched the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of race fans with the message of Christ. The people we met and prayed with and the feedback received from them was simply phenomenal. To witness some of the situations which brought fans together with the Kingdom Racing ministry was truly awe-inspiring in that we definitely serve an incredibly amazing God!
After a short two-week break in the action, Kingdom Racing picked right back up where we left off at Texas Motor Speedway on the weekend of June 10th and 11th. We carried onward with Davey to the track where he nearly lost his life exactly ten years prior. A new race format was on order with twin 275-kilometer contests being run on the same night with an hour-long intermission between.
Again at Texas, Kingdom Racing had a booth and stage on the midway outside the track along with a show car that fans could sit in and have their pictures taken. That was very popular with fans and helped draw them into our message. We handed out hundreds of hero cards and a spectacular performance by a great Christian band kept the crowd entertained. It gave them one more reason to stop and ask "Who is Kingdom Racing?" This has become one of our favorite things to hear, because each time it is asked, we realize God has opened the door for us to share His Message of salvation. We even had a former US astronaut, Doug Clifford, alongside to share his amazing story of triumph and devotion in the face of adversity. After a fun-filled day and two relatively clean INDYCAR races, Davey brought home 27th and 25th place finishes to seal another successful weekend of sharing the News of Christ with race fans.
Later that month, Kingdom Racing signed on to partner with AFS/Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Snowball Express to bring a sensational young British driver named Martin Plowman into his debut in the INDYCAR Series. This came about through the work of our own Joe Petersen, who managed to help put all of the pieces in place for a great team of people to come together for several great causes. First of all, it allowed us to support Snowball Express, the charity for the families of fallen American soldiers since 9/11. Kingdom Racing and the team would be hosting several Snowball families at each of the races. Secondly, Martin Plowman is a talented young Christian man and he would be getting his much deserved baptism into the top echelon of motorsport. Lastly, it would give Kingdom Racing a chance to provide direct Christian outreach to those families affected by tragedy along with many other fans.
Everything kicked off in August, beginning at Mid-Ohio on the first weekend of the month and again three weeks later at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California, before culminating on Labor Day weekend on the streets of Baltimore. At each track, the Kingdom Racing team hosted multiple Snowball families and provided them royal treatment throughout the event. They got to dine in the exclusive INDYCAR Paddock Club, the kids got to pick out some awesome merchandise from the souvenir stands, and the families got to sit down and watch the races with Kingdom Racing and Snowball Express team members.
Perhaps the highlight of hosting the families, though, came after the race when they were taken behind the scenes to meet Martin, get his autograph, and have their pictures taken with him and "their" racecar. But the fun didn't stop there. Nope. Martin picked up each and every child and placed them in the driver's seat and let them feel what it was like to sit in a real racecar and have a real racing driver as a friend. The smiles on their faces told us everything we needed to know. These were all deeply wounded children who'd lost a father to the war on terror and they very rarely smiled. To see such huge smiles was a monumental emotional victory. In the three races, Martin Plowman finished 18th, 12th, and 11th respectively, but the most amazing work happened off-track, away from the spotlight. And it meant the world to those kids and their moms. It was clear that our outreach provided a significant positive impact for those children, an impact they delivered in return to all of us. There was no doubt that God was acting through us. We saw that happen a lot this year.
At last, we came to the final race weekend of the 2011 schedule, the highly-anticipated INDYCAR World Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada, scheduled for October 16th, 2011. It was to be an exciting punctuation to an amazing season.
We had huge plans for Las Vegas. We'd hoped to announce our team expansion for the 2012 season. We'd planned an appearance with Davey and a show car at a local church. We'd planned to have a Christian ministry outreach outside of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, similar to that at Texas in June. One by one, each and every one of those plans fell through, to our frustration. A couple of weeks before the race, we held a conference call to decide if we would even go. After much thought and prayer, the team made the unanimous decision to go and let God use us as He saw fit. So we followed His lead.
There we were in Las Vegas with nothing to do but watch Davey Hamilton finish off the 2011 INDYCAR season. We had no news. We had no outreach. We were just "there" for God’s use. The feeling among the team was palpable and it seemed almost like we were just ready to get it over with and start planning for 2012. To repeat, racing comes second to our work for the Kingdom of God. Our frustration welled from the fact that all there was in Vegas was racing. There was no Christian outreach and it had us a little bummed. Nevertheless, we showed up and were ready to serve God and support Davey.
Suddenly, the horror of lap 11 happened and shook the racing world to its foundation while we lost a loved one. Dan Wheldon was our friend and competitor and his death hit everyone in the paddock very hard. But it became immediately clear why the agenda "we" had planned had been cancelled out. God needed Kingdom Racing there for a different reason, and in the wake of a horrific tragedy amongst a close-knit racing family, we stepped up to provide prayer, comfort, and support in a time of great anguish and suffering among people we love. One of Dan's closest friends, his protégé of sorts, the kid who Danny took under his wing and had influenced to come to America and race INDYCAR rather than chase Formula One, had company throughout that painful day and night. Kingdom Racing was "there" by Martin's side to comfort, to pray, and to help try to crawl out of the agonizing fog together. The frustration we'd felt was replaced with sadness, yes, but also with an amazing sense of God's perfect plan. He knew what was best for us and made sure that the plans we'd been making weren't there to block His own.
We serve an amazing God. Time has passed slowly it seems since the horrible events in Vegas. But through God and our faith in Jesus Christ, we have come out of that dark cloud and stand ready for the challenges ahead. Kingdom Racing is poised and chomping at the bit to get 2012 underway. As is to be expected, we are already running into obstacles and barriers blocking the path "we" have planned. And we keep reminding ourselves that everything will happen in the time He has allotted for it to happen. All we know is that we are where we need to be. We didn't make Kingdom Racing, God did. We didn't seek Kingdom Racing, it sought us. Thankfully, we've chosen to rise up and follow His lead and we look forward to what He has planned for us next. In conclusion, we know why God sent Kingdom Racing to the INDYCAR field, to serve Him by sharing the message of His hope and love with all who seek answers. And we're going to continue to stay the true path and finish the race.
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” - Isaiah 40:28-31
May you and yours have a festive and happy 2012.
From all of us at Kingdom Racing,
God bless and Godspeed,
For I am convinced that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future,
nor any powers,
neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God
that is in Christ Jesus Our Lord.
I’ve got to be honest. I went into Mid-Ohio thinking it would be nothing more than an ordinary race weekend aside from the fact that it would be Martin Plowman’s first INDYCAR race. Oh, how wrong I would be.
Joe Petersen is the man responsible for initially bringing me into this amazing story. As we sat on the tug, ready to tow Davey Hamilton’s car out for the Texas Twin 275s, he asked my interest in covering Martin’s three races this season (something that was a closely guarded secret at the time). Oddly enough, I let him know I would love to but had yet to even meet Martin.
Not five minutes later, Martin walked past and Joe handled the introduction. After the expected pleasantries and swapping of business cards, it could no longer be said I’d never met Plowey. Little did I know what I was getting myself into.
Come time for Martin’s debut at Mid-Ohio, Joe and I traveled together on the same flight with Indy 500 legends Johnny Rutherford and Al Unser Jr. to Columbus, Ohio on a Thursday morning. As we flew, I could not help but think that five Indianapolis 500 victories flew along with us. In fact, I turned around and spotted Little Al (as I will always call him) sleeping with his head cocked back on his headrest. For a lifelong fan of the ‘500,’ it was yet another surreal moment of my racing insanity.
To be fair, Joe had warned me. He’d let me know that all of the things I’d seen and done would hold no comparison to the experience of becoming a member of Team Plowey. Knowing little else at the time, I considered it nothing more than lip service. That changed at the moment I met Mark and Anita Plowman for the first time.
Joe and I made our way to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course after lunch on Thursday and immediately found the Plowman motorcoach. Mark, Martin’s father and a man I’d never met before, greeted me with a gigantic bear hug. Anita followed immediately after in identical fashion. I’d no idea that from that moment on, I had gained a new family. And that’s no lie. Mark and Anita are now family.
Kingdom Racing has but one Mission, to “Deliver God’s Word through Motorsports.” And let me tell you, Martin Plowman and the Plowman family are prime examples of that Mission. In fact, their story exemplifies the very principles of the Christian walk. And to see that in depth requires that you walk along side them for a while. For me, it was an amazingly fortunate opportunity to do so.
I can tell you this much. In early March, I watched my father die from cancer. I spent his final hours with him and kissed his lifeless body goodbye before any warmth had left his remains. There is no need to explain what a tremendously emotional experience it was. I told my daddy farewell, here to stand as the oldest living male member of my family. Those who have gone through the event know it to be a sobering experience. That being said, the weekend spent with Team Plowey and Snowball Express was easily over ten times more emotional and rewarding than the passing of my own father. That should speak volumes. Martin Plowman is a special driver, and my prediction is that he will soon become a phenomenon if not a benchmark of excellence in the INDYCAR Series. What took place at Mid-Ohio was simply awe-inspiring, and not just the on-track action.
For those of you not familiar with Martin’s sponsor, Snowball Express, I urge you to visit their website, www.SnowballExpress.org. More importantly, visit their donation page at http://snowballexpress.org/supporters/donate, and give. Snowball Express’s Mission is simple, to “Provide hope and new memories to the children of military fallen heroes who have died while on active duty since 9/11.”
At Mid-Ohio, Team Plowey and Kingdom Racing hosted two Snowball Express families for his special debut. The impressions they left upon my heart is indescribable, even for a writer. Joyfully, their numbers will be increasing at Sears Point and Baltimore.
The mothers’ names were Kathy and Pam, and together they brought three children. On race day, these five people changed my life.
As a diehard race fan, I never thought that racing would no longer matter, especially on race day at a racetrack. Last Sunday, a beautiful transformation took place. As I hoisted a little boy onto my shoulders to watch the cars and crews during morning practice and hike around the paddock, racing fell sharply down the totem pole of important things.
During races involving Kingdom Racing, Joe and I can usually be found in one of two places, either in the pits or the media center. Not at Mid-Ohio. We forgot all about that stuff and joined the fans.
We loaded the golf cart (aka the “buggy,” per the Queen’s meticulous English) with the Snowball families and headed for the infield of the road course. We found a nice shady spot on the side of a hill overlooking Turn Six.
And there we sat, watching the race and acting like old friends and family, “family” being the key word in the whole affair. Kathy’s son is the same age as my own. When he needed to use the restroom, I took him, though Kathy always asked if I was sure about the offer. It was my pleasure to take the boy while she sat and enjoyed the day.
I stood in line with the child while he acted much like any other five year old boy. He reminded me so much of my son. When he got out of line and started kicking gravel on others, I stopped him and moved him back into line, per personal fatherly experience. As we stood there, I nearly cried at such a simple, always overlooked moment.
My kids live on the other side of the country with their mother and it is a rarity that I get to spend quality time with them. Meanwhile, standing there with that young boy, very much like my own, it struck me that his daddy was far away too, up in heaven, asking me directly to take care of his little boy. And I felt the weight of a soldier’s responsibility come crashing down upon me. Now, I must admit to not breaking down until arriving at the hotel that night, but I wanted to very badly at that moment. This boy’s father died in defense of America and I had the absolute honor and privilege of sitting with his son at the race and taking him to the potty. As a father missing a son, standing there with a boy who will never know his father, it easily counted as one of the most deeply emotional moments of my life. It reasons to say that it will be hard to top.
Not less than a few hundred yards away, the Honda Indy 200 raged on and neither of us much cared. I know that all I cared about was spending that day and those moments with that little boy and his family.
I heard the stories of how each man died. In Kathy and Pam, lifelong friends were instantly found. War is a bitter pill to swallow. Across the country, we may know a family down the street who has lost a loved one. Perhaps the child who used to cut the summer grass died on the battlefield. It could be that our daughter’s high school flame gave his life for our freedom and shall forever remain a memory. The stories vary but inevitably for most Americans, they are few. At Mid-Ohio, we came face to face with two ladies who lost their husbands and fathers of their children to the war on terror. We shared moments with the shadows of real American heroes.
And at once I saw the horrific result of war and the beautiful reconstruction and resolution of determined souls. It is not just the soldiers who sacrifice on the field of battle. There are others back home who give their all, too.
Pam’s son turned seven two days before the race. That day, he received a special telephone call wishing him Happy Birthday. He would not only end up meeting the young man who made that telephone call, but also watch him gain eight positions to finish in eighteenth at Mid-Ohio on Sunday. Yep. Martin Plowman made that call, because that’s just the type of man he is. It’s the man his parents raised him to be and the man who took time out of his life to visit troops overseas during the Indy 500 Centennial Tour this past winter.
With the entire Plowman family, and all of Team Plowey for that matter, racing comes second. Family comes first. And thankfully, luckily, some of us are lucky enough to be a part of it.
God bless our fallen soldiers and those they leave behind. It is our charge as a nation, and that of Snowball Express, Kingdom Racing, Team Plowey, and the INDYCAR Series to see that they are never forgotten.
Amen to that.
Plowman to Start 26th in INDYCAR Series Debut
(Versus; 2:00 PM ET)
LEXINGTON, OH – Paul Maskens held the bus door open while the longest tenured mechanic on Team Plowey fixed a nagging problem. Over the last two days, it had gradually become more difficult to close without putting in a serious effort. But within a matter of minutes, the mechanic had diagnosed the issue, tightened the necessary screws and tested to see if the issue was resolved. And with that, Anita Plowman declared the door back in proper working order before stepping back into the motorcoach wearing a little red dress.
Don’t let her striking good looks fool you. Anita knows how to turn a wrench. For many years, she was lead (meaning only) mechanic for her son while he moved through the karting ranks. She once got stopped and pulled aside for investigation at an airport after a mysterious device showed up on the X-ray scan of her purse. It was one of Martin’s carburetors. The story gets quite a laugh nowadays, but just a few short years ago, that’s how life was for Plowey’s lead mechanic. Today, she took charge and fixed the door like a pro, still having the “touch.”
After two days, I’ve learned that politely refusing the offer of tea from Mark is a futile effort. When asked, the only possible answer is yes. And it is always the perfect beverage.
In the last article, I wrote of the amazing dedication of Mr. and Mrs. Plowman. It turns out that they are not alone. Paul Maskens, who held the door graciously while Anita made her repair, and his bride, Angie, have also traveled from England to be here for Martin’s INDYCAR debut on Sunday. They hail from Oxford, “a college town,” as Paul puts it, and have been following Plowey’s career since he made his comeback from a karting crash that gave him severe injuries.
Since then, they have managed to make all of Martin’s “first” races in every series in which he’s raced. This is their third attempt this season. Anticipating that he would be in the season opener, they attended St. Petersburg then returned to Oxford. Then, believing it would be Toronto, they went there. And once again, they returned home to Oxford. Now, they have made a third international trip this year. On Sunday, they will be rewarded with their goal, seeing their favorite driver make the big time. How dedicated are they? Paul and Angie are trying to figure out how to make all of Martin’s races should he land a full-time ride next season. Plowey certainly has a lot of fans, but it is without question that outside of biological family, the Maskens’ wear the crown of his most devoted.
On the track, Martin had a rough day. He will be starting his first INDYCAR race from 26th position. Only one other car is behind him. Regardless of high hopes, it still cannot be forgotten that simply starting an INDYCAR race remains a huge victory for this driver and his family. This morning, Mark was telling a story about a photo of Nigel Mansell which hangs in his office back in England. Tears filled his eyes and his voice quivered while expressing his realization that “my son is about to be doing the same thing as Mansell.” The encounter almost made me cry, too.
Darrell and Janet Pollard, Nicole’s parents, have become a constant presence since arriving on Friday. Darrell has been masterfully manning the grill, keeping all of us well fed. And just today (Saturday), the Plowey family entourage has nearly tripled. There are a lot of people here to cheer on the No. 17 Snowball Express AFS/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car.
Among the growing horde of Plowey devotees, we had the pleasure of another special visitor today. Buck Kern, chairman of Snowball Express, was finally able to secure a flight to visit everyone here at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Though he must return home before the race on Sunday, he got to see the Snowball Express car in action and witness the fruits of this wonderful collaboration. Talking with Buck, he was thoroughly impressed with what he experienced.
Sunday is finally now upon us. We’ve joked about not being able to sleep tonight due to the excitement of seeing Martin make his INDYCAR debut in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.
I know I can’t sleep. That’s part of why I’m up putting this article together. And although very excited for tomorrow’s big introduction, I am but one of an entire legion of the most devoted Plowey fans from around the globe affectionately known as Team Plowey.
Go get ‘em Plowey. We know you’ll make us proud. You already have in ways nobody could have ever imagined.
So, it begins!
Best wishes and prayers for a safe and thrilling race from all of us at Kingdom Racing!
Thanks and God bless,