IndyCar driver Helio Castroneves said before Sunday's Baltimore Grand Prix that as a religious man he prays for everyone's safety. And if, God willing, there's an opportunity to quickly get by a competitor in the race, he prays for that as well.
"Well, in the Bible it says you can ask," said the Brazilian driver and "Dancing With the Stars" champion after a personal Mass, which took place after a general Mass at the Baltimore Convention Center.
The Masses were organized by IndyCar Ministry, a nonprofit group that provides Catholic and Protestant services, counsel and support to the racing community. The organization is a fixture at racing venues, giving drivers of faith a chance to stay spiritually grounded as they take part in one of the most dangerous sports in the world.
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"In racing, anybody who is in their right mind would really want to be as close to the Lord as they can before they start a day like today," the Rev. Christopher Weldon, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi in Muncie, Ind., said before leading the worship services. "When you're racing at speeds of anywhere from 180 miles per hour to 220 miles per hour, you want to be able to know that your relationship with the Lord is a good one."
Weldon celebrated Mass adjacent to the drivers' haulers, and occasionally the sounds of racing cars zooming along the track outdoors filled the room. Weldon acknowledged to those who attended that because of time constraints, the service would be shorter than what many were accustomed to in a traditional church setting.
He wasn't kidding. His sermon, entitled, "Trusting God with Everything in Everyday," lasted about a minute and a half.
But it was well-received by those who attended. "It's the calm before the storm," said Howard Stahl of the Holmatro Safety Team, which provides safety tools and services at IndyCar events. "It affords us a chance to, on a hectic and sometimes crazy day, be able to sit down for 10 to 20 minutes to reflect on our faith and on safety and doing our jobs correctly."
Earlier that morning, Castroneves had walked away uninjured from a crash during a practice race — one of several crashes over the course of the three-day Grand Prix.
Many of those who attended the general service were from teams affiliated with the racing series as well as fans, including Mike and Sarah Sheehan of Arlington, Va. Sarah Sheehan said the brief service "was a gem."
Bob Hills, director and chaplain of the IndyCar Ministry, said that the organization also conducts a "rescue food ministry" and that its chefs planned to give up to 3,000 pounds of untouched food from the event to a local shelter.
Some drivers attend the general services while others request individual Masses depending on their schedules, Hills said. "We try to provide care and strength whether it's victory or whether it's crisis," he said.
Though Castroneves set a record for most poles in a season in 2007, he is arguably more popular to non-racing enthusiasts for his moves on the ABC television series "Dancing With the Stars." He became a household name when he captured the dancing title.
Just like a baseball player who performs the sign of the cross before an at-bat or a football player who kneels in prayer before a field goal attempt, Castroneves says his faith plays a vital role in his performance.
"I am religious and obviously we work on the weekend," Castroneves said. "It's the only way for us to be a little bit closer to the spiritual side."