Welch prays at Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (BP)--Bobby Welch continued one of the Daytona 500's founding traditions by voicing the invocation prayer at the 50th running of the NASCAR race Feb. 17.

"It was an auspicious occasion," said Welch, who enjoyed countless visits to the world-famous track during his 32 years as pastor First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach. Welch now is the SBC Executive Committee's strategist for global evangelical relations.

"The event carried me back to the front porch of my childhood home in northern Alabama where we'd sit and listen to the race on the radio," he said.

Allotted only 25 seconds to pray, Welch said that was "long enough for God to hear and answer our prayer that He would protect all the drivers and we'd have a safe race."

Notable for Welch was the number of e-mails and phone calls he received from people who were grateful he concluded his prayer "in the saving name of Jesus Christ."

"For me, it was another opportunity to point people toward the power of the Gospel," the former SBC president said.

Welch also prayed that God would bless each race team to do their best, and thanked God for the drivers and their families.

The decorated Vietnam veteran also prayed for U.S. troops serving around the world, thanking God for the freedom they provide.

Welch prayed for the France family, who established the Daytona International Speedway.

"It's astounding to me that this family could come to a sleepy, seaside town, and clear out the scrub brush among the sand dunes and fictitious rattlesnakes, and establish a race now watched by millions of people worldwide," said Welch, who explained that the track's founder, the late Bill France Sr., years ago placed "Beware of Rattlesnakes" signs around the track to keep people from sneaking into the race.

Recalling a local news report, Welch said the France family started the tradition of an invocation prayer at the inaugural Daytona 500 race when they carried their family Bible to the track and prayed for good weather at race time in a region of Florida known for its spontaneous downpours.

Welch said the invitation to pray also afforded several other opportunities, like seeing every living winner of the notable race; meeting country music recording artist Trisha Yearwood, with whom Welch personally prayed before the invocation; and attending the exclusive pre-race drivers' meeting.

A transcript of Welch's prayer at the 50th running of the Daytona 500 anniversary follows:

"Let us pray. Father in heaven, we thank You now for this historic anniversary. Lord, we pray that You'll bless the France family. And we pray that You'll bless all these drivers and pit crews and equipment; may they do the best they've ever done. And Lord, as we look at this red, white and blue flag, we thank You today for our country. And we pray especially for our sons and daughters who are overseas -– that You'll protect them now and, the ones nearest harm's way, You'll give them the greatest blessing. And we pray all this -- and ask You to bless these drivers and everything that happens -- and we pray it in the holy and saving name of Jesus. Amen."


Norm Miller is a freelance writer in Richmond, Va.

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