NASCAR and the Disappointment of Victory

My older boys are crazy about NASCAR. It all started years ago with Will’s love of cars. Most of his first little cars were Matchbox or tiny replicas of various makes and models, but a few were official NASCAR cars, painted with the numbers, sponsors, and driver signatures. These official cars quickly became his favorites; he didn’t even want to play with the others. A seed had been planted, and then when Will and Nate were four and two we took them to the Pixar movie CARS, then later that same month we moved to Florida, where every third vehicle is decked out with NASCAR paraphernalia. It was the perfect storm and NASCAR fever was already burning in their little hearts. But their fan hood was cinched forever when we made the pilgrimage to the mecca of racing: The Daytona International Speedway. It was only an hour from our home, and we thought the boys would enjoy the museum, seeing the real life cars, and a ride on the track (it was in a tram, not a stock car). Well, they enjoyed it alright! They ate it up with the fervor of teenage girls at a boy band concert. By the time the tour ended at the checkered flag stage, they were both seriously hooked. We walked away wondering if the pilgrimage was such a good idea after all.

After that visit to the Speedway and when Nate was still just three years old, he chose to root for Matt Kenseth. Each member of the family has a different driver. Daddy follows the Army car, currently driven by Ryan Newman. I cheer for Jeff Gordon, Will for Tony Stewart, and Sam was given Martin Truex by his brothers while he was still in the womb. The boys have even assigned drivers to extended family. For example Mimi has been assigned Denny Hamlin, Gramma has Junior, Cousin Caitlin, Jimmy Johnson, Aunt Laurie, Carl Edwards, and the list goes on. I could not have guessed even four years ago that I would become a fount of knowledge about NASCAR–I mean I would be a strong contender on a NASCAR gameshow. But if there were a competition for five-year-olds I have no doubt that Nate would win. He is the Rain Man of NASCAR!
But there are a couple of things I find very endearing about the sport. Each race has an invocation which almost always reverently calls upon the name of Jesus for protection. The prayer usually seeks safety not just for the race and its drivers, but for our troops. And before the most famous words in racing (which surely I do not need to tell you), something akin to F-18s race over the stadium inspiring a surge of patriotism. In our postmodern world where nothing is sacred, the simplicity of NASCAR is refreshing. After all, some things are simple. God loves each of us. He sent his Son to save us. The United States of America is a great country, and we are blessed to live here. So I love NASCAR in part because my boys love it, but I also think it’s cool to see biblical truth play out in everyday life. The Bible says that “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise,” and I see a glimmer of that in NASCAR. Some of the fans may well deserve their simpleton stereotype but in some ways they “get it” more than the most educated and sophisticated elites.
But back to Matt Kenseth and his biggest fan. Last season, he didn’t win a single race, but 2009 appears to be his year; he took the checkered flag at Daytona, and then this past week he won again! But Nate has been acting a little strange about it. He is either totally overwhelmed by Kenseth’s two for two start, or more likely, having his driver win isn’t all that.
And life is like that, isn’t it? Sometimes we want something really badly, but getting it isn’t everything we thought it would be. Sometimes we feel let down — obtaining and achieving do not satisfy us completely. We need more. Really there is only one thing in the universe that will never disappoint us, because there is only one thing that is perfect. And it’s not a thing. It is a Person. It’s God. Knowing Him will never, ever disappoint us. In fact, our most fantastical expectations of Him and His glory fall hopelessly, even comically short. Our fallen little minds — be they stimulated by fast cars or drawn only to finer arts — can fathom neither His Glory nor the depth of His Love, and for that we should all give praise.