As we look forward to the heart of the race season this week brings me back to the memory of the man that put his life on the line to get this ministry started. I think back to the day when we received the news; Pat was home with the Lord. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the vision and courage of Pat Evans. Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
On June 5, 2005, the news came down that Pat had left us. We were at Thompson Speedway for a double header for the Busch North and Whelen Modified Tour. How appropriate, the place where RWJM held its inaugural Chapel Service in the fall of 1980 was the same place the news was released. I wasn’t around for the early days but one of Pat’s right hand men was, Dick Wibblesman. Dick shared his thoughts on the life that touched so many.
Pat was born in Pottstown, PA June 20th 1947. He developed his passion for racing at a very early age, joining his mom at some of the great tracks in the northeast—Reading, Nazareth, Langhorne, Trenton—while still a youngster. Many was the time that we would be coming back late from a race that he would reminisce about those early days and the great drivers he saw. I got an education in Jan Opperman, Al Tasnady and some of the other big names of that era.
After high school Pat joined the Navy to see the world. Not much of it was seen and he took his discharge as soon as it was available, settling in Southern California. There, he tried his hand at driving a dirt car and developed a driving style that was to follow him thru out his life—much to the chagrin of his passengers and many public servants charged with protecting others on the road. He soon discovered what most of us know. To earn a small fortune in racing, you need to start with a large one. He decided to come back east, and, using the then current version of the GI bill, earned a degree in marketing from the University of Connecticut. He got his start in the newspaper business after college doing sales work and ultimately some reporting with the Norwich Bulletin and other papers in the area.
It was during the mid ‘70s that Pat developed a yearning for a closer relationship with the Lord. Once he was born again, he started to feel there must be a way to combine his two loves, for the Lord and for auto racing. He started talking with certain drivers and other personnel it the pits at various tracks, and with his gift of gab, talked his way into saying a “little” message at the driver’s meetings. Finally he formed Racing With Jesus Ministries in 1978. In 1979, at the urging of a good friend—Val LaSieur, who owned and publishes Speedway Scene—Pat started a racing column in the paper. At first it was a brief message about the Lord followed by lots of racing news and his opinions. It was the latter that caught the attention of drivers, whose side he seemed to be on, and track officials/owners who were often on the receiving end of pointed comments about how the race should be run, or the track operated. But, he did get the reputation for being fair, honest and discreet—three traits that helped him become the reporter people read and believed for the truth. That allowed him to expand his Bible teaching in the column and touch more people. Nonetheless, Pat was many times the voice in the wilderness, ignored by many, listened to by few as he declared “prepare ye the way for the Lord”.
I first met Pat at one of those times. He was at the Speedway Scene-sponsored 1980 Racearama sitting in a little 4×4 booth with a card table, two folding chairs, a Bible and no audience. My wife must have spent two to three hours talking to him to keep him company and to discuss her recent Born Again experience. Me? I was there for the cars.
However, they must have had some prayer influence because I accepted the Lord one month later and thus started the 25 year long, wonderful relationship with Pat and his new ministry. Soon I was on the road almost every weekend with him—many of you probably know me only as the tall chubby fellow who was either standing in the background as Pat held court, or schlepping some podium, chair, bookstand etc., or taking a collection at service. All vital jobs that needed doing—well maybe not the standing part.
My first eye-opening taste of what it took for Pat to do his job was a mid-July trip to Oxford Plains for the ’80 Plains 250. There we were, driving up in an unairconditioned Chevette with my feet out the passenger window, screaming along at 75-80 mph (remember this was the double nickel era) hoping we got there before the engine breathed its last. It was not the last learning experience.
Most people have no idea what it took Pat to pull off this ministry. First there was the money side. Pat held a number of jobs during the 1980’s, generally none longer than several months to a couple of years, because his bosses either got tired of him always needing time off to pursue his ministry obligations at a track anywhere from northern Maine down to southern Virginia, or because they didn’t see eye-to-eye with him being so upfront with his love for the Lord. This also meant that he never had a job where his income could support both his day-to-day expenses and the extra cost of the ministry—travel, motels, meals, etc. It was and remains today the biggest concern. Second was the time investment. Not only was Pat doing all his ministry work at the track, and holding down a job, he also had the column to write and the many instances of counseling to cover. It seemed as if Pat were squeezing 27 hours into each day.
All those extra calls on his time were what made his efforts worthwhile. Pat was never happier than when he was asked to preside over a wedding or a christening, or was able to call me up and say another person had come to the Lord. THAT is what he felt called to do. Each year, at yearend he would, with great joy, tell us how many of each had happened during the year.
Over the years, Pat came to be accepted by more and more people. The turning point was probably the best and worst weekend of his life however. In October 1985, at Martinsville, one of Pat’s closest friends in racing, and one whom Pat had considered his biggest challenge regarding acceptance of faith, Richie Evans lost his life during practice. Pat was asked by track management to do a memorial service for Richie. Ultimately they broadcast the service to all 15-20,000 in the stands at the time. People heard him for the first time in many cases and realized that he was doing this job—the Ministry—for a reason, and it wasn’t money. It was a love of the Lord and the realization that these racers needed some divine protection. It helped Pat through this loss that Richie had told him earlier that week that he had found the Lord.
From this point on Pat earned new respect for who he was and what he did. Attendance at services increased, more calls for ministering came in, more weddings etc. A little more funding as well, but never enough.
In the early 90’s Pat changed the home of his column to Area Auto Racing News, thanks to the kindness of Lenny Sammons, to whom we are eternally grateful. He also started taking on additional people to help out both in the office–thanks Scott and Lisa—and at the track, first with some local representatives at places like Wall Stadium in NJ and Grandview in PA, and then most recently with full ministers like Dan Petfield who joined up in the late 90’s and Don Rivers a couple years ago.
The ministry will survive. But we will all miss our dear friend and brother. I will miss times with him like the one in Virginia when he was stopped for going 85-90 on the way back from Martinsville(again double nickel days). The trooper looked at Pat, walked away for awhile, came back, smiled and said in a very reverential tone “ Father, as a good catholic, there’s no way I can give a man of the cloth a ticket for this, but for the rest of the drive do you think you could try to keep it below 75?” We must have laughed about that for 100 miles—but at the same time it kept us awake at the end of a long weekend when we really needed it.
I will miss the many times we left for a track knowing that God had something in mind for us. Like the time we drove all the way to the Shangri-la track in NY, only to get rained out after arriving. On the way back we stopped at five-mile point that was running, and after that show, we finished up at Orange County. Pat had an anxiety attack while there and he was taken to the hospital. We didn’t know it at the time but God was preparing us. As we were getting ready to leave the Hospital, an ambulance came in with a severely injured pit crewman from a track accident, followed by his wife and two small children. Pat spent hours in the early morning comforting that family that he didn’t know. To this day, I don’t know whether that person survived or not—it was touch and go—but I do know that God used His man to help the family through.
For twenty-five years Reverend Pat was there for “his” racers, pit crews, track officials, and fans. In person and through his column, he tried to bring people closer to the Lord and their salvation. Now the Lord has called him home with a “good job, faithful servant”. The ministry will go on, doing God’s work as instructed, But, we will miss tremendously our friend, our brother, and, at times, our support—Patrick T.J. Evans. Rest in Peace, my friend. By Dick Wibbelsman
Until next time, remember God loves you and Jesus is Lord over Auto Racing! God Bless. Remember, that your prayerful support and donations helps us continue this ministry. Thank You.