Wishing for ?Godspeed' at Thursday Thunder

By Michael Davis

In God four ministers will trust as they take to the track at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton tonight in the "Faster Pastor" event.

The pastors, all from Griffin area churches, will be trying their hands and testing their faith on the Legends Ring at the speedway, driving the classic coupe-replica Legends cars during the intermission of Thursday Thunder racing activities.

Ted Moody of Mt. Gilead Church, Dan Brown of First United Methodist, Steve Stewart of Oak Hill Baptist Church and Randy Valimont of First Assembly of God will race to benefit the Five Loaves and Two Fish Food Pantry in Griffin.

Congregations are encouraged to bring canned-food donations to the gate at the speedway and place them in the barrel of their favorite pastor.

"I love racing anyway," Moody said. "It's for a good cause and its good for the churches. Everybody will come out a winner."

With little practice under their belts, it should be interesting to see how the religious racers fare on the quarter-mile track, speeding by their congregations at up to 70 mph.

During a recent practice run, Brown skidded off the track and through a fence while trying to prove his skill to the other pastors.

"I was coming around the third turn, hit the gas and overcorrected and I spun out," he said. "I just decided I wasn't going to be intimidated. The kids around the church are calling me ?Dangerous Dan' now."

Eddie Whitlock, director of the All Faiths Christian Ministry, which operates the food pantry, said the event is a good way to bring the community together.

"A lot of different churches are benefiting and a lot of churches are working together," he said.

About 30 local churches collect donations for the food pantry, said Whitlock.

But just because the event is for a good cause, does not mean that it's not just as competitive as a Sunday NASCAR event, usually held after the pastors have left the pulpit.

Valimont is brimming with confidence about tonight's race.

"If they stay out of the way, there won't be a problem," he said.

"I think they are just worried about crashing, but I'm worried about winning."

Stewart also joined in the good-natured competition.

"I just hope that we're all still friends after they lose," Stewart said.

Moody is even rumored to have taken out an ad in his local paper congratulating himself on his upcoming win.

Although tonight's event is the first time it will be held at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the Faster Pastor race has been around for several years at other racetracks, said AMS Events Director Brandon Hutchison.

"It's something fun for the pastors and congregations to take part in," he said.

In its sixth year, the Thursday Thunder series has been drawing larger crowds every week with Thursday's attendance expected to be around 3,000 people, said Hutchison.

"We expect a big crowd out here," he said.