Westmont Magazine A Race to Faith
It’s quiet on a Sunday morning in a racetrack pit. In a few hours, the deafening drone of engines and the pungent smell of exhaust will return to the asphalt area. But in the calm, the racing community gathers under a tent for a surprising event: a worship service led by a chaplain from Racers For Christ.
Paul Neighbors ’70 sometimes speaks at such services. The executive director of RFC, he attends six or seven major races each year. Since 2000, he has led the national ministry and its 230 mostly volunteer staff. Whatever the racing event (car, motorcycle, boat, airplane, BMX), RFC sends a chaplain. “We practice friendship evangelism,” Paul says. “We enter the community, learn the culture and language, build relationships and earn the right to be heard by modeling the Christian life.”
For some professional racers, RFC chaplains become their pastors, as they travel too much to get involved in their local church. The Sunday morning services at the track give them an opportunity to worship, and they appreciate the chaplains who will visit anyone injured in an accident or perform other services such as marriages and baptisms.
Paul got involved with RFC in 1976. An avid racing fan from an early age (he asked to see a jalopy race in Los Angeles for his fifth birthday), he began volunteering at races in 1973 to get in free. He did any job he could: driving the ambulance, fire engine or tow truck, cleaning up, officiating and serving as starter. When he saw a poster for RFC, he decided to participate in the ministry as well to integrate his faith and his love for racing.
For a time, Paul even tried his hand at driving, competing in stock cars on a short track for three years in the 1970s and in sports cars on road courses for two years in the 1980s.
His other lifelong passion was Christian camping. For 25 years, he worked at Forest Home in Southern California, where he went from flipping burgers as a college student to serving on the executive staff. He also spent four years at Thousand Pines. “As a product of Christian camping, it was easy to be passionate about that kind of ministry,” he says. The move to RFC in 2000 seemed natural given his expertise with non-profit management and his devotion to racing. “God closed one door and opened another,” he says.
Paul came to Westmont expecting to go into pastoral ministry. “But I discovered my gifts and skills were more suited to administrative and organizational work,” he says. He learned about Christian camping from the late physical education professor Peg Lovik, and Coach Jim Klein encouraged him in that direction as well. He majored in Christian education.
“I learned so much about living life in that residential community that has applied to the rest of my life, especially balancing work, academics and a social life,” he says. “The relationships at Westmont stand out in my mind, including meeting my wife.” Paul and Cathie Vanderhoof Neighbors ’73 served together in ministry and as racetrack volunteers until her death from cancer in 2003. “She knew she had to go the races to see me,” he says.
“We focus on the basics of the faith in our ministry,” Paul says. “We feel called to lift up the name of Jesus in the motorsports community.”