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Inspiring Athletes

Inspiring Athletes

A conversation with Sprint Cup driver Austin Dillon

posted by Chad Bonham
Eldora Speedway - Day 1

Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Chevrolet car in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (Photo by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images/Courtesy of NASCAR Media)

He might be barely into his mid-20s, but Sprint Cup driver Austin Dillon has already found himself smack dab in the middle of NASCAR’s brightest spotlight. You could say Dillon was born to be a driver. His grandfather is legendary team owner Richard Childress and his father Mike Dillon is the general manager at Richard Childress Racing (RCR). Plus, his younger brother Ty is one of the sport’s rising stars.

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But the heat was really turned up in 2014 when Dillon put the iconic #3 car back into the Cup Series for the first time since its Hall of Fame driver Dale Earnhardt Sr., was tragically killed during the 2001 Daytona 500. Although Dillon won the Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series championship in 2013, nothing could compare to being linked to NASCAR royalty in such a visible way.

In this Inspiring Athletes interview, Dillon talks about how he’s handled the pressure, what it’s like racing against his younger brother, why Motor Racing Outreach is so important to his spiritual life, and how his Christian faith guides him:

Chad Bonham: Have you ever felt a heavy sense of responsibility or pressure while bringing the iconic #3 car back to the track?

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Austin Dillon: There’s definitely a sense of responsibility and it’s something I take very seriously. It’s an honor. There’s pressure, but that’s a good thing and something I feel very fortunate to have. I take great responsibility for it. Not every number gives you pressure. This number, the No. 3, means so much. It pushes me to be better, to go to the gym, to talk to my crew chief Gil Martin, and to be with the guys on the team every day. The number pushes me and that’s a good thing.

Bonham: Do you feel like you’ve been able to manage expectations from the fans, RCR and yourself?

Dillon: I think so. When it comes down to it you have to be true to yourself and the rest falls into place.

Bonham: What has been the most memorable moment thus far since making the move to Sprint Cup?

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Austin Dillon in the iconic #3 Chevrolet. (Photo by Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images/courtesy nascarmedia.com)

Austin Dillon in the iconic #3 Chevrolet. (Photo by Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images/courtesy NASCAR Media)

Dillon: I think it would be the start of my rookie season when there was so much pressure, so many expectations, and so much excitement surrounding the return of the No. 3 to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and then we went out and won the pole for the Daytona 500. That was a very special moment.

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Bonham: How did you first meet (RCR crew member) Ray Wright and how has that friendship benefited you personally and professionally?

Dillon: I met Ray Wright at Forsyth Country Day School. He was so inspirational to me and all of the guys on the soccer team. He was able to really push me to meet my fitness goals. My dad recognized that Ray had a unique ability of being able to motivate people and convinced him to come work at RCR in our pit department where he works with Paul Menard’s team.

Bonham: How does faith play into your life both on and off the racetrack?

Dillon: Faith is huge and I am a proud Christian. I think it would be difficult to have a career like the one we have without having faith.

Bonham: What is the significance of having an organization like MRO around throughout the race weekends?

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Dillon: Motor Racing Outreach is great. They provide a chapel service every Sunday for drivers, wives, crew members, and others in the NASCAR industry so that we can gather and celebrate our faith. It’s important to me to have this time before the race on Sundays. They also provide other services such as at-track childcare and counseling.

Bonham: In those times when you’ve raced against your brother Ty, has it been easy or difficult to separate yourself from that relationship and race him hard just like any other driver?

Austin Dillon (left) and his younger brother Ty (right). (Photo courtesy of nascarmedia.com)

Austin Dillon (left) and his younger brother Ty (right). (Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media)

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Dillon: Ty and I are extremely competitive. We don’t go soft on each other. We push each other, which ultimately helps us both. We race against each other in everything we do, whether it’s a foot race to the car when we go out to a restaurant at night or on the racetrack. It’s in the back of my mind that he’s on the track with me, but we’re both competitive and want to win.

Bonham: Are there any older drivers in the Sprint Cup series that have been mentors to you during the early stages of your career? If so, what kind of advice have you received from them?

Dillon: I lean on a lot of drivers. I have a dirt racing background so I gravitate towards asking for advice from drivers who also dirt race, people like Clint Bowyer since dirt racers seem to have a similar driving style and like the car set up similarly.

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Bonham: If you weren’t racing, what do you think you would be doing right now?

Dillon: I would own a ranch where people could come and hunt. It would be fun and laid back every day.

To follow Austin Dillon throughout the NASCAR season, visit his race team’s official website at www.rcrracing.com.

And pick up a copy of Faith in the Fast Lane: How NASCAR Found Jesus to read about how the Christian faith became so prevalent within the sport.

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A conversation with Liberty football coach and former Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill

posted by Chad Bonham
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Liberty head football coach Turner Gill (Photo courtesy of Liberty Athletics)

Turner Gill has seen just about everything in his days as a top-rated college quarterback and his experiences as a coach at various levels. At Nebraska, he led the Cornhuskers to three Big Eight championships but painfully fell short of a national title. Back at Nebraska as an assistant, he celebrated with legendary head coach Tom Osborne during three championship seasons. And then, he stepped out on his with mixed results—an impressive turnaround at Buffalo University, a disappointing tenure at Kansas University and his current Football Championship Series (FCS) playoff run at Liberty University.

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But not much have that has mattered nearly as much as a decision he made nearly 30 years ago while playing in the Canadian Football League for the Montreal Alouettes. That decision to follow Jesus has changed his perspective on winning and losing and everything in between.

In this Inspiring Athletes interview, Gill talks about the glory days at Nebraska, how he deals with the ups and downs of the coaching profession, and the job that will always take first priority in his life:

Chad Bonham: Many were surprised when you chose Nebraska over Oklahoma and Texas. So how did you get from Fort Worth to Lincoln?

Turner Gill: There’s no question God has His hands on (the decision). Tom Osborne was the main reason I chose to come to Nebraska. Had he not been there, I would not have chosen that school. It was because of his genuineness, his trustworthiness and his intelligence. I knew he was going to make me a better man. That was the number one thing that I was looking for. And no doubt, I knew he was going to develop me into the player and the quarterback that I wanted to be and needed to be at that time.

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Bonham: What was the first thing that caught your attention when you arrived on campus that first year?

Gill: There were lots and lots of players. We had a freshman team and there were over a hundred players and there were another hundred players on the varsity team. There were two hundred or so players at Nebraska ready to play some football. That was a wow factor. I came from a big high school but we didn’t have that many players. So that was the first thing that struck me.

Bonham: Talk about the high expectations surrounding Nebraska football as you headed into your senior season.

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Turner Gill during Liberty’s 2014 game against Presbyterian College (Photo courtesy of Liberty Athletics)

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Gill: Right after my junior season, I had to decide if I was going to play professional baseball or stay for my senior year. I decided against it because I knew we had a great opportunity to go undefeated and win it all. That was all we talked about on that team. We wanted to be the national champions and I wanted to be a part of that. But I wanted it more for Tom Osborne than I wanted it for myself or for my teammates.

Bonham: Coach Osborne famously went for the two-point conversion at the end of the Orange Bowl against Miami, which was essentially for the National Championship.

Gill: To this day, I’m still glad that he went for two points. I called timeout myself and had a discussion with him about going for two. We wanted to go undefeated. That was our goal. We didn’t want to go 12-0-1. We wanted to be 13-0. That was our mentality. Obviously we came inches short. It was a great game for college football. That wasn’t just a defining game for the University of Miami and Nebraska. I think it brought more attention to college football.

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Bonham: You didn’t accept Christ until after your college days were over. Talk about what happened in December of 1985.

Gill: I had a dream to play either professional football or baseball. I had the opportunity play football in Canada and have all the money and the fame and the glory, but something was missing. I just couldn’t figure it out. I’d reached my dream. I’d reached the pinnacle of what I wanted as a young man. I had it all and I still didn’t feel satisfied. One of my teammates on that team in Montreal was Todd Brown. We also played together at Nebraska. I had always admired him and how he went about his business, but I didn’t know what he was all about. One day we sat down and talked about how I was feeling. That’s when he shared the Gospel with me. He told me that I needed to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal savior and follow Him everyday. He told me that, just like my playbook, I needed to study the Bible to prepare myself for life. That day, I accepted Christ as my Savior.

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Bonham: When you won three national titles as an assistant at Nebraska, do you think your faith allowed to better handle the success?

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Turner Gill on the sidelines during Liberty’s 2014 game against North Carolina (Photo courtesy of Liberty Athletics)

Gill: Absolutely. I actually thank God that it happened while I was a believer. There’s no question the dynamic would have been different if I had achieved that award as a player when I was a nonbeliever. I don’t know how I would have responded. As an assistant coach, I was able to realize that it was great in that moment but it was also temporary. Everyone loses sight of that. It’s a temporary thing. It’s from a worldly standpoint. That’s why I’m glad I was a believer when we won those championships. I could understand it a lot better and now, even as I talk about it, I talk about it in a different way. The experience has helped me bring other people to Christ and helped me keep things in the right perspective.

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Bonham: You’ve had some interesting coaching experiences from your time as an assistant at Nebraska and your success at Buffalo to some tough years at Kansas. How do you handle the ups and downs of this profession?

Gill: I’m a follower of Christ. When things were looking bad at Kansas, God was with me in all those times. The Holy Spirit was with me. I thank God for allowing me to go through those things because it helped me to grow and get closer to Him. You might have some obstacles in the world but God has allowed those obstacles to be placed there so you can become more intimate with Him and find out if you really trust Him. Are you going to follow Him or are you not going to follow Him? I think that situation really helped me grow closer to the Lord, to my wife and to the people who are most important to me.

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Bonham: You really seem to be enjoying your time at Liberty University.

Gill: It’s been a great experience. I’m here to glorify God. I’m here to do the best I can do according to the strength and ability that God has given me. I’m also here to help others get to know Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. That’s the ultimate thing that God wants all of us to do. Therefore, if there are wins and losses, that doesn’t define me. I’ve always tried to keep things in that perspective and do what Jesus wants me to do. There’s a high calling. That’s the big picture.

Read more from Turner Gill in the book Husker Legacy (Cross Training Publishing). The book also features past Nebraska players such as Trev Alberts, Josh Brown, Eric Hagg, Roy Helu Jr., Chris Kelsay and Mike Minter, as well as legendary former head coach Tom Osborne and long-time assistant coach Ron Brown.

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A conversation with NASCAR driver David Starr

posted by Chad Bonham
NASCAR driver David Starr (photo courtesy of NASCARMedia.com)

NASCAR driver David Starr (photo courtesy of NASCARMedia.com)

It doesn’t matter if it’s the Camping World Truck Series, the Nationwide Series or the Sprint Cup Series. All NASCAR driver David Starr cares about is getting behind the wheel and doing what he’s loves best—racing.

Starr has spent most of 16-year career in the Truck Series where he has won four races and collected 117 top-10 finishes. He currently competes in the Nationwide Series for TriStar Motorsports in the #44 and #10 cars. But it was a conversation with Interstate Batteries president Norm Miller that led him to his greatest victory.

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In this Inspiring Athletes interview, Starr talks about the family-friendly nature of NASCAR, how one question changed his life and why passion and purpose are starting to look more alike every day:

Chad Bonham: Just like a lot of people in the NASCAR community, family seems to be a very important part of your life.

David Starr: It really is. This is such a great sport. There’s so much excitement with the competition on racetrack. The sport has really grown over the years. But one thing about the whole industry is it’s definitely a family-oriented sport. Most of the drivers have wives and kids. The sport really brings families together. I meet people all the time who come to races with their parents, their kids, their aunts and uncles. They camp out at the races. It’s a common bond for a lot of families out there. I’m very blessed and very honored to a part of this sport.

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Bonham: I first heard your testimony as part of an “I Am Second” video piece. Tell me about how Norm Miller helped lead you into a relationship with Christ.

David Starr drove the #10 car for TriStar Motorsports at the NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International in February of 2014 (photo courtesy of NASCARMedia.com)

David Starr drove the #10 car for TriStar Motorsports at the NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International in February of 2014 (photo courtesy of NASCARMedia.com)

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Starr: We grew up in a Catholic church. I come from a family that had a strong faith in God. But I was just like any other typical kid. I got into fights. I got mad. I was competitive. And for a long time, I’ve just been a kid trying to grow up. When you enter adulthood and you get married and God has blessed you with the talent to be in this sport, it makes you start looking at things differently. Norm approached me years ago and asked me how my relationship was with God. I was like, “Man, that’s kind of a strange question.” I told them that I grew up going to church but he wanted to know if I was personally connected to God. I started trying to understand and we prayed together and I accepted Jesus into my life. From then, I’ve tried to live by His Word and tried to do more Bible study and live like Jesus would want me to live. I’m not one that goes out there and tells a lot of people about my faith. If people ask, I’ll tell them about it. But I’m a normal person. I make mistakes. I’ve gotten in some fights after some races. I’ve very competitive. So when I tell people that I have a personal relationship with God, they’re shocked sometimes. But just because I’m a Christian doesn’t mean I’m not a competitor. That doesn’t change anything. But the Lord has blessed me so much. You have to keep things in perspective. Sometimes we can get lost in what we’re doing here with the TV exposure and the sponsors, but we have church every weekend at the track and it’s important to have that quality time with the Lord and learn more about His message. Years ago, I used to be all wrapped up in what I do and how I make a living, but now I try to put the Lord first and let everything fall into place after that.

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Bonham: There seems to be a wide variety of faith expression in the NASCAR garage from the young group coming up to an older driver like Morgan Shepherd and even in how some are more vocal while others tend to quietly lead by example. How does that make the NASCAR experience unique?

Starr: With Blake Koch and Trevor Bayne and Michael McDowell, you have some guys that are very vocal about their faith. I think that’s wonderful. Everybody is different with that. The Lord wants us to spread His spread. Some are comfortable with that and some aren’t. I’ve personally lived by His Word and had a personal relationship with him, but I don’t go around and talk to people about their faith. But I think it’s wonderful to have drivers like Morgan Shepherd and these younger guys getting the Word out there. It is very diverse. When they do that, I sometimes look at myself and wonder why I haven’t been more vocal. But at the end of the day, all that really matters is that you have a personal relationship with Christ. If someone wants to talk about things or if they’re struggle, I’ll be the first one to go to them and talk to them and pray for them. God is the one who can heal and fix things and guide you in the right direction. So I’m glad that we have a diverse environment. I’m glad for the ones that are putting their faith out there. We have a big audience and it’s wonderful that they take advantage of that platform.

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David Starr's #44 car on pit road just before the O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 4, 2014 (photo by Chad Bonham)

David Starr’s #44 car on pit road just before the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 4, 2014 (photo by Chad Bonham)

Bonham: Do you look at racing as your passion or is there also a sense of purpose that keeps you in the sport even when things might get tough?

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Starr: That’s a great question. There are a lot of wonderful people out here. You’ve got to have sponsors. You’ve got to bring money to the team. It’s different than when I first started 16 years ago. I feel like the good Lord has blessed me. I feel like He’s trying to use me to spread His Word. I’ve wanted to do this since I was a little boy. Ever since I can remember, this is all I’ve ever thought about doing. But God has put me here for a reason.

Bonham: So how do you deal with the uncertainties that come each year?

Starr: You never know sometimes what you’re going to do from season to season. But at the end of the day it’s in the Lord’s hands. He wants me to do what He wants me to do. Norm has taught me that. You put it all in God’s hands and He’ll put you where He wants you to be. I pray about it. Sometimes I think they’re selfish prayers. But I want to continue to do this. It obviously takes a lot of money to do it and God has blessed me with a lot of great people in my racing career. I thank Him for those people and I ask Him to continue to let me do what I love to do. If there’s a different direction He wants me to go, then I’ll go that way and I’ll praise Him for it. You put God first and everything else will fall in place. There was a long time in my life when I didn’t put Him first. It was all about racing. As I’ve gotten older, my perspective has changed through having sons and a wife. None of this will matter when you’re not here anymore. I want to win the final race. The final race is being in Heaven. I want to win every race, but more than anything I want to win the race of life. Because I have a relationship with the Lord, I know that I’m going spend eternity with Him when it’s all said and done.

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Read about the history of the faith movement within NASCAR. Pick up a copy of Faith in the Fast Lane featuring stories and commentary from Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Labonte, Ned Jarrett, Bobby Allison, Matt Kenseth and many more racing personalities.

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A conversation with NASCAR driver Tanner Berryhill

posted by Chad Bonham
Tanner Berryhill next to his #17 Nationwide Series car just before the start of the O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 4, 2014 (Photo by Chad Bonham)

Tanner Berryhill next to his #17 Nationwide Series car just before the start of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 4, 2014. (Photo by Chad Bonham)

The state of Oklahoma is known for its powerhouse football programs, legendary country music stars and rich Native American heritage. Notice the absence of “famous stock car drivers” from that list.

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Taylor Berryhill, barely into his 20’s, hopes to change that. The Bixby native and Nationwide Series driver has some serious racing genes in his DNA, a support system that includes his father (who doubles as team owner), and a strong faith that is rooted in an equally strong sense of purpose. In this Inspiring Athletes interview, Berryhill talks about how he got into racing, how he hopes to set a trend within his home state and what’s even more important than his career on the track:

Chad Bonham: How did you get from Bixby, Oklahoma, to NASCAR?

Tanner Berryhill: There wasn’t a whole lot of racing in Bixby, just some dirt racing here and there. I traveled to Texas Motor Speedway every weekend when I was 12 years old to race legends cars and Bandoleros. I did that for about two years and then I started traveling nationally to race. I raced in Tulsa a few times at JRP Speedway when they ran some stuff there. I just kept moving up the ranks. My dad had an Indy Car team when he was 29 and a Craftsman Truck team when he was 33 and an ARCA team from 2004 to 2005 and a Busch Series team from 2006 to 2008.

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Bonham: So you got into this because you were exposed to it a young age.

Berryhill: Right. My grand dad raced. His dad raced. My great uncle raced. Everybody raced. I was basically next in line. Pavement was the way to go. My dad knew that if I wanted to make a career out of it, I needed to go to NASCAR rather than dirt racing. Personally, I like dirt racing a little bit more. It’s a little more fun.

Bonham: What has been your involvement in the famous Chili Bowl that’s held in Tulsa every winter and has featured NASCAR drivers like Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, J.J. Yeley and Justin Allgaier?

Berryhill: My grand dad actually used to own the Chili Bowl. I try to come back and do that as much as I can. It’s a really fun race.

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Bonham: Do you hope that your presence in NASCAR helps encourage more drivers from Oklahoma to get into the sport?

DRIVE4COPD 300 - Practice

Tanner Berryhill drives the #17 car during practice at the DRIVE4COPD 300 in Daytona on February 22, 2014. (Photo courtesy of NASCARMedia.com)

Berryhill: That would be great. I’m actually good friends with Kenzie Ruston from El Reno. She started racing about a year after I did. We raced legends and Bandoleros together. She moved to North Carolina before I did and she’s racing in the K&N Series right now and doing really well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her in some truck races or Nationwide races in the future.

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Bonham: Talk about the family element of this sport and how that has helped you get through the challenges that come with a racing career.

Berryhill: My dad was my crew chief for the first year and a half that I raced in the Nationwide Series. That was pretty interesting. Then we hired another crew chief. But our team is very family oriented. It’s cool. There’s strength in family. I’m a big believer that the family that works together will succeed if the right opportunities come along. It’s a cool thing for my dad and I to be able to do this together.

Bonham: Where did you attend church in Tulsa?

Berryhill: I miss Life Church in South Tulsa so much. I lived in the neighborhood behind the campus. When I was younger, I rode my bike there. I went there for 10 years before we moved to North Carolina. We were really involved in the youth group “Switch.” When I first moved to North Carolina, I was trying to find another church but I couldn’t find anything that fit like Life Church. I went to Elevation Church and the first service I went to, (Life Church pastor) Craig Groeschel was preaching. I just thought, “Well, I think I found my church.” Steven Furtick is the pastor at Elevation and they’re growing big time out on the East Coast. Steven considers Craig his pastor. It’s pretty cool to listen to someone who has the same beliefs as Craig does.

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Bonham: Expressions of the Christian faith are a pretty common thing in NASCAR. How has that made it more comfortable for you to be in this sport?

Berryhill: I started racing Nationwide when I was 18 years old. It’s crazy because there are kids that are younger than me. But what’s really helped is having an organization like MRO around. They have the chapel services and they’re around the garage if you ever need anything. We get some cool guys to lead worship for us and we have small groups during the weekend. It’s been very enjoyable. Being on the road 33 weeks of the year, this becomes your community. You have to get to along with everybody. Racing becomes your life. You still have your friends at home, but you’re with these people so much. You have to get along.

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Bonham: How do you channel your passion for driving into the greater purpose for why you’re here?

Berryhill: That’s one of the coolest things about being a racecar driver. Even if its one tweet a day, the platform allows me the opportunity to change someone’s life. That’s what we’re here for. When we’re struggling on the track, I try to take myself out of the situation and realize how small these earthly problems are. I love being able to spread the Word. That’s my main purpose in life. Driving in NASCAR is icing on the cake.

Follow Tanner Berryhill’s racing career by visiting his official website at www.visionracingteam.com

Read about the history of the faith movement within NASCAR. Pick up a copy of Faith in the Fast Lane featuring stories and commentary from Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Labonte, Ned Jarrett, Bobby Allison, Matt Kenseth and many more racing personalities.
Previous Posts

A conversation with Sprint Cup driver Austin Dillon
He might be barely ...

posted 4:11:00pm Feb. 18, 2015 | read full post »

A conversation with Liberty football coach and former Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill
Turner Gill has seen just about everything in his days as a top-rated college quarterback and ...

posted 5:15:43pm Dec. 01, 2014 | read full post »

A conversation with NASCAR driver David Starr
It doesn’t matter if it’s the Camping World Truck Series, the Nationwide Series or the Sprint Cup Series. ...

posted 6:00:28pm Nov. 11, 2014 | read full post »

A conversation with NASCAR driver Tanner Berryhill
[caption id="attachment_3470" align="alignleft" width="605"] Tanner Berryhill next to his #17 Nationwide Series car just before the start of the O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 4, 2014. (Photo by Chad ...

posted 1:00:16pm Nov. 01, 2014 | read full post »

A conversation with NASCAR crew chief Jason Ratcliff
For the past 15 years, Jason Ratcliff has ...

posted 4:30:24pm Oct. 17, 2014 | read full post »

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