For the past 15 years, Jason Ratcliff has slowly worked his way through the NASCAR ranks as a crew chief for the likes of David Green, J.J. Yeley, Aric Almirola and Jamie McMurray. He’s spent time working with Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin early in their careers and most notably helped lead Busch to the 2009 Nationwide Series title. But now that Ratcliff has made the move to the Sprint Cup Series working with Matt Kenseth and the #20 car, he admits that keeping his life’s priorities in order is more challenging than ever.
In this Inspiring Athletes interview, Ratcliff talks about Joe Gibbs’ influence, what he’s observed about Kyle Busch, which baseball legend reminds him of Matt Kenseth and how his faith in God helps him keep it all together:
Chad Bonham: Tell me about your faith background.
Jason Ratcliff: I was very fortunate to grow up in a Christian home. My dad was a minister for a little over 25 years in the Church of God (Anderson). I was very blessed to have that kind of upbringing and influence from both of my parents. That’s where it all started for me. Then probably around the age of 10 or 11, I got saved. My wife and I and our kids, that’s what we live for. Our faith is the most important thing to us. Everything we do, we try to do it to glorify God.
Bonham: What are some things you’ve learned while working at Joe Gibbs Racing?
Ratcliff: I’m very fortunate to work for Joe Gibbs. His belief and his faith are very important. Joe has been very inspiring with not just his beliefs, but with his passion and his competitiveness and how he ties that competitiveness into professional sports. He shows that there can be relationship there. You can be passionate and aggressive about what you’re doing but still be humble and still glorify God in everything you do, even when you’re on the playing field. Our mission statement is to go out there and kick everybody’s tails as often as we can, but in the end, we know that, win or lose, we are extremely blessed to be here.
Bonham: As someone who worked with Kyle Busch during his earlier years, how would you say he’s matured and grown during the past couple of seasons?
Ratcliff: Kyle is no different than the rest of us when we get married. We settle down a little bit. At the same time, When Kyle first came over to Gibbs, he was young and he still is. We’ve worked with Kyle on that part of his life. He’s benefitted from Coach’s influence and being around some people that believe in him and encourage him and support him—like Norm (Miller). Those types of influences and those types of people have meant a lot to me and I know they’ve meant a lot to Kyle as well. He’s changed a lot compared to when he first walked in the door. He was about 21 when I first started working with him in the Nationwide Series. His passion hasn’t changed a bit. He still hates losing. He still hates finishing second. But I think he’s more humble now and his outlook on life has changed. Kyle and his wife Samantha are great people. Watching Kyle grow and watching his life come together means a lot to me.
Bonham: On the flipside, you’re now working with a driver in Matt Kenseth who is the exact opposite.
Ratcliff: Nice and steady.
Bonham: It must be a completely different vibe working with him.
Ratcliff: It is. I didn’t really know Matt until a couple years ago. When I think of Matt, I think of a great family guy. He has three girls now. He loves his girls. He loves his wife. He puts things into perspective. He wants to win more than anybody out there, but he knows that there are going to be days when you can’t win and he’s going to take advantage of the days that he can and appreciate those. Earlier this year we were watching a special on (New York Yankees great) Derek Jeter. He’s just a ballplayer. He’s not going to win a home run title. But he’s just good all-around. He’s like the Matt Kenseth of baseball. Matt’s not going to go out there and lead all the laps. He’s just nice and methodical and patient and he’s going to be there at the end. He’s going to work hard to try to be the best at every aspect of the sport.
Bonham: What are the unique challenges that come with trying to balance your profession with your commitment to family and your relationship with God?
Ratcliff: It can get really crazy. Moving from the Nationwide Series to the Sprint Cup Series was quite a change. We knew it would be for us—especially not having that Sunday at home. We felt like as a family we could prepare for that and adjust our schedule and do the things we needed to do to make up for it. But it’s very difficult. We can’t sit here and say that we’ve got it all together and that we find time for everything. It’s tough to work seven days a week and come out here and be competitive and put all your time and energy into this and still have time to focus on your family and focus on God and focus on the things that mean the most to you. We’re very intentional about it. I believe in the Sabbath and I think everything that God commands us to do is important. When you live it, you can see why. It’s not for His benefit. It’s for our benefit. It’s difficult to manage that and to find that day where you can just focus on family time and make sure you’re involved with your church and that your faith is still growing and maturing. It’s definitely harder to do in this series. But I think, at the same time, this is an opportunity and a blessing for me and for my family. I think there’s a reason why I’m here. So we’re going to do our best to manage it and have faith that God will give us the strength and the direction and the guidance that we need to make it happen.
For the most comprehensive 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, Michael McDowell, Morgan Shepherd, Trevor Bayne and many more racing personalities.
In this day and age, it’s amazing that Kansas City General Manager Dayton Moore is even around to enjoy his team’s inspiring rise back to prominence. After all, in his nine seasons at the helm, the Royals suffered through seven consecutive losing seasons before finishing 86-76 in 2013 and finally breaking a 28-year playoff drought in 2014.
Within Major League Baseball’s ranks, patience is not usually a virtue that owners and fan bases are willing to afford. Yet here Moore somehow stands—in the background usually—enjoying the fruits of his labor. But that has never been the preeminent goal. Certainly winning games is his job, but being the general manager of his family and being an active contributor to the betterment of his community stand much higher on Moore’s priority list.
In this Inspiring Athletes interview, Moore talks about his faith, how it impacts the way he does his job and which team matters to him the most:
Chad Bonham: How do you deal with the inherent pressure that comes from running a Major League Baseball team?
Dayton Moore: First and foremost, my number one team is the one waiting for me at home every night. This life is going by pretty fast and I can’t spend a lot of time dwelling on successes or failures. More than being remembered as a great general manager, I want to be remembered as a man of God and a great father.
Bonham: What led you to becoming a Christian?
Moore: I got saved in middle school but I didn’t really understand what that meant until I recommitted my life when I was a 19-year old baseball player at George Mason.
Bonham: What are some of the challenges you see facing today’s professional baseball players.
Moore: They tend to get off track because of bad relationships or because they tie their self-worth to performance. One of my personal desires is to help players deal with those issues and help them manage the highs and the lows of the game.
Bonham: What’s your favorite Bible verse and why?
Moore: Philippians 2:3. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” In my position, there are a lot of people who are always trying to do something for me. But I want it to be the other way around. I want to find ways that I can be a blessing to others.
Bonham: How does being a Christian impact the way you look at your position?
Moore: Being a Christian and being in a position like this is somewhere between a blessing and a burden. I didn’t ask to be in this position. In a lot of ways, I have found working at the minor league level in player development to be more fulfilling. But it’s a blessing to do something that you love to do and that you’re passionate about. Sometimes the world and the media tend to put people in positions like mine on a pedestal that they don’t really deserve. If anyone deserves to be put on a pedestal, it’s the people who really do the difficult work—people like missionaries and pastors and those who work in homeless shelters.
Since 1998, Dave Rogers has been fully immersed into the unique culture of Joe Gibbs Racing. From his start as race engineer for Tony Stewart’s #20 team to his current post as crew chief for Kyle Busch’s #18 team, Rogers has been through plenty of changes yet found stability under Gibbs’ leadership.
In this Inspiring Athletes interview, Rogers talks about how he deals with year-to-year changes within the sport, how he balances his faith and his family with work, how his driver Kyle Busch has matured over the years, and why he isn’t always crazy about the media attention that comes with the job:
Chad Bonham: How do approach the challenges of each new season whether that’s moving to a new team, dealing with new rules or handling adversity?
Dave Rogers: I’ve had a lot of changes in my career, but the good thing is that I’ve been with Joe Gibbs Racing for almost 16 years. There’s a level of comfort there. The job responsibilities and the people you work with change from year to year. But I can’t say enough good things about Joe Gibbs Racing and the support structure there and all the guys that work there. The change is really seamless. I think we do a good job of promoting from within and encouraging people to set goals and accomplish them. That type of environment makes it easy to switch job positions every now and then.
Bonham: How have you taken advantage of having men like Joe Gibbs and Norm Miller (owner of Interstate Batteries) as mentors in your life?
Rogers: Probably the coolest part of my job is the relationship that I’ve built with Joe Gibbs. Joe has treated me extremely well over the years. I value every time he comes in my office and closes the door and just wants to talk. Sometimes we talk about racing, but more often we talk about life. The challenges that we fight in this sport are the same challenges that people fight in life every day. Joe has three Cup titles. He’s got three Super Bowl championships. He walks the talk. He’s a man of great character. He feels comfortable sharing some of those experiences with me and I treasure that.
Bonham: How do you deal with the ups and downs that come with week-to-week racing?
Rogers: That’s actually much harder than changing jobs within the company—keeping perspective on how the season is going and how you’re racing. That’s very tough because this is a performance-based industry. You’ll hear people in the garage area say things like, “You’re only as good as your last performance.” We know that’s not really true. But we know that if you put your self-worth in a sport, then that becomes true for you. That’s something Joe preaches. Don’t put your self-worth in a sport. But it’s tough. That’s one of the tougher challenges. You’re expected to perform. So we always try to bring our A-game.
Bonham: How have you seen Kyle Busch mature over the past two or three years?
Rogers: Kyle is still a young guy, but we’ve learned a lot together over the years. We’ve had a lot of fun working together since late 2009. I see exponential growth every off-season. I think Kyle does a good job looking back at each season and evaluating his pluses and minuses. He does a good job of learning from that and then applying those lessons to the next year. Every year, I’ve seen maturity and growth out of Kyle. This year is no exception.
Bonham: How important is it for you to have access to the chaplains and chapel services that Motor Racing Outreach provides every weekend at the track?
Rogers: MRO provides a great service to everyone in the garage area. We typically work 80 to 90 hours a week. It’s seven days a week. It’s 125 days a year on the road. There’s a lot of travel and a lot of hours. Joe does a good job of preaching faith first, family second, occupation third. But when you at the hours in a day, the occupation ranks number one. So you’ve got to exchange quantity for quality when you’re talking about your faith and your home life. It’s tough to keep everything balanced. That’s probably one of the biggest challenges that guys on the road face. Each year, our management team does a good job of trying to shuffle resources around to make sure people get rest and take care of things other than work.
Bonham: Crew chiefs get more attention from the media and the fans than ever before. Are you comfortable with the extra attention and how do you deal with it?
Rogers: That’s the part I didn’t sign up for. I accepted it when I signed on the dotted line but that’s not why I did it. Everyone in this sport loves working on racecars. I love leading people. I love being someone that my guys can lean on and hopefully talk to. I love setting direction. That’s in my nature. The media stuff, the interviews, the TV cameras—it’s tough for me. I’d rather not see my face on TV. I’d rather not see my quotes written in the press. But it’s part of the deal. The good part is I get to work on racecars. The bad part is every now and then there’s a spotlight shining on me. But in the end, it’s worth it.
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.
Blake Koch has never been afraid of hard work. And that’s a good thing considering how difficult it is to break into NASCAR—especially when driving for small, underfunded teams.
Over the past six years, Koch has raced in all three major series (Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck) for no less than 15 different owners. But that hasn’t slowed him down from pursuing his dream. More importantly, however, has been his desire to use the NASCAR platform as a way to share the Gospel message of Christ.
In this Inspiring Athletes interview, Koch talks about his relationship with other young Christian drivers within the sport and how he deals with the ups and downs of sponsorship and on-track performance:
Chad Bonham: How important has it been to have a solid support group (guys like Michael McDowell, Trevor Bayne, etc.) to help you get through the uncertainty of the racing business?
Blake Koch: I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. There’s been a lot of growth for me as a driver and spiritually too. I’ve been plugged in with the right group of guys and that started from the beginning. Sometimes it seems like things are going the right way but when I look back I really do love the way everything has happened. Last year looked like it was going to be a great year at the beginning and then everything started falling apart, but through that I developed a great relationship with my team owner and I was able to help lead him to Christ and now he’s going to church with his family. So yeah, when you look at things from a racing standpoint, it’s been a rough couple of years, but spiritually it’s been awesome.
Bonham: Everyone seems to be struggling with sponsorship these days. How do you deal with that element of the sport—especially during the offseason between November and February?
Koch: It’s tough to get that sponsor that’s going to stick with you all through the year. There just aren’t many of them that do that anymore. You have to put smaller deals together—five race deals, 10 race deals, one race deals. After those deals are up you’ve got to do it all over again. I’d love to be in a competitive car every week but just being around the track is a dream come true and a great opportunity. It sure as heck beats working for a living (laughs).
Bonham: What did you learn about the business of racing and yourself in light of the sponsorship controversy (Koch lost a 20-race deal with the Rise Up and Register Campaign when ESPN rejected the sponsor’s advertisements) from 2012?
Koch: It was a crazy time in my life. I don’t really let things bother me too bad so it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. There was an issue with ESPN and we resolved it. I don’t get mad at people. I was just wondering what was going on and what the outcome was going to be. Looking back, the outcome ended up being great for me career wise. I had it easy for a while. I had a sponsor every week. I raced every week with no problems. Then I lost my sponsorship and I had to race my way in every weekend. It taught me how to unload and get up to qualifying trim right away. I had to do that for a year or so. And then when I had the chance to get into a really fast racecar, I was ready. Something like that just prepared me for where I am to and the opportunities that are on the way. So yeah, that was an interesting time in my career. I even got to go on Fox News and I’d never watched Fox News before that. But as long as you speak the truth and say what’s on your heart, you can’t do anything wrong.
Blake Koch is one of several drivers who were interviewed for the book Faith in the Fast Lane: How NASCAR Found Jesus.
Keep up with the latest news about Blake’s racing career by visiting his official website www.blakekoch.com.