Inspiring Athletes

Inspiring Athletes

Rickie Fowler knocks down blind hole-in-one in DC

posted by Chad Bonham

So Rickie Fowler didn’t come up with his first PGA win at the AT&T National today. In fact, his fourth round 74 dropped him from first down to 13th in the final standings. But the rising star did do something pretty impressive last month that some of you might have missed. Check out this 100-yard blind tee shot Fowler made at a promotional event in Washington, DC:

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If you want to hear more from Fowler, click here for an interview I conducted with him earlier in the season.

A conversation with St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman

posted by Chad Bonham

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It might still seem strange for diehard baseball fans to see Lance Berkman in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform. After all, he spent the previous 11 and a half seasons (Berkman played the second half of 2010 with the Yankees) as a core member of the Houston Astros.

But no matter where Berkman is playing, there’s one thing of which fans can be certain. The six-time All-Star is passionate about winning, but he’s even more passionate about sharing his faith. Here’s what Berkman told me about his spiritual journey, his love of the Bible and how living for God and competing hard are one and the same:

Bonham: Tell me about your spiritual journey.

Berkman: I was raised in church by Christian parents and I was baptized when I was 11 years old. But I didn’t really have a good understanding of what the Gospel was really all about until college. It’s a time when you’re getting out from your parents’ supervision and you’re starting to think for yourself maybe for the first time. That was the case with me. That’s when my faith became my own. The Lord used a lot of people to bring me to that point. One of them was my brother-in-law Jake Baker and the other was my wife Cara when we were dating. She continues to help me grow spiritually. So it really began my sophomore year at Rice (University) and it’s a work in progress to this day.

Lance Berkman (Photo by Tony Firriolo/MLB Photos via Getty Images; Courtesy MLB)

Bonham: What’s your favorite Bible verse?

Berkman: John 15:5. It’s my favorite because a lot of people who will say, “Well, I’m a good person.” There’s a theology out there that says if the good you do outweighs the bad that you do, that means you’re a good person therefore you’re in good standing with God. That verse really hits home for me because anything we do that’s good apart from the power and the name of Jesus Christ, not that it doesn’t count, but from a spiritual standpoint, it’s not edifying. It’s not worth much. The only way that we can truly have a purpose and an enriching life experience is to do all things in Christ and through the power of Christ. What happens when we’re all about doing good works and we’re doing that outside of the power of Christ is that we end up getting the glory and the whole point of this deal is that God gets the glory. That verse beautifully illustrates that point.

Bonham: How important is it for you to use your influence as a clubhouse leader to share your faith?

Berkman: It’s extremely important. I don’t think you can overstate the importance of using your platform or using the position that you’ve been given to affect good in every circumstance that you’re in. Obviously, the only reason I’m where I am is because God has gifted me and He has seen fit to put me where I am. I have to honor that by using my influence and my status on the team and in the game of baseball for good and to His purpose.

Bonham: How do you go about making a difference in the lives of your teammates?

Berkman: The key to dealing with people in general is that they have to know that you care about them. You have to deal with people in gentleness. You have to come along side of them. You can’t push them. You can’t pull them. You have to walk with them. In order to do that, you’ve got to demonstrate care for that individual. That’s my whole thing. I want my teammates to know that I care about them personally. I care about what happens with them on and off the field. When you are in that position, you earn the right to speak into their lives. I try to let guys know that I do care about them and consequently I think they’ll listen to me when I have something to say.

Bonham: How encouraging is it to know that there are several players in the league who are also strong believers?

Berkman: You certainly know the guys on the other teams that share your values and beliefs. There is sort of a loose fraternity. At the same time, I know that every time I’m up there against Jake Peavy, I know he’s trying to strike me out just as hard as I’m trying to take him deep. The good thing about being a Christian is that you have that perspective. Then you can really have fun. Then it’s a fun competition. After it’s over with, it’s over. That’s actually a benefit to have some Christian guys competing because they understand that there’s more than just the outcome to the confrontation that’s important.

Bonham: How do you use your platform as a leader in the clubhouse to speak into the lives of other players?

Berkman: The key to dealing with people in general is that they have to know that you care about them. You have to deal with people in gentleness. You have to come along side of them. You can’t push them. You can’t pull them. You have to walk with them. In order to do that, you’ve got to demonstrate care for that individual. That’s my whole thing. I want my teammates to know that I care about them personally. I care about what happens with them on and off the field. When you are in that position, you earn the right to speak into their lives. I try to let guys know that I do care about them and consequently I think they’ll listen to me when I have something to say. One thing I do enjoy as a guy who’s been around for a while, I see these younger guys coming in and I always like to help them if I can and give them advice. It is difficult. Having been through it, I can reach out to those young guys and make sure that everything is good with them.

David Ragan gets first career Sprint Cup victory at Coke Zero 400 in Daytona

posted by Chad Bonham

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David Ragan celebrates after his victory at the Coke ZERO 400 (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images; Courtesy NASCAR))

It’s been a long four and half years for David Ragan. He took over for the legendary Mark Martin at Roush-Fenway Racing in the #6 car but despite several close calls (including the Daytona 500 earlier this year) had yet to register a victory at NASCAR’s elite level.

That all changed Saturday night when Ragan (with help from his teammate Matt Kenseth) survived a pair of green-white-checker starts at the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona, Fla., and picked up his first career Sprint Cup win in the process. If you didn’t know Ragan was one of the best stock car racers in the world, well, you just wouldn’t know. He’s a prototypical unassuming, boy-next-door type with virtually no ego.

During the down times as an independent driver, Ragan says he relied on his strong faith in God that was passed down to him by his parents and grandparents.

“There were a lot of tough nights when we only had one race car and I tore it up and we didn’t know if we had enough funds to keep racing,” Ragan told me outside his hauler during an interview at Texas Motor Speedway. “That’s when you have to ask the Lord for some help and some guidance to do the right thing. A lot of times it’s tough to make the decision on your own. You know what you want to do and it always helps to have someone to rely on to help you out. I can remember some tough nights where I was questioning myself. “Can I really drive?” or, “Is this the right thing for me to do?” But at the end of the day, a lot of prayers were answered and certainly things worked out for the good.”

For the full transcript of my interview with Ragan, click here.

For more Inspiring Athletes interviews with NASCAR drivers, click on the links below and be watching next week for interviews with Trevor Bayne and Kyle Petty:

Justin Allgaier

Richard Petty

Darrell Waltrip

NASCAR driver David Ragan on his foundation of faith

posted by Chad Bonham

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He’s not your typical, brash young gun that NASCAR has become accustomed to of late, but that doesn’t mean David Ragan is devoid of passion for the sport or a desire to win races. Ragan has been turning heads since racing in the ARCA series and then winning the Nationwide (formerly Busch) Series Rookie of the Year honors in 2007.

Now in the Roush-Fenway #6 Ford made famous by Mark Martin, Ragan is ready to make a statement of his own including an impressive first Sprint Cup victory at the 2011 Coke ZERO 400 in Daytona. Here’s the transcript from my interview with Ragan where he talks about starting young, taking over for Martin and how his faith keeps his feet on the ground:

Bonham: Like a lot of drivers, you got a young start in racing. What role did your family play in the early part of your career?

David Ragan

Ragan: My dad was racing when I was real young. I’ve always been around race cars. My father and my uncle owned a Chevrolet dealership and a parts store so I was introduced to race cars and to parts and the mechanical side of things at a pretty young age. Dad was still racing so it was difficult for me to start racing until he slowed down and that was about the age of 12. Back then it was a hobby. It was a family event. We could go out on the weekend and spend family time together. Most families have different activities whether it’s going to the mountains or going to the lake. Ours was going to the racetrack. It started out strictly as something we were doing for fun. We were very competitive but we had a good time with it.

Bonham: When you hit the NASCAR scene as an 18-year old, was it overwhelming competing against stock car racing’s elite?

Ragan: It was a little bit intimidating but I had a lot of confidence. I thought that just because I was a good legends car driver or a good late model driver that I could come out and be a successful NASCAR driver just right off the bat and it didn’t work that way. I was introduced to a lot more challenges than I knew were out there. I basically had to learn from a lot of good experiences and bad experiences. That’s what these last few years have been about.

Bonham: How much pressure did you feel back in 2007 when you took Mark Martin’s spot in the #6 car?

Ragan: We were looking at it from two different sides. You’re getting into a first class ride. We knew our engines were going to be good and our chassis were going to be top notch. That gave us a lot of extra confidence. But at the same time, you’re hopping into a car that no one else has driven in the past 15 years. On one hand, it was a lot of pressure, but on the other hand, being surrounded by the good people and the good technology at Roush Racing were things that made my confidence grow.

Bonham: What can you take away from following the career of a guy like Mark Martin?

David Ragan in his #6 Roush-Fenway Racing Ford (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Ragan: Mark’s a racer. He’s got the never-give-up attitude. He’s a guy that really understands these race cars. I think that means a lot. Mark can make good suggestions to the crew chief. He understands what’s going on. He’s got a lot of drive for his age and I think that’s very important—to have that kind of passion for what you do. It just makes things a lot easier during a tough weekend. Character and good work ethic are very important in this garage and that’s why he’s been here as long as anyone has and that’s why he can write his story for whatever he wants to do for the rest of his life. You need to say and do the right things and good things happen to good people. Mark is certainly a good guy.

Bonham: Tell me a little about growing up Southern Baptist in Unadilla, Georgia.

Ragan: My grandparents and my mom and dad were great influences. I was very fortunate to have good family values and a lot of good people teaching me throughout the years. I grew up in a church that helped me have confidence in the Lord to work through tough situations. This world’s a tough place to live in and you have to have something to fall back on. Certainly, my parents were a big part of that and people in our church community were always there when things were tough. At the end of the day, it’s up to me to get the job done but it’s always nice to have someone to help you get through the tough week.

Bonham: How has your faith in God helped you navigate the ups and downs of this sport?

David Ragan crosses the finish line at the Coke ZERO 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 2, 2011 for his first career Sprint Cup victory (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Ragan: There were a lot of tough nights when we only had one race car and I tore it up and we didn’t know if we had enough funds to keep racing. We were really close to catching our break before the “Driver X” show. That’s when you have to ask the Lord for some help and some guidance to do the right thing. A lot of times it’s tough to make the decision on your own. You know what you want to do and it always helps to have someone to rely on to help you out. I can remember some tough nights where I was questioning myself. “Can I really drive?” or, “Is this the right thing for me to do?” But at the end of the day, a lot of prayers were answered and certainly things worked out for the good.

Bonham: As a regular attendee of Motor Racing Outreach chapel services, how has that ministry blessed your life?

Ragan: It’s tough to have any type of normal worship service or anyone that you can go to and ask those tough questions because of our travel. I think it’s great that Motor Racing Outreach and the people involved put out the effort to work with our busy schedules. A lot of drivers and their families count on them every weekend. It’s been a blessing for us. My father was around the sport when MRO was introduced back in the ‘80s. It’s a good thing to know that they’re there for you throughout the weekend whether you’re in California, New Hampshire or Daytona.

Bonham: How have you benefited from having a teammate like Matt Kenseth?

Ragan: Matt’s a very smart racer. There are a lot of guys out here who can go fast. There are a lot of guys out here who can hold on to a fast race car. But Matt’s a smart guy and whether it’s a bad day or a good day, he can always find a way to end up towards the front at the end of the race. He’s a guy that I can learn a lot from and he has a reputation for how he acts on and off the track

Bonham: What are your long-term goals in this sport?

Ragan: I want to enjoy myself and enjoy the challenge. I love to compete at the top level of NASCAR. I love my job. I love what I do. I’m very fortunate that God has given me the strength and the courage and the people around me to help me do what I do. As long as I have that kind of attitude and it’s still fun to be away from home 40 weekends a year, hopefully I’ll be here at Roush-Fenway Racing for a long time.

Follow David Ragan’s career by checking out his official website here.

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