Inspiring Athletes

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If you’re ever looking for Blake Koch amongst a crowded group of his NASCAR peers, just look for the guy with the impossible-to-miss, brighter-than-bright smile. It’s a common sight in the garage area to see Koch (pronounced Cook) flashing those pearly whites despite being part of an underfunded team that fights tooth-and-nail (pardon the pun) to keep up with major players like Roush-Fenway and Joe Gibbs Racing.

Maybe that’s because, beyond his competitive drive (which is undoubtedly there), Koch is motivated by a desire to show God’s love and share a message of hope that he’s personally learned by walking alongside his mother during her recent bout with cancer. In this Inspiring Athletes interview, the Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year contender talks about his unlikely journey to NASCAR, the Bible study that’s changed his life, how his mother’s illness strengthened his faith and why his team at MacDonald Motorsports is different from most others:

Chad Bonham: When did you start racing?

Blake Koch, driver of the #81 Nationwide Series car (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Blake Koch: I started racing in the middle of 2007. I was around 21 years old when I got in a stock car for the first time. Before that I raced dirt bikes growing up. So I’ve been around racing my whole life but just not car racing. I got started in a spec truck in a Florida series. It’s called a fast truck series. I did about 10 to 15 races in that and then I got in a late model and ran about 10 races in that. Throughout that time, I didn’t love it because my truck kept breaking every week or we’d get rained out. It was pretty frustrating. I didn’t know if I loved it that much. But then it just clicked one day that this was what I wanted to do. So I tried to get into a driver development program and I was able to make that happen with Richard Childress’ program out West, which was run through Golden Gate Racing team. We got a sponsor for that called and ran that full time in 2009. I made my Nationwide debut in 2009 in the #81 for MacDonald Motorsports in Memphis. We started 25th and finished 17th in that race. At the time, I didn’t appreciate how good of a run that was until this year. It’s hard just to finish a race. It’s really difficult. The competition level is so high. But this year I’m full time and there’s a testimony in there about how I got out of racing. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I just felt like God was stripping it away from me until I gave it all up and put it in His hands and then He brought me back in to the sport. Here I am now, full-time in 2011.

Bonham: Tell me about your mother’s fight against cancer and how that challenged your faith.

Koch: I found out my mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer and immediately I was devastated. I thought the world was coming to an end. I didn’t really turn to God at that moment. I did probably five minutes later. Then I started praying. But right when I heard it, I didn’t turn to God first. I didn’t have a feeling of, “Everything is going to be okay.” A few minutes later I started praying and I put it in His hands and just tried to understand that He’s in control and whatever is in His will is what’s going to happen and she’ll be taken care of.

Bonham: When did this happen?

Angie Koch and her son Blake Koch (Photo courtesy of MacDonald Motorsports)

Koch: It was 2007. Right when I started racing was when she got diagnosed with breast cancer—probably around the same month. It was interesting timing. So she made it through it. There was a lot of faith that kept me positive and strong. When I knew she had to have surgery, I wasn’t worried about it all. I knew she was going to be okay. I just had faith in that. Then four years go by and they see something else. That was right before Darlington this year and she had a double mastectomy. When I found out there was a possibility of it coming back and she was deciding whether or not to get a double mastectomy, I was all for it. I didn’t want to worry about it anymore. Every time she calls me, I don’t want to worry about her telling me she has cancer again. So I was like, “Remove it. Let’s get it over with and go through this process together.” And it’s been good so far. There’s been a lot of prayer, a lot of people praying for her. And her faith has grown from it for sure. My mom is just a great lady. She’s such a great mom. Like today, during qualifying I was on the poll for a long time and she sent me a text saying, “It was so great seeing your smile on TV.” That’s what she cares about. It’s always cool to talk to my mom because I know she doesn’t care about racing. She just loves me for who I am.

Bonham: Did you grow up as a Christian?

Koch: Yeah, I grew up as a Christian. I prayed with my family. I went to church. I was baptized when I was 12. But I wasn’t really involved in the church growing up. I had the trials of living a Christian lifestyle growing up—the ups and downs, going to college, seeing the real world and how fun it looks and how fun you think it could be. God has extended that leash and let me figure out what I wanted to do, but I always come back really fast before it gets out of hand. The last time it happened, I’m in for good now. I’m committed. I’m dedicated. No matter what happens, I’m following Christ.

Bonham: Is it an exciting time to be a young Christian in NASCAR?

Trevor Bayne (left) and Ricky Stenhouse (right) are key members of a weekly MRO-led Bible study that also includes Blake Koch, Michael McDowell, Justin Allgaier and Josh Wise (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Koch: Yeah. The support and the accountability is huge. That’s what has helped me grow as a follower of Christ, as an active Christian. Guys like Josh Wise and Ricky (Stenhouse) and Trevor (Bayne) and Justin (Allgaier) and Michael (McDowell) and MRO, we keep each other accountable. We’re excited about it. And when we struggle with something, we talk openly about it. We all know we’re not perfect. We all know that most of us are probably struggling with the exact same things. So we can work through it. It’s just cool how God’s put us in each other’s lives to help strengthen our relationship with Him.

Bonham: Can you point to a specific time when the MRO Bible study you participate in has helped you through a struggle?

Koch: Yeah, probably every time. Probably every single time, because we’re so open about our struggles that every time we can relate to one another’s issues. Today one of us was talking about how they helped somebody on the road that they didn’t even know and they felt extremely good about it but then they felt like they could’ve done more. Then you think, “Wow, I did a good job showing the love of Christ and helping someone, but was it enough?” Then you’ve got to figure out if it was enough and if we are walking in obedience and God’s will for us, whatever we did is enough. If that person needed more, He’ll come through with more for them. So we try to help each other understand and not dwell on things that we wish we could’ve done differently.

Bonham: What about MRO makes the organization special and an asset to the NASCAR community?

Koch: I would say that they just care. They care about us. They care about the community. They’re focused on the opportunity. They can see the big picture of what could happen. They never give up. I’ve sure over the last several years, they’ve tried to get a group of guys together and they’ve never given up. And now, with guys like Trevor and his platform, and Michael and Ricky and Josh and Justin, their platforms are so influential, that the guys at MRO should be extremely happy that they never gave up. I believe that God is proud of it.

Bonham: Your sponsor is Daystar TV and there are other Christian sponsors like the K-Love radio network and Morgan Shepherd’s Racing With Jesus team. It seems like NASCAR is the only place you’d see that phenomenon.

Blake Koch in the #81 Daystar car (Photo courtesy of MacDonald Motorsports)

Koch: Yeah and NASCAR supports MRO which is awesome. MRO doesn’t have to pay NASCAR for the privileges they get. They know how important it is and they allow us to say a prayer before every race. That’s so important to this country right now and everyone that’s in need. Every single one of those prayers that happens before the race, I mean, who knows how many people are affected by it. Who knows? There might be a hundred thousand people out there. What if ten thousand people are deeply affected by that prayer and are reminded of God’s presence and go to church the next week? Or even if they don’t go to church, what if they just say a simple prayer that night? It’s so effective and I definitely have to thank NASCAR for letting us put ministries on our cars like Daystar and K-Love. I think it’s important because it gets other people involved and active and it shows Christians and other ministries that it’s okay. It’s okay to be out of the box.

Bonham: You’re in a unique position with a Christian sponsor and a Christian team owner. How much are you enjoying that as a Christian driver?

Koch: It’s definitely helping me and preparing me for the battles. You always have people around that you can pray with. There’s so much accountability. That’s the exciting part. But it’s a good situation. On the track sometimes it’s frustrating for all of us because we want to do so good. We are competitors. No matter what are faith is, we are competitors. It gets difficult. But the cool thing about MacDonald Motorsports is that Randy (MacDonald) and (his mother) Pat (MacDonald) are passionate about Christ and it creates a different situation on the track and off the track. We can focus on a lot of off-the-track activities. I’m available to spend time with fans so I can share my story. (On the other hand), you look at (Joe) Gibbs who represents Christ in an awesome way and they’re on the track winning races and they’re showing that to thousands of people.

Bonham: On your website, you say that your purpose is help make the NASCAR community more aware of God’s presence. What are some specific ways you hope to accomplish that?

Blake Koch autographs the hat of Alex Landers, 8, at the Goodyear Dealers of Iowa NASCAR K&N Pro Series East/West Challenge on May 23, 2010 (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Koch: I would say that just showing love and humility is the way that I could do it best because it’s hard to spend a lot of time with fans. I can go to churches and share my story. I can go anywhere and tell my story. But when people are watching you, hopefully they see that something’s different about you. It’s easy to find out what’s different about me. It doesn’t take much digging to figure it out. Like today, signing autographs on the fence with fans, it was like, “Okay, I’ll do a couple.” Then I thought, “I don’t have to go anywhere.” A lot of times these drivers don’t have to go anywhere. So I’ll sit there and I’ll have a conversation with somebody and they have a look on their face like, “Wow, you’re spending a lot of time with me right now. What’s going on?” But the fact is, I just want to get to know them real quick and show them that I care for people and I love people. I feel like that love is God and God is love. It’s really important to show.

Bonham: What have learned from your team owner Randy MacDonald as both a former driver and as a strong Christian man?

Randy MacDonald (left) and Blake Koch (right) chat on pit road ahead of a Nationwide Series race (Photo courtesy of MacDonald Motorsports)

Koch: Randy has so much faith. He doesn’t get upset. He keeps his cool. He also shows love and compassion. He’s really such a sensitive guy and a loving person. If I needed anything from Randy, he’d be there. I absolute love Randy and I love Pat. They’re such good people. I could come in and be so upset because the cars not good and on top of that I could’ve just wrecked the car and Randy still shows love and humility. Every once in a while we’ll have competition meetings and we’ll talk about what we can do better there and then he’ll ask what we can do better with our outreach. It’s not all about racing for Randy. He wants to have an effective outreach off the racetrack. It’s also impressive to see the mother-son thing with Randy and Pat. It’s like no other and they can stay together and you know that Christ is involved in that relationship.

To stay up on the latest news about Blake Koch, visit the official Daystar Racing website HERE.

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