"Boogity, Boogity, Boogity…Amen!" were the words of Joe Nelms that we all distinctly remember from the Nashville Superspeedway Nationwide race invocation last season.
Joe grew up watching NASCAR on television with his dad in Tunnel Hill, Georgia. "It was a Sunday afternoon tradition to come home from church and turn on the race after dinner. Since we lived in north Georgia, we were big fans of 'Awesome Bill from Dawsonville' (Bill Elliott)."
At the age of twenty-one, Joe decided to preach the gospel. In 2008 he moved to Lebanon, Tennessee, and became the pastor of Family Baptist Church. Joe quickly realized that Nashville Superspeedway was only fifteen minutes away from his house. "My Dad and I had planned to go to a race the following year, but he passed away from a heart attack before we had the opportunity."
In April of 2009, Joe decided to go to the spring Camping World Truck Series race at Nashville Superspeedway. "I contacted the sales office about group tickets for me and some friends. When the folks in the corporate office found out I was a local pastor and an avid NASCAR fan, they asked me if I would be interested in doing the invocation at the truck race in July. My response was an immediate 'yes'! I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to be praying with the racers I loved to watch."
"I decided that since God has opened this door, I wanted to take advantage of it for His glory. I made up my mind then and there that there was no way that I was going to do an ordinary cookie cutter prayer. I had one shot - a thirty second chance - to reach the hearts of the NASCAR world for Christ and that was what I wanted to do. I was going to show the folks at the track that day that living for Christ can be fun too."
After Joe did the first invocation, the people from Dover Motorsports, who owned the track, asked him to be their preacher for all of the races. He had the chance to do the invocation for a total of four races, including the most famous one at the Nationwide race last July. "I never dreamed that prayer would gain the national attention that it did. I was overwhelmed by the over two hundred and fifty interview requests I received. Who would have ever thought God would use me, but He did and I am so thankful!"
Joe has used his recognition and the open door to point people to Christ. "Many don't understand that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship with Him. It's not about a list of rules, but a life of redemption. The reason I can enjoy my life and laugh even when everything isn't going great is because I have the joy that comes from Jesus as my personal Savior."
The amazing opportunity of the invocation in July at Nashville has allowed Joe to become friends with many of the drivers. "I am an unusual NASCAR fan in that I don't just pull for one driver or team, but I like to see what kind of story is developing and go from there. If I had to pick my favorite driver, I guess it would be Carl Edwards because he has taken time out to sign autographs and speak to me and my family, even before all of the attention. In the Nationwide Series, Austin Dillon and the folks at Richard Childress Racing have been great friends to us. I was blessed to get to speak at their Christmas party this past year, and I just found out that I will be their guest in the pits for the Duels at Daytona. Austin and Ty are tremendous talents behind the wheel, but are even better representatives of the sport."
Joe is still unsure about any future invocations, but he's sure of one thing: he will still be the pastor of a little country church in Lebanon, Tennessee. "I have been in contact with Charlotte and Talladega about the possibility of doing the invocation, but nothing has been set so far. I am currently serving as chaplain for the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway and will be doing seven races for them this year."
"I want to thank all of the fans, media, and race teams who have helped this country preacher live out a dream. Every time I stand before the race fans, I think about how proud my Dad would be to share that moment with me, and for just a moment, I am back in his living room rooting for the ole number nine again."
Follow Joe on Twitter: @Familybaptisttn
Here's the original version of the prayer:
If the original version of the prayer wasn't good enough, check out the remixed version:
I just wanted to say thank you to Joe for taking the time to answer a few questions for this interview and also for the very kind words about The NASCAR Corner!