Drag Illustrated Issue 180, January / February 2023 - Page 73

Family , Fellowship , and Going Fast

Racers For Christ Chaplain Matt Ward finds it all at the dragstrip
By Van Abernethy

It ’ s late on Saturday night at Rockingham Dragway , and Matt Ward is busy reviewing his hand-written notes to ensure he hasn ’ t missed anything important . The final preparation he ’ s sharply focused on isn ’ t regarding tomorrow ’ s final points race , but rather , a passionate sermon about forgiveness that he ’ ll be preaching early Sunday morning during the Racers For Christ chapel service .

Per usual , the third floor of Rockingham Dragway ’ s timing tower was filled to near-capacity for church that morning . Ward welcomed those in attendance , took prayer requests , and then delivered the message with heartfelt sincerity . He concluded the gathering with a prayer , then promptly went out and did the exact same thing he did the day before : win the race , and by doing so , he clinched the footbrake championship at Rockingham for the second consecutive year . But wait , there ’ s more ... he also won the track championship at Carolina Dragway this year .
Make no mistake , Ward is not a good racer because he ’ s an excellent preacher , nor vice versa ; he ’ s just independently and amazingly very gifted at both . In fact , he ’ s won back-to-back races at both tracks this season , and also in years past at Atlanta Dragway , where he ’ s won King of the Track multiple times .
Long before he ever found his way to a dragstrip – or later felt the call of the Lord on his life to minister at the track – Ward was just a typical American kid growing up in Roanoke Rapids , North Carolina . Early on , his desire was to own a motorcycle in middle school , but his parents quickly put the brakes on that notion , compromising
instead with a go-kart .
Ward wore it out in pretty short order , and the go-kart sat broken in the front yard for several months . “ That ’ s when the thought occurred to me that if my go-kart was going to get fixed , I had better figure out how to do it !” he laughs .
The internet was still a couple years away from being “ a thing ,” at least in mainstream circles , so Ward performed the time-honored tradition of going to his school ’ s library and checking out a book about small engine repairs . This was the very beginning of his love of mechanics .
Shortly thereafter , his first dirt bike finally entered the picture . It was broken and needed lots of repairs . While Ward ’ s mother still wasn ’ t crazy
about the idea , she figured it would give Ward and his buddies some afterschool amusement and something to tinker on , not really expecting them to actually get it running . Much to her dismay , when she returned home from work the following day , Ward and his buddies were speeding around the yard on it !
In what seemed like the blink of an eye , this same group of friends was now in high school , getting their driver ’ s licenses and owning their first cars . Quite naturally , they ended up going to their nearest dragstrip , a small , unsanctioned strip known as Brewer ’ s Speedway , an eighth-mile track in North Carolina that George Brewer had constructed in his very own backyard . Ward went to Brewer ’ s solely to spectate , never once making a pass down the track .
That day would come later when he drove his first car , a 1969 Camaro , from Roanoke Rapids to Virginia Motorsports Park . He had rebuilt the engine , performed some other upgrades , and even sold off his collection of dirt bikes to get the car painted . “ I ’ ll never forget my first run in the car ,” Ward says . “ I got up early one Saturday morning , drove to VMP , and clocked a 13.43 at 103 mph . I kept messing with it for the next few months , and by the end of the season , the car was running something like 13.10 .”
Ward decided to take the plunge and enter the season-ending bracket race that year . “ I lost first round . I didn ’ t buy back because I didn ’ t even know what that was !”
What he did know for certain was that he wanted to try it again ! Over the winter , he bought a practice tree and began sharpening his light-
January / February 2023
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