Ken Owen - A Different Kind of Racer

By Carly Waterman

Lifelong racing fan Ken Owen was working for a missionary organization when it closed its doors. Looking for a way to combine his love of racing with his religious calling he considered starting a motorsports ministry. Nearby, the fledgling Racers for Christ (RFC) organization was a little more than a year old. Rather than begin a new program from scratch they suggested that he use their existing ministry as his starting point. This is the story of how Ken Owen came to introduce church services to the racing community.

Ken attended his first drag race in 1959 and he was hooked on the noise and excitement of drag racing from the start. His passion for racing grew even stronger when the funny car craze swept through the sport in the mid 60s. Recognizing his deep-seated interest in motorsports, he began to look for a way to become involved in motorsports on a daily basis. Although his passion for racing never dimmed eventually he felt an even stronger calling to join the ministry and he began his pastoral studies.

Sundays created the dual challenge for Ken of wanting to be in church as well as at the race track at the same time. When he began to ask racers if there was any Christian fellowship at the track he almost always got the same answer; No, but we sure wish there was something. The racer’s near unanimous answer gave Ken inspiration for a new opportunity. He spread the word that he would begin holding church services in a trailer at the track.

A small turn out of only five people at his first service left Ken wondering if the race track was a place for church after all. Not willing to give up on his idea of bringing God’s word to the racing community, He gave himself two years to build a new kind of church. Ken, and a few devoted chaplains, were encouraged to keep going during this period when they saw that their faithful attendees were becoming a spiritual family within the bigger family of racers and race fans. Eventually, many of his worshippers grew to feel closely connected with this church away from home.

In 1985 Ken’s role became official when the NHRA designated him as their official chaplain, a position that he has held for 20 years. As a guest of the NHRA every race Sunday Ken, and the RFC staff, conduct church services that offer non-denominational fellowship and worship opportunities to racers and race fans alike. While the average brick and mortar church service in America draws only 100 people, a RFC church service at the track sees crowds that range between 200 to 400 people depending on the size of the event. His congregation feels a special bond with Ken’s messages because he tailors them to be relevant to the struggles that they experience, not only in daily life but also as racers.

These days Ken is not alone in his love of ministry and racing. The RFC has 142 dedicated chaplains, most of them volunteers, which attend over 1,200 motorsports events a year. At most of these events they conduct a chapel service as well. At these services you will find all of the activities that you would find in any church. Those gathered together share worship, music, and inspirational messages plus marriages, baptisms and baby dedications.

Pastor Ken with Bruce Litton
Between races the RFC chaplains carry out the same work as any other pastor would – hospital visits, counseling and even funerals are part of their daily life. Much of their work goes on behind the scenes and is transparent to the general public. Ken, and his staff, monitor the same emergency radio frequency that the NHRA’s first responders monitor. They are always ready to deal with any emergency situation that arises, whether on or off the track. In fact at a recent NHRA national event there were two (fan) heart attack deaths alone.

Looking back on his years in motorsports Ken sees much to be grateful for. He feels that God has blessed his ministry far beyond what he could have ever imagined. He admits to receiving a certain joy when he looks out from the pulpit each Sunday and realizes that his heroes are looking back at him for inspiration and direction in their lives.

His proudest accomplishment however, is seeing a greater awareness of spiritual values at the track. Ken remembers the days when the only time you heard God’s name mentioned at the track was in vain. It’s been a long journey from those days until now but ultimately very satisfying to him. His affable, easy-going nature has made him a favorite of all who come in contact with him.

With 25 years of service behind him and the RFC on solid footing Ken recently began to feel a new calling, one that would expand his reach beyond the racing community. He plans to take time to do some teaching as well as write books and study guides that can be distributed on a widespread basis. Even though he is stepping aside from his day-to-day responsibilities at the RFC, he will stay involved as its President Emeritus.

At no time has Ken ever wanted to leave his loyal parishioners. When he began to feel a change coming in his life he commented on his reason to consider changing direction, “The day I die my works will go with me unless I do something to have them live on. I want to teach and write books and study guides that teach others discipleship. I hope that my readers and students will be inspired to face uncharted territories just as I have and find new ways to reach those in need of God’s word.”

Lots of praying has always been done as racers approach the starting line. Thanks to Ken Owen however, there have been more than starting line prayers for the past 25 years at motorsports events.