The Holy See
back up

 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 99 (Suppl.), December 2005







Rev. Fr. Philip DeRea, M.S.C.

National Chaplain 

Auto Racing Ministries, USA



Auto Racing Chaplaincy and Ministries is organized for the purpose of providing spiritual and emotional support to all members of the Open Wheel Auto Racing community. The ministry provides chapel services and Masses on race weekends, individual counseling and crisis intervention, when needed. The Racing Ministry chaplains follow up on injuries to drivers and personnel and provide assistance to families, working closely with the other support organizations to make sure that needs are met to whatever extent possible. The chaplains celebrate marriages, baptisms and funerals as part of their service to the Auto Racing community. Chaplains facilitate race weekend Bible Studies and provide spiritual reading and literature to assist with personal spiritual development. The chaplains also say the invocation at various drivers’ meetings and are called on to give the invocation before each race. 

Background on the Ministry

In 1982, the Protestant chaplain to the open wheel racing series began a single chapel service on race weekends. Soon the Chapel group realized that this large and mobile community would require the services of a community Pastor to perform marriages, officiate at funerals, follow up on injuries and recovery, and to provide counsel and religious services to those who were away from the normal parish community.

In 1983, Fr. Phil de Rea, MSC, joined as Catholic Chaplain to the open wheel racing circuit. As an ecumenical team, both chaplains shouldered spiritual responsibilities. The Chaplains worked together in close fellowship and unity of purpose. Since 1983 Chaplains have provided sufficient support for the growing open wheel family (about 2000 people on the move each race weekend).

In 1998, our ministry expanded to two additional racing series to complement the well-established Championship racing series. With the official addition of these racing series to the race corporate structure, the Chaplains expanded the chaplaincy to recognize the needs of such a large influx of additional personnel. With other protestant ministers, a ministry team was created to properly respond to the needs of the newly enlarged open wheel community. As Catholic Chaplain, I was the pastor to a “parish on wheels” for 21 race weekends a year. In 1998 a new organization, CART Ministries, was formed. This organization recognized the unique needs of the racing community and reinforced the ecumenical nature of the chaplaincy. This organization, complete with a board of Directors selected from the racing community, provided ministry during the full racing season (21 weeks). 

Focus of Ministry

The primary focus of each chaplain working in Auto Racing Ministries is to be a source of encouragement, compassion, and empathy for each member of the racing community, serving as an available resource to assist in meeting the many social, emotional, and spiritual needs among those that we serve. Our mission is to bear witness to God’s love and concern for each and every individual with whom we come in contact. To that end, we work diligently at establishing relationships that engender trust and confidence from those in the Racing community.

Chapel services and Catholic Masses– The Ministries’ chaplains provide chapel services and Mass at convenient times on race weekends. Utilizing the chapel facilities provided, chapel services are held at least twice on each Sunday race day. Mass is held at least three times on every race weekend, with a Saturday afternoon Mass available on most weekends. When the race schedule dictates, there are additional chapel services for any racing series that completes the weekend activities on Saturday. On most weekends, between 250 and 350 series participants attend chapel services and Masses.

Counseling– During a 20+ event season, the emotional toll on participants can be substantial. The chaplains are available to provide counseling as needed and referrals when appropriate to any member of the racing community. Since, in a racing environment, time constraints and activity levels may be limiting, it is important that the chaplains are visible and available throughout the race weekend. Often while in casual conversation, personal needs will be disclosed by racing participants and personnel. On other occasions, a team owner, manager, or official may refer someone to the chaplain because of a problem. In any event, the chaplains are careful to determine which needs may be met in short spans of time and which may require more extensive counseling. In the event of the latter, the individual will be referred to a properly trained counselor in their home area.

Crisis Intervention– Within a community of several thousand people, there are many individual crises that occur. Some may be as simple as a family member who has become sick at home; some are more dramatic such as the sudden death of a spouse or parent. In any of these situations, the chaplains are available to serve as a resource to provide assistance to the affected individual(s). Assistance such as getting updates, informing other family members, making transportation arrangements, or any other appropriate service is rendered. In the event of a track tragedy, such as what occurred in Michigan, the priest is available to provide Last Rites and sacramental needs. The chaplains work with anyone impacted by such a tragic event. Protocol is being created to share with officials regarding the response in such emergencies.

Pastoral Duties– Since the chaplains are the only source of pastoral care for many of the individuals who travel the racing circuit, they are always available to perform weddings, to officiate at funerals, to baptize infants, or to perform any other appropriate spiritual duties to support the community. During the past year there have been several weddings, some funerals, and several baptisms performed for the racing families. It is always a pleasure for the chaplains to participate in happy events. We are also willing to provide solace to the grieving.

Injury FollowUp – Automobile racing is a dangerous sport. On occasion, a driver, crewman, or official may be injured. When an injury occurs, a chaplain will check with the Medical Center to determine the severity of the injury and prognosis, including the location of follow-up care. If the injured person is sent to a local hospital, a chaplain will follow up with a visit and offer comfort and support to the family or crew in dealing with any circumstances required. The chaplains will continue to have contact with the injured party throughout the rehabilitation process. The appropriate official is contacted if any intervention is required on behalf of the racing community. The race chaplain will endeavor to brief the local hospital chaplain on the needs of the injured party or others who may be impacted. The chaplains will always work in harmony with the local hospital chaplains in responding to an injury or during the subsequent follow-up visits.

In time of tragedy– When a death occurs at the racetrack – whether driver, team member or spectators, the Priest Chaplain is invaluable. He is liaison between the medical staff and family; he administers all the corresponding sacraments; he assists the family and in contacting the family. The Priest provides comfort, gives hope and keeps everyone together. In most cases, the Priest Chaplain will conduct a prayer service with team personnel and race officials. He becomes the leader and takes charge (e.g. 9/11, an accident, conducting a prayer vigil for race personnel). Frequently the Priests help bring closure to the tragedy and enable people to get on with their lives, and jobs. Often the Priest conducts the funeral service as needed.

Bible Studies– Bible Study and devotional times are a regular feature of each race weekend on Friday evenings in the chapel building. Members of the racing community are invited to attend. The subject matter and the discussion are appropriate for anyone interested in the Christian Faith.

Appropriate Literature– Literature that can uplift, challenge, motivate, and enrich is an essential part of each individual’s growth. Ministers provide appropriate literature for personal development and spiritual enrichment free of charge to any member of the community. This literature ranges from several translations of the Bible, to daily guides to personal devotions, to testimonials from personalities in the racing community, to assistance for quality marriage and family life. All of the literature that is available through the ministry is on display in the chapel building during services and Mass.

Daily Involvements– On each day of a race the chaplains are invited to open driver and crew chief meetings in prayer. They endeavor to encourage series participants and to pray with individuals who feel the need for some spiritual assistance. Each chaplain can be found moving through the paddock, stopping here and there for a visit, an offer of assistance, a moment of encouragement, a quick word of prayer, or the sharing of some important concern. It is a matter of just being available. For members of the racing community, far from home for long stretches, the most important single function of the chaplain may be his consistent presence. Knowing that if the chaplain is needed, he will be there is a most crucial element of this ministry.

Racing Chaplains strive to provide the same pastoral care and support race personnel would find in their own local community. Chaplains understand and operate within the framework of the racing community, working to make the circuit a place more conducive to emotional support, personal development, and spiritual growth.