You can criticize Joe Nelms for being silly. You can call him blasphemous. You can stop going to his church, egg his car or affix a “Kick Me” sign to his back.
Just know that I won’t be joining you. Nelms’ notorious prayer before last Saturday’s Nationwide race in Nashville, in which the good preacher thanked the almighty for assorted engine programs and his “smokin’ hot wife,” was the most sincere prayer said at a NASCAR race in years.
I know this for one reason. He did not say one single word about the military.
And I loved it just for that.
I respect and appreciate the armed forces as much as anyone. And as fractured as we’ve become over our differences since troops rolled into Iraq and Afghanistan, we can all be proud that we didn’t turn our rage at our soldiers, the worst legacy of Vietnam.
I can understand the desire to thank the military whenever possible. But over the years NASCAR invocations have become more cookie-cutter than mile-and-a-half tracks.
Seemingly without fail, “Amen” just doesn’t happen without someone saying that we wouldn’t be at the track enjoying motorsports without the troops on the front line making all this possible.
Truth be told, I cringe just about every time I hear that. I love NASCAR to death. But I’m not so diluted about its importance that I think everybody overseas is sidestepping IEDs so I can watch cars go in circles, or that God is specifically putting people in harm’s way for my chosen form of recreation.
Kudos to soldiers in pre-race prayers have become largely cliche and self-serving — they don’t even consistently ask God to keep the soldiers safe.
The national anthem comes right after the prayer. Let’s save the bowing of heads for its most important purpose at that time: To pray that the guys risking life and limb on the track and pit road leave in one piece.
The anthem and accompanying military flyover then do a more than ample job reminding everyone that our fun and games come at a price.
NASCAR isn’t required to separate church and state. But at this point, it sure would be nice.