Racing ministry founder Max Helton dies
Posted: April 1, 2008 Bob Pockrass SceneDaily.com
Max Helton, the founder of the Motor Racing Outreach ministry, died Sunday at the age of 67 after a battle with brain cancer. Helton formed MRO in 1988, and the organization grew from a weekly Bible study to a ministry that not only conducts race-day chapels and Bible studies at team shops but also provides personal spiritual guidance, child care and a workout area among its services.
"Max was truly a visionary," said MRO President Billy E. Maudlin Jr. "Max was always looking out there to see where was the next place he could go, the next thing that could be done to touch somebody's life that hadn't been touched before."
The ministry's access for the members of the NASCAR community and the other motorsports racing series that MRO serves will remain its cornerstone and Helton's biggest legacy. "Max had a philosophy of life and ministry of constantly being available to people," said Maudlin, who became president of the organization in 2000 and then CEO when Helton left in 2002. "You could request anything of him at any time, and he would try to do anything he could to help you.
"He would be there, he would get there. He just believed that it was so important to always be present and always be available to help people. As new people got involved with MRO over the years, that was the first thing he would teach any of us."
Helton is survived by his wife, Jean, of 45 years as well as four daughters and nine grandchildren.
Joe Gibbs Racing President J.D. Gibbs said the first time his family came to the track in 1991, when it was considering starting a NASCAR team, the first person Gibbs and his father, Joe Gibbs, met with was Helton.
"We knew from a ministry standpoint and what he had here starting MRO, we wanted to be a part of that," J.D. Gibbs said. "We don't really start anything without hopefully praying our way through it, getting good guidance. He was a guy that we kind of leaned on when we entered the sport." J.D. Gibbs said Helton had "a great heart" for every one.
"MRO as whole, what they do is • that in racing, you get lost week to week [in the] battle, [you think] your whole life depends upon it and then when somebody gets sick or there is a death in the community, it refocuses what your perspective should be," J.D. Gibbs said. "Max did a great job when people really were looking - what's going to be important 20 years from now, 30 years from now? "Yeah, the championships are nice, and yes the race wins are nice. More importantly is the impact that we have on others, the Lord, and the way we serve others and really he helped make a stronger community in NASCAR."
Throughout the racing community, people spoke well of Helton and his mission. "Max aided so many people in auto racing, and you would often see him with some of the sport's top drivers offering a quiet prayer just before the start of a race," said Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage, who serves on the board of directors of Helton's World-Span Ministries. "He very personally counseled me through the years and was a great influence on my life."
It is hard to spend a day in a NASCAR garage and not see an MRO representative. "Max Helton's influence will be felt in the NASCAR industry for years to come," a NASCAR statement said. "He touched people's hearts and souls on a spiritual level that won't be forgotten. Max brought out the 'good' in people."
Maudlin said he last talked with Helton a couple of weeks ago as his health and speech were fading. "Everybody that I've talked to that was visiting with him, it was the twinkle in his eyes - that was what you were looking for," Maudlin said. "He was a little bit mischievous. He was apt to get into something every now and then.
"And what you were always looking for, no matter what he was telling you, was the twinkle in his eyes because if you saw that twinkle, you knew he was messing with you a little bit. When I was over there that day, I could still see the twinkle in his eyes, and he was messing with me. What he was trying to say, I honestly couldn't understand. But I knew what he was saying."
A memorial service is planned for Wednesday, April 2, 2008, at 3 p.m. EDT at Grace Covenant Four-Square Church in Cornelius. A visitation and viewing will be Tuesday evening from 7-9 p.m. at Raymer Funeral Home in Huntersville, N.C. The family requests that in lieu of flowers memorials contributions be sent to: Worldspan Ministries, P.O. Box 681117, Charlotte, N.C. 28216.
Bob Pockrass is an associate editor for SceneDaily.com. For more racing news, visit SceneDaily.com