Michael gearing up for a top five finish in 2011
Allow me to introduce you to friend and NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide series driver, Michael McDowell. Michael and I have shared the stage many times over the last several years at NASCAR related events around the country and I have found him to be mature beyond his 27 years.
If you keep up with auto racing at all, then you’ve heard the name Michael McDowell. Michael is one of only 43 drivers in the world who gets to race on Sundays in the biggest spectator sport on the planet, NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. During the pre-race festivities each week you’ll find Michael conducting interviews, signing autographs and taking pictures with multitudes of incredibly devoted fans that fill racetrack stadiums that seat as many as 160,000 people.
Anything but a dream
Sounds like a life a dream-life, right? Who wouldn’t want to drive 200 mph (without getting a ticket!), rub shoulders with drivers with last names like Gordon, Johnson and Earnhardt and have thousands of adoring fans, television cameras and celebrities everywhere? That IS Michael’s life-every week of the NASCAR season. In fact, it is a dream fulfilled every time Michael pulls the visor down on his helmet and throttles up his 700 horsepower motor to race on Sunday afternoons. However, Michael’s journey to becoming a NASCAR driver has been anything but a dream.
It’s no secret that NASCAR is a multi-billion dollar, sponsor-driven sport. Simply put, if you want to play this game, you’ll want to bring your pants with the deepest pockets or have your family turn over the checkbook with permission to add as many zeroes as possible.
About the time many of today’s most popular young drivers were gaining momentum with a growing cast of sponsors, friends and family who financially footed the bill for their development as up and coming race car drivers, Michael’s family was breaking the difficult news that, although they believed in him and supported him emotionally, they could no longer financially afford to support his dream of becoming a racecar driver.
As a young teenager in Phoenix, Arizona, Michael found himself at a crossroads. He could give up on his dream of becoming a racecar driver and find another passion or stand toe to toe against adversity and begin trading blows in the fight to do what he believed he was put on earth to do! Michael, determined to see his dreams fulfilled, would not give up on becoming a racecar driver. And although he didn’t realize it then as a wildly ambitious adrenaline junkie, he had the ultimate Dreamer in his corner.
For the next five years, Michael refused to give up on finding ways to support his dream. He cleaned go-karts at a local go-kart track, trained others on racing techniques and even sold long-distance phone service to make money and earn sponsorship to support his dream of racing. Anytime an opportunity to display his incredible talent for driving a racecar came along, Michael made the most of it-many times by winning!
When it seemed that his friends were getting all the easy breaks and sponsorship dollars needed to live their dreams and go to the next level of racing, Michael, only 18 years old, deep in debt, and still no steady job in racing, worked even harder and refused to give up.
Life Changing Moments
As a result of his dogged determination to race and a fierce work ethic, Michael gained the admiration and respect of two very important men in his life who not only supported and encouraged him in racing, but introduced him to the ultimate Dreamer, Jesus Christ.
In fact, it was at the funeral of one of those two men who died an untimely death at a racetrack, that Michael was confronted for the first time, with eternity. Suddenly, racing wasn’t the most important thing in his life. It was time for Michael to learn how to dream God’s dream for his life. Thankfully, it still involved driving fast!
Over the next several years, Michael’s desire to be a great racecar driver didn’t diminish. In fact, finding out that it was God who put him on earth to race only made the fire burn hotter. However, now he began driving with a different purpose: to touch lives along the way.
Michael admits that finding sponsorship and staying relevant in the world’s biggest spectator sport of NASCAR racing is a daily challenge with today’s economy. But his faith and the lessons he’s learned on his journey have all been worth the hardships. The perseverance has brought a great deal of maturity to Michael’s life. Still young by most standards, God is using Michael in the lives of other drivers to mentor and encourage them in their faith and racing career.
Along with his weekly racing commitments, Michael shares his story of perseverance and faith publicly at a variety of events each year. In the off-season, he takes his wife and son on mission trips with other NASCAR drivers and friends of faith with a message of hope in Jesus Christ.
Over the last seven years Michael has won many races in the Star Mazda Series, Rolex Daytona Prototype series, Champ Cars, ARCA RE/MAX. Since 2007, he’s gained enormous respect in NASCAR’s top two series, NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with several top 10 and top five finishes in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
For more on Michael’s career or to follow on Facebook and Twitter you can check out his website here:
Stay the course – dream your dreams. With faith in the Creator and a lot of perseverance, there is always hope to see many of those dreams come true! – Joe
Joe Michael Feldpausch and the 55 Chevy
“My dad more than lived out the country songs he grew up loving. He was a huge George Jones and Merle Haggard fan and he loved drinkin’, cheatin’, fighting. My dad once shot a man for parking in his parking spot when I was a little boy. He beat, stabbed and shot men, sometimes just for being bigger than he was, a wrong look or taking all of his money in a poker game. He was in and out of reform school as a teen and in and out of prison until I was finished with High school. Daddy was on life support more than once and most of the time it involved a knife or a gun.
On Labor Day of my 6th grade year he was stabbed multiple times after stabbing another man over a card game and put on life support. The next year before my 7th grade year he was drunk in a bar and shot himself. He was on life support for some time before he managed to survive another near-death experience. He was never the same as a result. He would never drive again, he couldn’t see well and had to be taken care of. Amazingly, and with bullet fragments in his brain, this didn’t stop his criminal behavior. He managed to get his hands on another gun as he shot two more men and spent my high school years in prison.
When I was young, my dad owned many hot rods and would challenge anyone to a drag race on the city streets even with his family in the car. I didn’t know it then but one car that I was crazy about would become a tool in the hands of God later in my life-a ’55 Chevy. As a child that car was also a point of sadness. My mom and dad had divorced when I was about six years old and I would wait many Friday nights looking out the living room window, longing for my dad to pick me up in his ’55 Chevy-the car of my dreams. However, when Daddy shot himself part of that dream died.
My dad died at only 63 years old in a nursing home in 2007- complications from living with bullet lodged in his brain for years, causing multiple strokes. I was at a Christmas party with my wife and son when I got the call that he had taken a turn for the worse. I hadn’t seen him in months. Not only that, I had been told so many times throughout my life that he “might not make it” that I just didn’t see the need to rush over to Kentucky to sit through another of his incidents.
When I did arrive at Owensboro, Kentucky nursing home, I reluctantly handled all of the arrangements of his funeral, sang and shared what was on my heart that day. I had been to enough funerals where everyone shares how he or she “would’ve done anything for anyone”. I wanted to tell the truth. I told his brothers and sisters (ten of them) and friends that he was a lousy father and rotten human being-at his funeral. I shared of how he was everything that I didn’t want to be.
But then I shared of how in his final months he had grown to love the weekly, Friday Bible studies the nursing home held and how he had come to know Christ and prayed to receive Him while visiting me. I shared at his funeral about how God had revealed to me that the hurt Daddy caused throughout my childhood, was being used to touch others! I believe that God wanted me to share with those in attendance at Daddy’s funeral that I have learned that God doesn’t waste a hurt!
Throughout my years as a traveling singer/songwriter I have sensed that God has been preparing me my whole life to tell “My Story” and helping me to understand the reason for the “hurts” in my life it as I grew in faith. God was using the passion for that ’55 Chevy, fast cars, my love for music and the hurt that Daddy caused me to touch and enspire the lives of others who are hurting and broken!
I continue as a work in progress, but I know for certain; God will not waste our hurts. He is still teaching me about His love and forgiveness. I often think about Joseph in Genesis 50:20. You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
I hope you’ll join us at a Finish A Winner Event to hear many more inspiring stories from some of your favorite NASCAR drivers and crew members!-Joe”
Over 30 years ago I made the most important decision of my life. I was five years old and accepted Jesus Christ as my savior on March 24, 1976. I remember the day well, kneeling beside my parents’ bed. That decision created a solid foundation for the rest of my life.
I grew up in church, had parents that stayed together, went to Christian school, and never really strayed too far. Most of my life has been easy. Sometimes I think too easy because when things just kind of work out for you, it’s easy to think you’ve assumed control of your own life.
My father worked for the electric company and my mother was a school teacher. Neither of my parents were what you would call “risk takers” and we lived a very modest, conservative life. They sacrificed much through the years to send us to private school and prepare us for further education. However, while I certainly appreciate the value in all their efforts, I was never a serious student. I would often skip classes or even the whole school day in order to go do something fun with friends. I also couldn’t wait to be done with school and officially start a small business. From the time I was about 14 or 15, I’ve always enjoyed buying and selling things. It started with toys, then cars, then houses and land. I just seemed to have a knack for buying things at a bargain and creating a higher value for them.
By the time I was 24 I had moved solidly into real estate and began putting up buildings to sell -residential, commercial, even some industrial properties. Things were going great, and I soon became interested in buying, selling, and investing in other businesses. Two of the businesses I was involved with had celebrity clients and because of that I became used to bouncing around the country in private planes and helicopters. Somewhere in the midst of all that running, I got married and we (Elizabeth and I) started a family together. From the outside everyone thought I was the golden child and had it all together. The problem was so did I. I struggled with feeling like I was more competent, or more in control than most of my peers. There was nothing I didn’t like about life. God was good, business was good, family was good; every day was a great day to be alive! And as much as I liked to work, it seemed to be the life of leisure. I felt and understood God’s tremendous blessings, but really struggled internally to keep pride away from my heart.
Fast forward to 2007- the stock market crash, beginning of the real estate bust…beginning of the end of our storied life. All our privileges started to unravel. Month after month went by with no sales and no income and soon the months turned into years. Our balance sheets were going down, and our credit lines going up. No matter what it was, everything I tried to do was a flop. Life had never been like this before, I worked harder than ever and the losses kept piling higher and higher.
So what happened? Well, it’s still happening! I believe with all my heart that God has purposed to bring a season of testing and refinement upon us. It didn’t seem to matter how well we had planned or saved, most of our earthly securities have evaporated. It’s been slow and steady- really it’s felt very orchestrated, but God has been stripping us of anything we might take pride or security in other than Him.
It seems like there should be a temptation to feel bitter about that somewhere, but I’m really not. The Bible asks “Shall we accept a season of blessing, and not a season of trials? Doesn’t God control the sun and the rain? There’s actually a real comfort in knowing that He has all this under control. As upside down as it seems to me, I understand that I just can’t understand it all, even right now as He has us headed in a new direction.
At the beginning of 2009, after a ridiculously long spell of dead ends, God kept opening doors leading to ministry opportunities. One day seemingly “out of the blue” Pastor Dave Annan sat me down and asked if I would commit to spending some time in prayer with him about turning my attention toward ministry and specifically about providing encouragement and refreshment to pastors. All I could think was, “What kind of a crazy idea is that?” but I said yes, and so we did. During that same period of time, I met a man named Larry Dreesor. Now Larry is a great man of faith, and within twenty four hours of us getting to know each other, he encouraged me to consider helping out with the organization of another ministry. As part of his encouragement, he said, “Andy, you need to figure out what your highest and best use is for the Kingdom of God!” At that time that was the third of three separate ministry options all asking for my attention and so I couldn’t help but ask God, “What are you doing to me? Everything I’m trying to do to survive here seems like a total waste of time, and you keep dropping these ministry things in my lap that are going to take up even more time! I don’t see how this is all going to work!”
“So what is my highest and best use for the Kingdom?” Those words became almost a daily prayer for me. I continued to meet with Pastor Dave for more prayer about the pastor appreciation idea. That period of time was the beginning of some of the most amazing events of my life. All of a sudden the Lord just started opening more and more doors, faster than I could keep up with. God kept calling me to reach out to pastors, to set up this small retreat ministry we now call Energize Day Retreats. It became clear to me that pastors and other ministers today are living lives that are way out of balance. Among numerous other concerns, most of them don’t have much fun in their lives. Initially, I thought “Ok, no problem, I can provide fun and fellowship for anybody.” But now, almost two years later, God has shown me so much more about why He is leading me down this path. The needs we are addressing are much deeper than I could have imagined, and they’ve been overlooked for far too long. There is enormous opportunity for our organization to stand up and support those who are fighting on the front lines of battle and suffering heavy spiritual attack on our behalf. There is also a huge need for us to remind other Christians and congregations to show appreciation for their pastors, to educate them on why and how vital it is to encourage their pastors and spiritual leaders. Outside of my wife and children, developing and facilitating this program has become what I consider to be my highest and best use…at least in this point of my life.
We certainly still have needs to attend to in our other businesses…at least until God chooses to relieve or dissolve them, but I know beyond the shadow of doubt that He wants my primary focus to be a voice for the needs of local pastors and to provide the much needed encouragement and refreshment to them.
Don’t get me wrong, it is really tough. I don’t like to focus on or talk about finances, and I try hard not to. But the reality is that right now the pressures are very intense. Many have heard me say, “We literally agonize over every dime that is spent in our home these days.” You can imagine that my wife and I don’t always agree on what the most important thing is that we need at the moment! It’s a true testing of our faith and I’m just beginning to really comprehend what the Bible says about the testing of your faith producing pure gold…or how it’s refined by fire. For the first time ever, I’m tempted by things I normally wouldn’t think twice about, but then I remember, God is most interested in who I’m becoming and He wants me to trust him- totally, completely trust him.
So here we are. Our chips are all in. We live day to day pursuing a calling that to most people doesn’t make any sense. We live expectantly for God to provide and to show up at just the right time to require our complete dependence on him. It’s uncomfortable for sure, but I still feel like every day’s a great day to be alive, and a great chance to positively impact somebody else’s life. I’m thankful for the good, the bad, the easy, and the hard, it really doesn’t matter because it’s all more than we deserve. Most importantly I’m forever thankful for Jesus in my life. He has been my unchanging source of peace, comfort, and guidance. I know He has the best in store for us, and I truly believe that greater things are yet to come.
Please keep us and our ministry in your prayers, and by all means contact me if there is any details of our ministry you’d like to hear more about.