By BILL FOLEY
There is physical support supplied by many folks on a nightly basis at local speedways.
However, the latest Behind the Scenes spotlight in the continuing exclusive Dirt Track Digest series provides another means of assistance.
Brother Kevin Westcott addresses the spiritual side to assist grassroots racers in another very critical area.
Dirt Track Digest: How did you become involved with racing?
Kevin Westcott: “It’s kind of comical, because as a small child I loved Elvis Presley movies. His movie Spinout opened my eyes to the racing world in a way. I also watched NASCAR when ABC’s Wide World of Sports picked up a few races at the beginning of televised stock car racing. I also enjoyed Grand Prix racing because of the movie by the same name starring Paul Newman. The roar of top fuel funny cars and rail dragsters also drew my attention as a kid. If it was loud and went fast, I loved it. Growing up next door to John Hill (a photojournalist involved in the sport) kept me interested. Also, my dad was a motorhead and biker all wrapped up into one, so we attended a few hill climbs and hair scrambles when I was real young. Local racers like Al Clark would show up on a Saturday if they had a rough Friday night because my dad was a welder they knew they could trust.
“In my early teens I was around motocross as my two older brothers began racing AMA events from 1974 through 1977. Dirt track racing was an influence during my teens because John Hill’s son sold a trade paper at Oswego Speedway and he convinced me to subscribe to his “rag.” I was always interested in Sprint Cars during that time of my life. Later after college and marriage I was on an evening ride with my new bride in 1984 when I came across a NMMA Double A Single Class Modified Midget on a snowmobile trailer in Leroy, New York. When I stopped to check out the equivalent of today’s 270 micro sprint it caught my eye because it was a miniature Sprint Car with a 250cc motocross bike engine. When I located where they raced those little cars, I was hooked on dirt oval racing for good. A few trips to Canandaigua Speedway and Paradise Speedway to watch Modifieds and 360 Sprints during those earlier years deepened my love of the sport.”
DTD: What are you doing at track you are at?
KW: “I currently serve as Chaplain for Brewerton, Fulton, Utica-Rome, and Weedsport Speedways as an administrative member of Finish Line Chaplain Ministry. I also serve as Chaplain for DIRTcar Northeast and the World of Outlaws when they swing through our area. When I have time and something relevant to say I like to write a column for Dirt Track Digest as well.”
DTD: What are you currently doing? Explain that to a person who has no idea what racing is about.
KW: “As a motorsports Chaplain I’m a minister of Jesus Christ, fully ordained to provide all of the sacerdotal services you’d be able to receive from a local church, except my congregation is limitless in geography and the number of people I can serve. Our ministers attend local tracks weekly and tour events as necessary to provide moral and spiritual guidance from a biblical world view. We follow the Biblical model of one-on-one and small group interactions to steer people into a deeper relationship with the Lord, and to help people discover the benefits of a personal and dynamic relationship with Him.
“We are at driver’s meetings for group prayers, and provide invocational prayers before events we attend, but what we do behind the scenes is far greater. I’ve personally had the privilege to officiate weddings, funerals, baptisms, baby dedications, child blessings, couple’s guidance, individual spiritual guidance, and just about anything else that was needed or requested of me.”
DTD: What is your favorite part of the job?
KW: “Serving and working with people from all walks of life. The best part is seeing the growth they experience by applying biblical truths that bear relevance to their life. I’ve served with the NASCAR Northeast Dirt Modified Tour, the Super DIRTcar Series, World of Outlaw Sprints, World of Outlaw Late Models, Lucas Oil Late Models, All Stars Circuit of Champions Sprints, USAC Silver Crown Series, USAC 360 Sprint Series, Empire Super Sprints, Patriot Sprints, Short Track Super Series, IMCA Modifieds, TUSA Mod Lites, CSRA Sprints, and other sanctioning bodies I’m sure I’m forgetting at some point during my time as a Chaplain. The diversity is awesome.”
DTD: What is the least favorite part?
KW: “I’d have to say the least favorite part of the job is the time it takes me way from my wife. The track coverage I provide is a full-time volunteer job, besides my full-time vocation, and my full-time pastorate at a local church. She’s really understanding about my commitments and stands behind me every inch of the way by prayerfully interceding for me when I’m away. She also does extra things around home to make it easier on me when I am there. She also covers me with encouragement when burnout tries to set in during the race season.”
DTD: Can you still be a fan while doing what you do?
KW: “I’m a huge fan, but sometimes I’m not fanatical about it. I try not to allow myself to gravitate toward one team as a fan, or to play favorites, but that’s the greatest challenge to face because some people just have more charismatic personalities than others. I believe “playing favorites” would detract from the purpose of my being there. I am a huge fan of several divisions we get to work with weekly. Loving what you do doesn’t make it seem so much like work when there’s a lot to do, when the nights run long, or people act unbecomingly.”
DTD: How many years and what tracks have you worked at?
KW: “I’ve been a motorsports Chaplain officially since Memorial Day weekend in 1997. I started under the covering of Pastor David Wells, and the scrutinizing eyes of Marcia Wetmore and Stan Freisen when they held the reigns of Fulton Speedway and Utica-Rome Speedway for John Zemaitis. I began an “on trial” position that weekend at Fulton Speedway followed by Utica-Rome the next night. By the end of the weekend I was given the position I’ve enjoyed to this day. In 2002 I took a summer off after losing my father to cancer while working from a rental on a temporary assignment in Buffalo for the railroad. I was able to attend several races that year at Afton Speedway when Roger Heroux was the promoter. When my work schedule became more consistent, I was able add Brewerton to the weekly mix in 2017. After the Henke/Phelps alliance was formed to rebuild Weedsport I’ve been there as often as I can while balancing their schedule with Utica-Rome. During the couple years Jeff Hachmann ran Rolling Wheels I served there. During my career as a Chaplain I’ve served at select events at Penn Can, Can Am, Canandaigua/ Land of Legends, Williams Grove, Paradise, Lebanon Valley, the Syracuse Mile, Oswego, and other tracks I can’t remember at this moment. This will be my 24th consecutive season once we get the season started.”
DTD: What are some of your favorite memories?
KW: “The first Victory 200 I served as Chaplain must be at the top of my list. During the on-track opening ceremonies for the Victoria 200 in 1997 a vision I had received from the Lord in 1992 was fulfilled. None of the memories can compare to the countless relationships I’ve forged over the years between myself and officials, teams, and fans I’ve had the privilege to get to now and serve. All of you are what makes the sport great, and it’s you that keeps drawing me deeper in to it.
“An overwhelming experience I’ll never forget was when I delivered the invocation for the DIRTcar 358 Modified Nationwide Insurance 150 on Military Appreciation Day at Super DIRT Week in 2011. The Moody Mile grandstands were packed out, as was the pit wall paddock area, the backstretch, and any available area around the racetrack. I remember praying for our United States Military, adding the usual prayers for the racing community at the end, and the crowd broke out in a standing ovation the moment I said “Amen.” Considering I prayed from the heart and not a from a script, that’s very humbling.
“As the father of a racer I must add something from that perspective. Some of my favorite memories with him include my son’s first feature win in every division he’s raced, back-to-back features in the same day, twice in his career, in two separate divisions, and a USAC track championship the year he was graduating from quarter midgets to 600cc Micro Sprints at 13-years-old.”
DTD: What are some of your least favorite memories?
KW: “Wow! That’s not a hard question to answer, but tough to recount the events because of the impact they had on the families affected by them. Deaths in the sport are the toughest thing I deal with. The day Marcia Wetmore gave me my start as a Chaplain must be one of the toughest experiences in my ministerial life. When I met her at the tower, and she told me about Dean Hubbs I had to lean completely on the Holy Spirit to know what to do and say that night. At the end of that same season the night before the Victoria 200 I was stuck at work and couldn’t make the Friday events. When I arrived Saturday morning, I was met at the gate with the news that in my absence Doug Cooper was killed in his dwarf car by hitting the turn four wall.
“Every track related death since then has always been difficult, but none more than the Kevin Ward Jr./Tony Stewart tragedy. As many know, I was the officiant for Kevin Ward’s services, and had to work with the outstanding funeral director and law enforcement to keep the media away enough so I could focus on the task of bringing some comfort and healing to the countless people that were affected by Kevin’s death. The loss of a friend is never easy, but when that friend is one of your “neighborhood dads” you grew up around, who had later become a colleague in the sport that trusted you as a confidant, it’s more personal.
“In 2009 when I co-officiated John Hill’s memorial service I was given the task to contact two of his oldest acquaintances on behalf of his family. Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt had both met John during his journalistic trips to the Indy 500, and both had visited him at his home when they raced near central New York. I was able to talk to them individually to break the news to them. I was honored to extend their personal condolences to his family as well as share his love for his children that he found difficult to express in person. I also penned a letter to Dale Earnhardt’s family as an extension of the Gater Racing News family in the wake of his tragic death.”
DTD: Why do you keep doing what you do?
KW: “Love. It’s that simple. I live by the motto “love God, love people.” Racing is filled with an eclectic mix of people from all walks of life, with diversity in ethnicities, socio-economic status’, ages, and gender. In that regard it reminds me of heaven, which is described as a place where all nations will worship at God’s throne. Racers are a loving, giving people for the most part, and will do anything to help anyone in need regardless if they like them much or not. They truly love to race no matter how much work it takes to be there. I love that about them.”
DTD: Was your family involved with racing?
KW: “My dad raced and flagged Pike’s Peak mountain climb races when he was stationed in Colorado during his service in the United States Army. Both of my older brothers raced motocross from 1974 into 1977. I raced BMX around the same time. My cousin Hank Searles raced VW bodied Modifieds on asphalt in the 70’s all over the Northeast, and his brother Robert Westcott designed and builds the winningest WRS Series Dirt Mini Late Model on the west coast. Robert has won numerous series championships racing his own cars. I got involved in oval racing by joining Limerock Speedway in 1985, pitting for a Micro Sprint team with two cars and drivers.”
DTD: Who influenced you regarding racing and why?
KW: “Drivers like Steve Kinser and his son Kraig have been strong influences because of their down to earth personalities and sincere friendliness. They show the kind of transparency and genuineness that I want to exude in my own life. Nothing to hide, just being real.
“John Hill, who worked through cancer up until a few weeks before it took his life without taking a single treatment by choice, showed me a courage and strength to never give up and to do what you love for the people you love. He also shared his desire to bring truth and integrity to the press.
“Pastor David M. Wells gave this young (35 at the time) zealot a chance to demonstrate my gifts, while giving me direction and correction so I could grow into my position.
“Marcia Wetmore took me in on Pastor Well’s word and gave me the chance to walk into my calling as a minister while showing me the way around a racetrack and the people it exists for.
“The Patrick family for allowing me a platform to develop my media presence by writing for Gater Racing News, while making me feel like I was family the entire time we worked together. I also want to give credit to the up and coming generation in the sport for their influence. They taught me that to do is more important than to say when it comes to matters of the heart, especially when divine relationships with God are on display. The entire culture of dirt track racing has been an influence on me in a way that makes me want to push even harder the older I become.”
Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know would like to be included in Behind the Scenes just send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org or PM William Foley on Facebook.