I got away with Melinda for a couple days this week. We flew out on Sunday PM heading for Houston to meet at Lakewood Church and Joel and Victoria Osteen; about the Champions Network.

To our surprise some of our favorite people were on our plane, Judah and Chelsea Smith. As you know Judah’s parents, Wendell and Gini, have been our pastors since mom and dad went home with the Lord. We love the Smith’s huge, and it was cool to catch up on the plane. Seriously, if you live anywhere around the Eastside or downtown and don’t drive out to The Rock Church go to The City Church. These guys are the real deal, and hitting home runs for Jesus.

Landing in Houston well after midnight we checked into our hotel right next to Lakewood Church, got some rest and prepared for the morning.

Walking downstairs we ran into so many people we knew from all over the country. Friends like, Kevin and Beth Green from The Living Room and Eli and Teresa Moreno from Changing Pointe, greeted us as we waited in line at Starbucks. Well, Melinda waited in line, ya all know I only like coffee as long as it’s not in my mouth!

The gathering would begin after meeting dozens of movers and shakers from around the nation. I’d say there were about 85-100 leaders representing about 300,000 folks! That’s pretty awesome.

Joel Osteen is the real deal. He told us how humbled he was to receive the church at the time of his father’s death. He was talking about what God had done, and he was talking through the emotion of it all. It is always great to see Christian leaders who are completely vulnerable in front, Joel was that way on this trip. As he was sharing I was reflecting about the loss of my dad. My story resonates with Joel a lot because I never asked to be a lead pastor. I was completely content doing what I was doing, but the graduation of my father and mother meant it was time to step up.

We heard stories of how God is using Joel and Victoria to build the local church, not just their church, but churches like The Rock. With 20 million people watching their program every month they have a lot to say about building the church. Research has taught them that nearly 50%, or half, of those watching, 10,000,000, are un-churched or de-churched. Meaning, they are not connected anywhere. Champions Network exists to help those 10 MIL people find the churches represented in the room I was sitting in. I was completely stoked at the possibilities.

Imagine what could be possible if 500 people were added to The Rock Church this year? It would be epic! Well, that’s what we are doing. By partnering with Joel and Victoria we will be offering The Rock as a local church opportunity for all those people connected with Joel’s books, television show and teaching. I am pumped about this.

At the end of the day I was talking with Victoria about a phone call I made the summer after my parents died. Back then, I knew of Joel taking over for his dad, so I called Lakewood Church and left a message for Joel, telling of my story. You know what? He called me back in the summer of 2000. We talked for a brief moment about our dad’s, church and filling big shoes. It wasn’t a long conversation, but I’ve never forgotten it. Victoria remembered Joel telling her about that phone call 10 years ago this summer.

She led me to the front to speak with Joel about it. Guess what? He remember it also. A guy who speaks to 20 million people per month on TV nationally, and most likely billions world-wide. He pastors Lakewood Church which is so big it meets where the Houston Rockets used to play. Not only that, but he’s written best selling books and keeps a schedule rivaling a President. And after all that he remembered talking with a 29-year old pastor who’d just lost his parents. That’s the real deal friends. I am honored to be included in the Champions Network.

Race 4 – 3rd

Photo by Hailey Emery

It was our first race on the big 5/8’s mile track. This track is awesome. It’s fast, it takes courage and for the record my crew chief, Steve, has always delivered a bullet at this place. I really feel like I can win on the 5/8’s. Saturday night proved I only need to make small changes to my driving style to keep the car under me the whole race. We were close, real close.

Awesome car. I have to admit, I love the new “two tire rule” at Evergreen Speedway. It saves us money on race tires, but not only that it saves us from having to buy practice tires too often.

However, like most people I’d rather role a new set of 4 skins on the car for the 5/8’s. For those who’ve only had the opportunity in life to spectate, racing tires are a HUGE deal. When you get a chance to drive one of these things ask for fresh tires. We put on fresh doughnuts for practice and it was hooked up! I could hold it to the floor board the whole exit off the corner, “Yeah buddy, that’s what I’m talking about!!”

The 2008 and 2009 champ, Naima Lang, came out to race the big track. He is super fast on this track, so I was aiming to beat him in qualifying. I know without a doubt it was the best qualifying effort I have ever had on the big track. I was pumped. Naima went out and got me by like .035 seconds. I qualified 2nd.

Main Event.
I started outside row 3 in the 6th position. The car was awesome. We made a few passes early and settled in behind the 12 and 11. I found some grip off of turn four and the 11 seemed to be getting tight in the center. We got him and set sail for the leader. I pulled up on Tom after a few laps. He’s a cagey veteran so he may have been saving his car a bit, but when I got to him we were racing. I challenged him for quite a few laps.

After some time my car started changing. It was getting a tick tight in the center. Naima caught me and we had an awesome battle. With the 12 right ahead of us Naima and I went door to door for several laps. It’s awesome to race against super fast guys who drive clean because you know they won’t wreck or mirror drive you. They test every ounce of your cars setup and talent. Naima and I were having a fun battle that would have lasted at least another dozen laps if the 16 hadn’t pulled in front of me when he was getting lapped. Naima set the pick, I had to check up and fall in line behind the 00.

As Naima caught Tom they began to battle. My car had struggled a bit in the center, but I changed my line up a little and found some bite. With the 12 and 00 going at it I started to catch them both. Coming to the white flag, one lap to go, I got a huge run off of turn four and knew I had a head of steam going down the front stretch. Without hesitating I threw it to the outside and rolled up to Naima’s door, racing for second. We went side by side down the back stretch, but my car wouldn’t hold for turn 3. I finished third.

I was a great night as all three of us were close at the finish. For me, going 75 laps green-to-checkers, without a single caution and be nose to tail at the finish with two of the best drivers at Evergreen, and arguably in the Northwest, I was pumped. It was a great night.

I spent some time debriefing my line. I learned a little “somethin-somethin” that we will try next week. I can hardly wait.

Remember, go eat some pie and lunch at Snohomish Pie company. You eat pie, I get new tires! Thank you.

Race 3 – 5th

I am writing this post a week and a couple days removed from race three. You can read about the race here. For the record I think Tom Moriarty is a fantastic champion, eight times. He and I will race hard all season, and I think it will be a great battle this year.

Our car is good, really good. The guys are preparing an awesome piece. It is solid through the center of the corner and hooks up on exit real well. It’s a blast to drive. The biggest thing about practice this particular week is that we tried some small tweaks looking for a big peak.

For the 3rd week in a row we put it on the pole. It was a solid effort, and I am really proud of the team for giving me a fast car week in and week out.

Heat Race.
I started on the pole again this week. I beat Tom to the 1st turn and for the first time held him off as we exited turn 2, an accomplishment compared to the last two heat races. We had tried some small changes that worked in qualifying, but didn’t work as well in the heat race. Car was not really finding much grip and Tom got by me. He rolled out to a decent lead, and all I could do was watch. We had a bit of work to do before the main.

Main Event.
I started row 3 outside in the 6th position behind Dan Moore. We had changed the car back to the previous weeks setup after the heat and things were looking good. The field was rolling off and we were racing close. Dan had some trouble on the front stretch and stacked up the field, thankfully I didn’t turn him. Problem was I was stuck behind him as cars got to the inside and cleared us both.

I found it hard to clear the 16. He races me really hard week in and week out, which is fine, but I was got frustrated. From my perspective he was checker-boarding pretty good, covering my every move with the help of a spotter or mirror. Either way it was jacking up my progress to catch the leaders who now got away by a straightaway.

I passed the 16 about lap 20 and set sail for the leaders. I was gaining ground on 4th, passed him. The battle for 2nd was ensuing as the laps were winding down, and the 12 had picked a line that opened the door wide for the 70. Laps were ticking away and I was gaining huge ground, sometimes a car length or more per lap.

Finally, I reached the 12 and 20 battle and threw Ole Red up in the fight. We would get alongside the 12, then he would clear me getting into the turn and slide up the track. We would get under him and be door to door. Each lap I’d gain more ground. Coming off of turn four I saw the white flag, one lap to go. I knew if I could just get my car a little deeper into turn one and roll the center without sliding up, I could get him. It worked as I’d planned, and I got a huge run.

I didn’t see Tom in my peripheral vision as I had the previous few laps, so I thought I had the move clean. Problem was, he was there. We touched. My car shook a little. I hit the accelerator and down the back stretch I went. I’d made the move with a half a lap to go and set sail to finish 3rd…

I ended up 5th for the night.