When Dale Earnhardt crashed in 2001, Motor Racing Outreach was there at the Daytona International Speedway to comfort the racing community.
MRO chaplains Max Helton and Dale Beaver were there at the Halifax Hospital when Earnhardt was pronounced dead, and they officiated his funeral at Calvary Chapel in Charlotte.
MRO is a Christian ministry to the NASCAR Sprint Cup community. Because race teams travel so many Sundays out of the year, pastoral support can be difficult to find. MRO chaplains fill in the gap, holding chapel services and offering their presence during race weekends.
On Oct. 8, a few days before the Bank of America 500, MRO celebrated its 25th anniversary at Charlotte Motor Speedway. About 250 attended the dinner, including Darrell Waltrip, who has been on the MRO board since its inception.
Max Helton, who founded MRO in 1988, did not live to see the 25th anniversary. He died in 2008. But his widow, Jean, and daughter, Elaine, attended the celebration.
Jean remembers the early days of MRO. Max and Jean would get their two younger daughters out of school on Friday afternoons and drive to the races. Sometimes they barely had enough gas money to get there and back. Jean and the girls would work on homework in the van with the heater or AC running.
“In those earliest years,” Jean said, “there wasn’t anything of the luxurious accommodations you see today.”
Billy Mauldin, CEO of MRO, has been with the ministry since the beginning, when he worked as a volunteer. He has watched the ministry grow into an organization with 12 full- and part-time employees and hundreds of volunteers. On the road, staff members operate out of two motor coaches and two trailers, and they have offices at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The ministry includes programs for fans and race shops.
Mauldin said, “It’s amazing what God does as a result of us just being there and being present.”