Jack Brabham in 1966, the year of his final world championship (Wikipedia)
A generation of sporting greats is slowly but surely coming to the end of their lives and the nation mourns as they provided us all so much pleasure and gave us cause to cheer and salute our Australian national sporting prowess.
Jack Brabham a three time Formula 1 champion has had innumerable national salutes since his death at his Gold Coast home at 88 on Monday 19 May. (www.news.com.au)
He was a family man with three generations of motor racing family members and there was yet another "silent side" to Jack Brabham, that was his quiet inimical support of the fledging Motor Racing Chaplaincy way back in 1985.
A beautiful yellow sea leaf
Founding Motor Racing Chaplaincy
In 1982 I had attended an International Sports Missions conference in Hong Kong and on my return I met with Heads of Churches to establish an Australian sports ministry by placing chaplains throughout all professional sports across the nation.
By the end of 1983 a theological and philosophical framework had been approved (InterChurch Trade and Industry Mission – ITIM) and in 1984 I'd been invited to be the Australian Cricket Team Chaplain. That initiated a period of many great initiatives as I travelled the length and breadth of the nation introducing this ministry to the plethora of professional sports which included Motor Racing.
My first point of contact was the Confederation of Motor Sport (CAMS) in Sydney. This proved providential as I was made most graciously welcome. CAMS noted that motor sport is an activity fraught with a proclivity to accident, and although the chaplaincy model was not one which focused on track circuit disasters and funerals, the discussion about grief provided a starting point from which relationships developed.
By mid 1985, after a series of administrative meetings, I was invited to the Oran Park race track in south west Sydney to initiate the motor racing chaplaincy.
Lovely beach leaves
I recall my first encounter vividly for two reasons. The first was the culture shock, in that motor racing was a family affair which was primarily focused in the pits, and not (as one might imagine) on the track itself. The driver, the mechanics, their partners and all the children made a weekend of it and the pits had a Sunday school picnic atmosphere. The children thoroughly enjoyed themselves as they knew the other children from the various motor racing teams.
The second point I remembered clearly, that time and time again, people told me that I was the first visitor who asked about the people involved, not the cars or their engines. I had read of this type of encounter previously; in the US horse racing and equine ministry, where the chaplain was constantly told by the Strappers that he was the only one who asked after their welfare rather than that of the horse!
The second visit to a race meeting at Oran Park I met Jack Brabham, the one and only time. It happened that his son David was involved in a serious track crash that came close to taking his life.
This was "also" the first and only occasion I had met the late Peter Brock, who assumed I was a petrol head. "To the contrary," I explained. "Rather I'm very interested in you as a person, your team members and their family members". Peter warmly responded introduced me to his motor racing team and entourage.
Those incidental ministry meetings with Jack Brabham and Peter Brock saw CAMS Federal Council approve my 'Pit Padre' submission. It's often been said that the Lord encounters people on the way to some place else. This was kind of like that. I ministered almost as a life passer bye.
Leaves of joy
Motor Racing Chaplaincy
Once CAMS approved the ministry, I handed the Motor Racing Chaplaincy to run under its own petrol with a coordinating chaplain the Reverend Garry Coleman and subsequently, in June 2010, Garry was awarded an OAM for his years of motor racing chaplaincy.
The motor racing chaplaincy ministry grew nationally, and soon encompassed bike racing, the Formula 1, Bathurst, the rallies, seven-day events and others, and been extended to New Zealand.
Broadening of ministry
A broadening of the motor racing ministry identified many Christians in motor racing. For example, Sydney motor racing driver Tom Watkinson came with me to church services, men's breakfasts and youth rallies on numerous occasions where he gave his testimony.
Christian Motor Racing Teams are now functioning under their own auspices. There are now motor racing chaplains across the length and breadth of the nation. The Lord opens doors and ministry follows.
In March 2000 I moved on from Sports Ministry leadership after 18 years, that is over 14 years ago. Next week the sports chaplains meet on the Gold Coast in their annual conference, and I recall the very first such annual sports chaplains conference way back in 1988 with Grand Slam Tennis Ace Margaret Court as our guest speaker. The Lord has now raised up another generation on sport chaplains.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html