Saying the prayer for millions: Alabama minister to give invocation at today’s NASCAR race
by Bran Strickland
bstrickland@annistonstar.com
May 06, 2012 | 7248 views |  0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TALLADEGA — The Sunday congregations at Union Hill Baptist Church vary. Not by much, between 80 and 95 people will show up for the worship services, pastor Rob Lightsey said.

On a good Sunday, Lightsey will deliver his message to triple digits. Today, however, he’ll lead millions in prayer.

Lightsey has been selected to deliver the invocation prior to the start of the NASCAR Aaron’s 499 race at Talladega Superspeedway, where more than 145,000 are expected to attend. The race will be broadcast to millions more on live television.

“It’s somewhat nerve-wracking,” he said, “but not falling-out overwhelming.”

While this will be his largest audience, Lightsey has been close before. He was slated for the same duties last fall, but the death of IndyCar star Dan Wheldon the week before Talladega’s race prompted NASCAR officials to hold a moment of silence instead.

He won’t use last year’s version, he said. Mainly because he hadn’t finished last time, nor had he finished on Tuesday.

But it’s not procrastination, just part of the process.

“I don’t have anything written down yet,” he said. “I’ve been trying to collect my thoughts over the past several of weeks, and to stay in touch with God and ask for guidance.

“I hope this doesn’t sound too much like a Sunday school answer or too cliché-ish, but I think it’s important to talk to God about this and find out what direction you want to go.”

The son of a preacher man, Lightsey saw many different hometowns — from High Springs, Fla., to Burnt Corn — but never many outside of NASCAR’s hotbed. His love of racing and love of the Lord came together in the perfect marriage in 2007 when he joined forces with Alabama Raceway Ministries.

For the past few years, he’s led the singing at the customary Sunday morning services for the drivers and their families.

The invocation duties have bounced around those affiliated with Alabama Raceway Ministries, and they’ve told him what to expect this morning. That, he said, is where the overwhelming part comes.

As is tradition with NASCAR races, a flyover takes place. To have the jets arrive at just the right moment, everything is choreographed down to the second.

Lightsey will have 25.

None of those seconds will contain thanks for his “smoking hot wife” as pastor Joe Nelms did before a Nationwide Series race in 2011, becoming a sensation on YouTube.com with more than 3 million views.

“I thought, ‘Really?,’” he said. “I found it rather strange … whether you’re talking to The Father on TV or in a prayer closet, prayer is something to be done with reverence.”

Bran Strickland is the assistant managing editor for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3570 or follow him on Twitter @bran_strickland.
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