Andy Geelhoed has worked and played with cars nearly his entire adult life. And for the past 12 years he has used his passion for driving fast to spread the love of Christ at drag racing strips and car shows across Michigan as a chaplain with Racers for Christ.
Geelhoed, a member of Ideal Park Christian Reformed Church in Wyoming, Mich., has managed the organization’s 12 chaplains across Michigan for the past three years.
Geelhoed’s interest in cars and driving fast crystallized soon after he graduated from high school in the 1970s. He recalls spending a lot of weekends watching drag races with his friends. His interest morphed from watching drag races to running in drag races after completing automotive classes at Grand Rapids Community College.
“I had a lot of success,” Geelhoed said. “I won a championship race in my rookie year and my career kind of took off after that.”
Geelhoed took a full-time job as a tool and die maker with an automotive manufacturer in Grand Rapids, Mich., while continuing his racing career on the side. He gave up racing in 1980, and the auto plant where he worked closed soon after that.
But Geelhoed stayed active in the racing scene by starting his own automotive garage nearly 35 years ago, primarily working on custom cars and race cars.
“It’s been a real blessing to do my own thing for so many years. I got the opportunity to work with a lot of neat people,” he said. “My wife and I got to do a lot of traveling in the 90s to races and car shows and the like.”
About 12 years ago, Geelhoed felt drawn to get involved with the drag racing scene again. A friend who was the Racers for Christ Michigan director at the time helped Geelhoed apply for and launch a part-time chaplain ministry at drag strips and car shows primarily around West Michigan. “I thought it would be a good thing to do and give back a little,” said Geelhoed
At race tracks, Geelhoed is a fixture around the staging lanes where racers warm up their machines and strap in before hurtling down the track at speeds topping 100 mph.
“As drivers strap into their cars, we’ll go over and see if they want to pray,” Geelhoed said. He also takes calls for pastoral care from racers and their families.“I’m open to what people are looking for,” Geelhoed said. “Sometimes I get a call to visit a racer in the hospital. Sometimes I get a call because a racer’s child is in the hospital. You never know what the next call could be.”
As a chaplain, Geelhoed conducts about four chapel services each year and interacts with drag racers at local tracks and car shows a few more weekends during the summer. He uses his experience as a racer to demonstrate that pursuit of speed—especially spending many weekends away from home—doesn't have to come at the expense of pursuing Christ.
“I didn’t spend a lot of time in church” as a racer, he said. “I want people to see that even though I wasn’t looking out for the Lord, the Lord was looking out for me.”