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Racing Reverend uses drag strip as tool in ministry

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With a $500 donation, the Rev. Dale Schaefer hopes to hit the track by fall.

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BOWLING GREEN - The Rev. Dale Schaefer is revving up to hit the drag strip in his red race car. With a $5,000 donation from Lutheran service organizations, the "Racing Reverend" might be blazing a trail this fall.

The 57-year-old pastor of St. Mark's Lutheran Church hopes to have his super gas-class car rebuilt in time for the Halloween Classic at Norwalk Raceway Park.

The Aid Association for Lutherans and one of its local branches, the Lutheran Home Services, chipped in enough money for the "Racing Reverend" - as he's known on the track - to rebuild a 600 horsepower Chrysler engine and transmission, replace a windshield, and get his 1980 Plymouth Arrow up to code in time for for the October quarter-mile race. e expects the car to do 130 mph in 9.9 seconds and take him across the finish line first.

The car was a surprise gift to Mr. Schaefer, who's been at St. Mark's four years. His congregation gave him the car in October. He hadn't tinkered on a race car since December, 1999, when he sold his 1970 Dodge Challenger to pay his daughter Katie's college tuition.

In a brief check presentation outside the church yesterday, Tom Davis, AAL's district representative, delivered the $5,000 check to Mr. Schaefer. "My hope and prayer is this will help you be as successful in racing as you have been in your ministry," Mr. Davis said.

"Amen," Mr. Schaefer re|spon|ded shortly before he jumped for joy.

The Appleton, Wis., not-for-profit insurance and financial services organization annually gives millions of dollars for disaster relief programs, grants, scholarships and gift-matching programs, Mr. Davis said. It also offers aid to members during personal tragedies, and helps them achieve financial success, said Bill Harke, AAL's regional manager of media relations. The national organization also sponsors a NASCAR race car.

Mr. Davis said the decision to fund the race car renovation was based on mutual benefit.

"Pastor Schaefer is a very special kind of guy who has found a way to put his ministry and racing together. Anytime we can support someone who is promoting Christianity and our members, we feel it's worthy of support. The pastor has a gift for talking about racing and tying it into Christianity,'' Mr. Davis said.

"He's going to use his racing car to support branch activities. The pastor said he also will take the car to Lutheran homes for troubled kids to show them there's another way to do things,'' he said.

AAL logos will be placed on the rear fenders of the car, Lutheran Home logos will be on the car's doors.

To Mr. Schaefer, it's a great marketing tool to take Christianity outside the conventional church and reach a different audience. When people see the logos and his "The Rev" sticker, he hopes it will entice people to ask a few questions and give him the opportunity to "witness to Jesus Christ," he said.

As a teenager, he said he was bit by the racing bug.

"I built my first car when I was 13, much to the chagrin of my Dad," he recalled.

He began racing at the same age when he acquired a fake driver's license. At 16, he was legal to race and began a hot rod club in his hometown of Salem, Ohio. He's passionate about his hobby and measures his success on the track by fun, rather than winning. "My [winning] percentage is not real good. I have managed to win my class a half-dozen times. I won $10 once."

Now that he has the means to finish the car, Mr. Schaefer can't wait to get to work on the engine. "I haven't been this ex|cited since I don't know when."

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