For What It’s Worth

Running the race of life

It’s Memorial Day weekend, and one of the most famous sporting events in the world takes place Sunday in Indianapolis, IN, when the annual Indy 500, billed as the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, is run. Thousands upon thousands of people will be on hand to watch as drivers press expensive racing cars to the limit on the 2.5-mile track at unbelievable speeds and, literally, at risk to their lives. Being there is an exhilarating and unforgettable experience.

But, whether you are a racing fan or not, have you ever wondered how the Indy 500 became a race of 500 miles?

In 1911, Carl Fisher, head of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, decided to stage one major race rather than a series of smaller ones. The goal was a race that would last all day, starting in mid-morning and ending about sundown. At that time, racecars averaged about 70 miles per hour; thus, with a projected seven-hour window, 500 miles was a nice round number. And, yes, the track today is the same 2.5-mile, nine-degree-banked layout it was the day it opened.

The first winner, Ray Harroun, finished the race in six hours, 42 minutes and eight seconds, an average speed of just under 75 mph. Things have changed. Last year’s winner, Dario Franchitti, was more than twice as fast, finishing the race in 2:58:51 with an average speed of 167.7 mph.

In keeping with tradition, Sunday’s winner will celebrate with a glass of well-chilled milk with a choice of drinking whole milk, 2 percent or skim. Why the milk? Back in the 1930s, Louis Meyer, who regularly requested buttermilk after winning a race, was photographed taking a big swig and the Indiana Dairy Council spotted an opportunity. So, a tradition was born.

A race of 500 miles is a long race and involves many of the same factors we find in the race called life. This is a key analogy found in at least four references in scripture.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews in the Holy Bible urges us in the first verse of Chapter 12 to “lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” Most of us, I believe, have things in our lives that easily upset or bother us and we would do well to set them aside. Doing so, no doubt, would help us improve many relationships and have more joy in life. Just as patience is a valuable attribute for drivers Sunday and most assuredly will be exercised by the winner, it is a desirable attribute for us in working our way forward in life.

Why are the drivers and their support teams entered in Sunday’s Indy 500? To win and receive the prize that goes to the winner. That’s the way we should run the race of life. The Apostle Paul in his first letter to members of the church at Corinth noted that everyone in a race runs but only one receives the prize. “So run that ye may obtain,” Paul wrote.

An interesting aspect of racing is that the winner is not always the fastest. At Indy, for instance, drivers run time trials in the week before the race with the one posting the fastest time being rewarded with the pole position (the No. 1 slot) to start the race. However, that fastest driver seldom is the winner. In any race, including life, circumstances, or what Solomon in his wisdom in the Book of Ecclesiastes termed “time and chance,” happen to everyone. The result, Solomon wrote, is “the race is not to the swift.” In life, aided by faith, we can be winners by persevering through the “time and chance” that happen to us.

As the psalmist David tells us, we should rejoice “as a strong man to run a race.” That is an apt analogy. When I was a young man, strong, and in better physical condition, I could look forward to a race or other physical test. Now, in the later stages of the race of life, I need to keep the same spirit and outlook.

We would all do well to remember that we don’t have to be the fastest or the strongest to be a winner in the race of life but it will serve us well to have patience.

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