NASCAR mixing religion, racing

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 10 2004 12:00 a.m. MST

"I guarantee you're never going to see anything like what happened with Janet Jackson," Shepherd said, referring to the singer whose breast was exposed during the Super Bowl halftime show. "Those things are not going to happen in our sport. Not while Bill France is around."

While Shepherd said he's received plenty of praise for his Victory In Jesus racing team, that hasn't translated into financial backing. His hopes of qualifying for the Daytona 500 were scuttled by a shoestring budget.

"Why does corporate America spend so much money . . . supporting things that don't have moral values?" Shepherd asked. "And here we are, trying to serve the Lord. There's nothing bad in the Bible. Even if you don't believe in God, if everyone would just live by the Bible and the Ten Commandments, see how much better the world would be."

Labonte has plenty of financial backing. In fact, the idea to use the No. 18 car as an advertising vehicle for "The Passion of the Christ" came from his primary sponsor.

Norm Miller, chairman of Interstate Batteries, has teamed up with Hollywood to promote other movies, including "Toy Story 2" and "The Hulk." But Gibson's project took on special meaning after Miller saw the film at a screening in California.

He doesn't believe the movie portrays Jews as being solely responsible for the death of Christ — a concept blamed for centuries of anti-Semitism.

"The Bible is clear: Jesus was volunteering when he laid his life down," Miller said. "I don't feel it's near the issue people are trying to make out of it."

And, said J.D. Gibbs, who runs the team, this marketing campaign isn't intended to keep other faiths in the pits.

"We want everyone to look at this as their sport," Gibbs said. "It's not just a Christian sport."

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