Eric Risberg, Associated Press
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — After Trevor Bayne shocked the NASCAR world by winning the Daytona 500, his celebration was decidedly PG-rated. He rode a skateboard and shot hoops with his buddies. In a quiet moment, he wrote himself a note.
According to Bayne's father, Rocky, it said: "How do I stay grounded in my faith, when I am so high on winning this race?"
Bayne's note might have been personal, but the religious sentiment it contained is something Bayne is driven to share. Since rocketing into the spotlight with his big win at Daytona on Sunday, the 20-year-old Bayne has made it clear that he intends to use success in racing as a platform to talk about his faith.
Recently, Bayne sat down with his father and business advisers to figure out his long-term goals. While winning was on the list, it wasn't at the top.
"I told them that the goal was not to be the best race car driver or the most marketable or most popular," Bayne said. "It is none of those things. It is to build a platform and let God use us on the platform that He is building — which might require me to become the best race car driver or be the most marketable or most popular or whatever it is. I just want to stand on the platform that He is putting under me."
And if Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow can talk about faith through football, Rocky Bayne believes his son can do the same in NASCAR, citing Tebow's No. 15 being among the NFL's best-selling jerseys last season as evidence that an athlete with strong religious views can attract fans.
"I think these young kids today, they need something to look up to, and I think Trevor can be that kid," said Rocky Bayne. "But he's not doing it for that. He's doing it because he wants to be real. This is who Trevor Bayne is."
There was a time not too long ago that it was almost a cliche for a NASCAR driver to climb out of his car in victory lane and thank his crew, his sponsor and God. Given the sport's traditional Southern roots, it didn't seem out of the ordinary.
But like so many things in NASCAR, that has changed over the past decade or so.
While many races still begin with a religious figure reciting a prayer before the green flag, and veteran driver Morgan Shepherd uses his car to promote his faith, NASCAR's religious overtones have been muted to some extent. Today, it's rare to hear a driver talk openly about his faith.
Rocky Bayne, who says his family is Baptist, believes that's a function of more high-profile, image-conscious sponsors getting involved in the sport.
"I think the sport, as a whole, has kind of stifled that out a lot," he said. "I think with corporate sponsors, sometimes, a lot of sponsors don't want to see that. And that's just being honest. But there are sponsors that do want to see it. This country was founded on God, and I think there's a place for it in our sport."
Even after winning Daytona, the Wood Brothers team Bayne drives for still needs additional sponsorship to run the full Sprint Cup Series schedule this season.
Most brands involved in NASCAR try to appeal to the broadest possible audience without alienating anybody. Some companies might view a driver with strong religious views as a potentially polarizing figure.
"They certainly look at it," said Greg Busch, executive vice president at GMR Marketing, which represents several major sponsors involved in NASCAR. "I think it can be a little polarizing to some degree."
But from a sponsor's perspective, Bayne has a lot of upside. He's young, he's good-looking, he's charismatic — and his win has been a jolt for NASCAR.
"I think it's resonating," Busch said. "Short of (Dale Earnhardt) Junior winning, this might have been the next-best thing for the sport. It's captivating people."
Certainly, Bayne is in much better position to attract sponsors than an athlete involved in scandals. And there could be companies who desire a spokesman with strong religious views.
"It's possible, but I think you're really limiting your marketability," Busch said.
Rocky Bayne says Trevor is just being himself, and isn't going to change even if it might hurt his career.
"He would just tell you that, 'Hey, if I don't get to run but half a season because people don't want to be a part of it, then that's what the Lord wants,'" Rocky Bayne said. "That's what he'd say. God's got a bigger plan."
Trevor Bayne wants to use his story to inspire others.
"My faith is obviously a big part of this and that's really the reason I'm here, and I think that's the reason why all of this worked out," he said. "I'm just a normal kid."
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