PORT ALLEN -- Over the roar of powerful engines and the squeal of smoking tires, State Capitol Raceway Chaplains Craft Dunaway and Jay Dunlap joined hands with a driver to pray for his ailing family member.
“Father, we come to you tonight knowing you are still in the healing business and you are still the great physician,” Dunlap prayed during a recent “Always Fun Friday” evening event at the track on U.S. 190 not far from Erwinville.
“We pray right now for this lady that you will touch her in a mighty way, and I pray for the family fixin’ to be caregivers, and we lift them up to you and we thank you in Jesus’ holy and precious name, amen.”
As the grateful man walked back to the drag-strip’s pit area, he wiped his face with his T-shirt sleeve, and Dunaway and Dunlap smiled at the spiritual opportunity to help a friend.
Dunaway, 64, has been an independent, nondenominational volunteer chaplain here for 30 years. Dunlap, 60, is associated with Racers for Christ, a nationwide motor-sports ministry, is an ordained Southern Baptist minister and has been preaching to and praying with the racers for 15 years.
The men deliver pre-race invocations and lead Sunday morning chapel services. They are always available to the racers and their families for prayer and counseling at the track and even at their homes or hospital rooms, if needed. They distribute race-themed gospel tracts and are there if an accident occurs.
Gary Carter, general manager at State Capitol Raceway, said he appreciates their ministry.
“We feel it’s important because we have a family atmosphere here at the racetrack. We want to give people who have strong faith beliefs the opportunity to have someone they can talk to,” Carter said. “When we have multiple day races, we have nondenominational services, and that allows the racers who are missing church an opportunity to worship. They are also here to minister to family members, if, God forbid, there is an accident of some sort, which is very rare.”
Dunaway and Dunlap have similar life experiences. Both lost their fathers at an early age, survived teenage rebellion, love hot cars and experienced midlife salvation. Both attend Greenwell Springs Baptist Church.
Dunaway, who grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, lost his father when he was 12, and after his mother remarried, he said, “I just went off the deep end.
“I quit school, left home when I was 15 and ended up with some other little punks in Baton Rouge and got in trouble in New Orleans,” Dunaway said. “The judge gave me a choice to go into the military or go to prison.”
He chose the Army, served in Vietnam in 1969-70 and got married. When he came home from the Army, he bought a “big-block” 1968 Chevrolet Camaro.
He raised his family while working at Exxon until 1988, then served in the Baton Rouge Police Department until he retired in 2010. He still serves the BRPD as chaplain of its chapter of the Blue Knights Motorcycle Club, a worldwide group of law enforcement officers.
“I’ve been a drag racer all my life,” Dunaway said.
He raced his Camaro for decades and only sold it a few months ago. Competing in the “Super-stock” class, the Camaro would run a quarter-mile “in the 10:30s” (seconds), topping out at well over 100 miles an hour.
Dunaway’s life changed on July 22, 1984, he said, when he and his wife attended a Sunday service at Central Baptist Church.
“We’d been to a few churches but nothing got ahold of me like the Lord did that morning,” Dunaway said. “I realized I was lost and needed to be saved, so I went forward and got saved and got baptized that morning. It made me a completely new person in Christ.”
Dunlap was 12 when his dad died. He left home at 16 after his mother remarried.
“I literally ran from God because I didn’t understand what was happening,” Dunlap said. “Me and my dad, we were close. He had a mechanic shop next to the house, and I worked with him all the time, and we fished and hunted all the time.”
An uncle got him a railroad job where he worked until he was injured in 1999 in a train wreck, which he said left him disabled.
His return to faith happened in 1986, after his sister’s husband died in an ultra-light aircraft crash and her church came to her aid.
“When I saw the love those people poured out to her family … I came back and went with my wife to an Easter cantata at Williams Boulevard Baptist Church in Kenner, and we both got saved that night,” Dunlap said.
For many years, Dunlap raced a 1970 Boss Mustang powered by a 408-cubic-inch “stroker” motor that he just recently sold. His younger son, Justin, drives a small-block, 1970 Ford Maverick, and older son Joshua drives a Miller “rail” dragster.
Racing versus church
“I love drag racing,” Dunlap said. “I went to church on Sunday, but I struggled with it because I wanted to race on Sundays. It kept tugging at my heart that if I wanted to continue to race, I had to do it for the Lord.
“I kept praying about it, and when Craft came to me on a Friday night (in 2000), it was like a door opened and God said, ‘Here’s your chance. I’ll give you an opportunity to do this and serve me at the racetrack,’ ” Dunlap said with a big smile.
Across the pit area, Danny and Kenny Doughty, of Baton Rouge, were preparing their classic, red 1968 Chevelle for a stock eliminator time trial. The powerful 327-cubic-inch engine, fueled by a quadra-jet carburetor, roared each time Danny Doughty stepped on the gas.
“I’ve been racing here, I’d say, for 35 years,” Kenny Doughty said. “Craft has been here ever since I can remember. He’s always been a real good friend. He’s always concerned about people.
“It’s very important (to have them here) because we always have issues coming up in our families and life, and they help us with that,” he added. “They pray with us. We really like to see that.”