There was a time when Chuck Lessick dreamed of racing wheel-to-wheel with Formula 1 World Driving Champion Fernando Alonso and others of notable esteem at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Little did he realize at the time that someday he would have the opportunity to go heart-to-heart with them instead.

As a chaplain with IndyCar Ministry, the Plano native and former LaSalle County resident busily tends to a flock that consists of drivers, crew members and other assorted team personnel working in the Verizon IndyCar Series and the lower tiers of its competitive ladder system.

Included in his duties are chapel services on race day mornings at each of the tour stops, prayers with drivers and crew members on the starting grid and Bible studies conducted at race shops throughout the week.

The tasks are shared by Lessick, fellow chaplain Jason Holt and a host of volunteers.

With the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opening this weekend for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500, Lessick is now looking forward to making his way through Gasoline Alley to provide a word of encouragement for drivers and team members, or to just be a listening ear to share in their struggles.

"It's such a great community and family," said Lessick, now in his second year with the chaplaincy. "It's all about building relationships and the IndyCar community has been very welcoming as a whole."

The operative word is community.

Gasoline Alley, the famed garage area at the speedway, annually morphs into a quasi-small town in and of itself each May. IndyCar Ministry is somewhat like the little church on the corner, open to the personnel who spend long hours at the track practically every day of the month.

"They have the same problems and face the same circumstances that you'd find anywhere else, except it's hard for them to get established in a local church to help find answers because they're gone on Sundays for months at a time," said Lessick. "The goal is just to assist them with their journey and just to be there for them."

Lessick finds himself ministering to individuals in a variety of stages of their faith journey, from the skeptical all the way to those who have been committed followers of the Lord for years.

Amazingly, it wasn't that long ago that he, himself, was among the ranks of the less than committed.

Lessick, 50, was raised Catholic but says he gradually drifted away from the faith and then pretty much fell away entirely during his college years.

Marriage to wife, Jacqui, would follow as would two daughters, Mandy and Reagan. There were businesses to be owned and operated in LaSalle County, including an automotive concern that would occasionally bring him into the Bloomington-Normal area. There was a racing career to be launched in the F2000 ranks, now a lower rung of IndyCar's Mazda Road to Indy ladder system.

Through it all were the customary ups and downs of daily life, the victories and struggles both personally and professionally. There was a move seven years ago from LaSalle County to suburban Indianapolis, where Lessick took a full-time job tending to entries by Belardi Auto Racing in the Road to Indy program.

Matters of faith were placed on the backburner, if in the background at all.

Except for one thing: He always sensed a call for a return to the faith. Call it a gentle nudging.

"We knew we should be going to church, but it was always a matter of getting around to it," Lessick said. "We tried to raise Mandy and Reagan in the church, but were never very good about it."

That all changed just four years ago after one of Lessick's predecessor's at IndyCar Ministry paid a visit to the Belardi shop.

After talking and praying for about a half hour in his office, Lessick was provided with a list of six area churches that he might want to check out.

That was in August 2012. True to form at the time, Lessick didn't act on it until the following January. 

A visit to Trader's Point Christian Church in Whitestown, Ind., would put an end to years of procrastination.

Lessick says the visit and message of that day fostered a transformative change in his focus. He not only returned to church on a regular basis, but became a passionate follower of Christ and threw himself into volunteering both at Trader's Point and other Christian organizations. He's now near completion of the steps toward ordination at Trader's Point.

"When I really made a commitment to follow Christ, I was switched on and hungry," Lessick said.

IndyCar Ministry has expanded its reach a bit this season by posting its chapel services on Facebook Live. It's another way of reaching those in the Indy car community, as well as beyond.

"Sometimes on Sunday, even the most devout guys can't come to the chapel service because they're working on the car," Lessick said. "This way they can watch it later."

Bruce Yentes covers area motor sports for The Pantagraph. Contact him at byentes@pantagraph.com

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