Former Verizon IndyCar Series driver Davey Hamilton knows that racing can be a lot like life itself.
One minute you're flying down one of the long straightaways at Road America at 200 mph, hooked up and hammer down, the wind at your back and all being well amid the peaceful splendor of the trees and rolling hills of southern Wisconsin.
Not immediately in sight, however, is the challenge of the right-hander that lies ahead. Even more hidden in the distance is a treacherous hairpin that can send a car off course and turn it on its top as unpredictably as a serious illness, a business setback or the loss of a job or relationship that can turn a life upside down.
Hamilton, 54, has experienced both the heights of triumph and the depths of tragedy. There were the exhilarating years at Indy with its breathtaking speed, living life on the edge with a minuscule margin for error. There also was an excruciatingly lengthy stretch where "the edge" consisted of the borders of the hospital bed that kept him confined, physically incapacitated and searching for answers.
Through it all, God and his grace, mercy and compassion were very real to Hamilton. Now, evermore cognizant of God's love, Hamilton's primary focus in life is sharing that love with the world.
His vehicle for sharing is Kingdom Racing, a 501(c)(3) non-denominational race team and ministry founded by Houston businessman George Del Canto. Hamilton serves as its managing director. The platform is the Verizon IndyCar Series, where the team has fielded a car for the past nine Indianapolis 500s as well as other events.
Hamilton is eager to share the gospel message both in season and out. So eager in fact, he recently interrupted a honeymoon to do so. Married on a Saturday, he spoke with The Pantagraph by phone from Arizona the following Thursday.
The conversation proved fitting as we observe Thanksgiving Day.
"It's all about giving thanks to God and the opportunities that we have," Hamilton said. "For Kingdom Racing, God has blessed us with so many opportunities to be involved with the (Indianapolis Motor) Speedway and the series in order to help change peoples' lives."
Hamilton also knows, first-hand, the importance of giving thanks for God's presence in our lives, even when high-flying opportunities aren't readily apparent. Hamilton is enormously grateful that God was with him when the doors of opportunity to his dreams appeared closed, locked and impenetrable.
A native of Idaho and weaned at the grassroots racing level, Hamilton had a stellar start to his career as an Indy Car driver, scoring four top-10 finishes in the points standings in his first five seasons, including finishing second in 1997 and '98.
The moment that would forever alter the course of his life came in June 2001. Racing at speeds in excess of 200 mph at Texas Motor Speedway, Hamilton's car suddenly careened out of control, slamming into a retaining wall.
The impact of the crash left Hamilton's legs severely injured.
Rushed to the hospital, the prognosis was not good.
As the hours wore into the night and early morning, amputation was being discussed as he lay unconscious in an emergency room.
Surgeons were ultimately able to save his legs, the first step in a long and arduous process of recovery. A series of surgeries would ensue, followed by two years of difficult and painful physical rehabilitation.
"It was a challenging time," said Hamilton. "But my faith was always there and I was reaching out to God, probably a thousand times a day, to help me get through the recovery."
Through physical rehab, Hamilton was learning to walk again. Consistently reaching out to God for help throughout the process also led him to Del Canto.
It didn't happen right away, even though Hamilton's plan was to jump out of the convalescent bed and back into an Indy Car cockpit.
"I didn't want my career to end with an accident in Texas," he said.
Instead he was put in a position of waiting, once more reaching out to God.
"All along, I knew He had my path laid out," Hamilton said. "I came to accept the circumstance I was in and I do feel that I was in a situation where I just had to leave it up to him."
Reasonably back up to speed physically in two years, he found the doors to a return consistently shut and it took Hamilton almost another four years to get back behind the wheel of an Indy Car.
That came with Hewlett-Packard sponsorship in the 2007 Indianapolis 500. He finished ninth, but was seemingly just as happy afterward back in Gasoline Alley as race winner Dario Franchitti was splashing milk around out in Victory Circle.
"We had a blast," Hamilton said, "quite a celebration for a guy finishing ninth."
The one-off at Indy added extra fuel to the fire when it came to Hamilton's desire for a full-time ride in the series. He spent the subsequent months attempting to put a program together, while attending Indy Car events to reestablish contacts within the sport.
It was at one of those events, at Homestead-Miami Speedway, that Hamilton met face-to-face with destiny. Wandering around the pit area, he began talking to the guy who was standing next to him as they watched a crew prepare a race car. The guy was Del Canto, the founder of Kingdom Racing.
They quickly discovered each had a passion for motorsports that was exceeded only by their passion for the Lord. One thing led to another, with Kingdom fielding a car at Indy for the first time in 2008 with Hamilton behind the wheel.
The ministry later would expand to include Fan Festivals at racetracks and the Miles of Smiles program.
The festivals are located in high traffic areas on the racetrack grounds and typically include a Christian praise band, the Kingdom Racing show car for fans to sit in and autograph sessions with drivers.
Miles of Smiles is an outreach program where families and individuals who have experienced hardships are nominated by local churches and Christian organizations to be Kingdom Racing's VIP guests at the track. Its mission is to share the love of God with those who are discouraged, hurting or broken, while also sharing the fun, excitement and spectacle of a Verizon IndyCar Series weekend.
In addition to the ministry, Hamilton is an analyst on the Advance Auto Parts/Verizon IndyCar Series Radio Network that's heard worldwide and often is a guest speaker sharing his witness in churches.
Kingdom Racing's ministry plans have not been finalized for the 2017 season.
"We'll always be at the (Indianapolis Motor) Speedway and there's some other avenues and motorsports venues that we might direct Kingdom to and try to expand what we're doing," Hamilton said. "We're relying on where God directs us. He's driving, I'm just along for the ride."