News & Media

'Regular guy' who had a huge impact in NASCAR

January 14, 2011, Jill Erwin,

MRO chaplain touched numerous lives in his five-plus years in NASCAR

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. -- 1 Peter 4:10

Tim Griffin becomes attached to those people and things about which he cares, but he was largely able to keep his emotions in check even as his tenure as lead chaplain for Motor Racing Outreach was winding down at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Until he saw Sam Hornish Jr.

"I've just always figured I'm better off being myself because at the end of the day they'll figure out who I am anyway. I think, more than anything, I just wanted to be a regular guy, serving the best I could in the way God wanted me to be."


Griffin spent five and a half years working with NASCAR drivers, crew guys, employees and others in his role as lead chaplain. And now, on a November Sunday in Homestead, Fla., it was all coming to an end. Hornish carried an autographed helmet to the front of the drivers meeting, where Griffin was standing.

"I didn't know they were going to do that, so when David called me up, I thought, 'Oh no, don't do this to me,' " Griffin said. "Then Sam comes up and I think 'What a great pick.' As much as I wanted to say something, I thought, 'I don't think [NASCAR president Mike] Helton and [vice president Robin] Pemberton want me to get up here and start crying like a silly kid. I'd better just try to pray.'

"It was very special because I just have a great bit of respect for Sam. Of course I'm pulling for him to do well in the NASCAR world."

Griffin's interest in NASCAR became a long-distance one this winter as he relocated to a two-bedroom, on-campus apartment at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. He and his wife, Robin, have been extended members of the GCU family for years, as both their sons -- Taylor, 22, and Spencer, 19 -- are members of the school's volleyball team.

But now Tim Griffin has joined the school's faculty as its campus pastor, and he spent the final month of the NASCAR season traveling back and forth to begin his new phase.

The students -- some of whom call him "Chappy," short for chaplain -- have become part of his everyday life, walking past his sliding glass door on their way to classes.

And perhaps unsurprisingly, those same students are surprised Griffin has chosen to join them.

"Some of the college kids I've met, they say, 'You're out of your mind!' " Griffin said. " 'That's a great gig! Why are you doing that to come hang out with a bunch of dumb college kids?' "

But Griffin has chosen to do just that. He says it was an emotional decision, and not one he reached easily. He was attracted to working in higher education, especially at GCU with its quickly growing Spiritual Life segment of campus.

And, it turns out, his time in NASCAR helped him get there.

"The CEO [Brian Mueller] of the university I'm going to, he was really interested in my involvement because he felt I had real-world experience," Griffin said. "Being here for these years has allowed me to experience some things that I don't even realize, that I'll learn about myself and this world when I get down the road a few years."

People who know Griffin, or who have come to appreciate his understated leadership in his time with MRO, speak often about him being just a "regular guy." Griffin says he's not a dictator, but someone willing to stand up when trying to send people in the right direction.

"His gift in particular, he's real engaging," said J.D. Gibbs, a regular chapel attendee. "You don't have to worry about his big religious words or anything. He's just a regular guy who does a good job engaging with our guys."

Griffin had a long conversation with Hornish at Talladega, and was impressed by what he saw.

"There was a peace in his eyes and his demeanor in that conversation and I thought, 'Wow, this guy has found a real treasure in the midst of this pressure and the desire he still burns with to be competitive,' " Griffin said. "He's got a unique balance in his life that you don't see in a lot of people. It's easy for me to be a fan of people like that."

The relationship between the two was one of the deeper bonds Griffin formed in his time with MRO. He speaks highly of Hornish and his wife, Crystal, and the feeling is more than mutual.

"We had a lot of times where we just sat down and talked for 10 or 15 minutes about things not even to do with racing," Hornish said. "Man, it was great to get to know him and I'll miss him."

It's been a time of upheaval for MRO, which had Nationwide Series pastor Lonnie Clouse leave in July to do missionary work in Monterrey, Mexico, and is now looking at replacing its top two pastors. Steve Keller was brought in to learn under Griffin, but a replacement for the Cup pastor has not yet been named.

Griffin has never worried about trying to live up to anyone else's expectations.

"I've just always figured I'm better off being myself because at the end of the day they'll figure out who I am anyway," Griffin said. "I think, more than anything, I just wanted to be a regular guy, serving the best I could in the way God wanted me to be."

After Hornish presented him with the helmet, Griffin gave his final drivers meeting prayer. And he began the next phase in his journey.

"Father in Heaven, thank You for today," Griffin said. "Thank You for this group of people and I pray Your blessings on them today as they compete. I pray that You'll watch over their teams, their crew guys, and thank You for the great fans. I pray Your blessings on this sport and those in it and give them wisdom as they decide their futures. I just pray that You would honor us today with Your presence as we crown our champions today. I just pray Your blessings, in Christ's name. Amen."