Mark Martin

Five-foot-six-inch, 130-pound, iron-pumping, fast-walking, hard-driving, fast-talking dynamo, 39-year-old Mark Martin was once the David to auto racing's Goliaths.

But he dropped the giants enough that now he is one of the big boys - physical stature aside, of course. "Mark is pretty tightly wound," said Max Helton of Motor Racing Outreach, a ministry to racecar drivers, crews and their families.

"I'm not normal," Martin says. At 6 a.m., he's lifting weights. Shortly after lifting weights, Martin is in the garage. But which garage? He drives on two circuits - Winston Cup and Busch Grand National. Most Winston Cup drivers don't run anywhere close to a full Busch schedule - it's too demanding, and the fame and money (he's won more than $18 million) is in Winston Cup. But Martin is the all-time Busch leader with more than 30 wins.

"As a young adult I had a lot of trials, a lot of tough times, disappointments and frustrations," Martin said. "Some people have a lot of things to go through to gain experience and mature. It was a situation where I was in (church), and I was out, and I was in and I was out. Which was a start to a spiritual relationship, but it wasn't enough. My lifestyle wasn't the type that allowed for much of a relationship. And we didn't have the luxury of Motor Racing Outreach at the racetrack, which made it much more difficult."

The turning point came through tragedy - Martin lost a close friend in racing eight years ago. The death of Clifford Allison caused Martin to carefully consider his future, his eternal future.

"When I lost that person, it totally changed my life because it made me realize... what is the most important thing in life," Martin said. "I'm not sure if this person was prepared, and I decided right then and there that I was going to be ready in case something was to happen to me. I couldn't put that off. I needed to be ready. If something was to happen to me going to, from or during any racing event, or going to the grocery store for that matter - my concern is what happens to me after that. That's a lot more important to me today than when I was a kid or in my teens."

Martin re-dedicated his life to Christ, making certain that he knew Jesus Christ personally. He didn't do it merely as an eternal life insurance policy, however. "I also needed the strength of the relationship, the strength it gives to deal with all the things that are important in life;' he said. "Having that relationship has made life more manageable."

With his fresh commitment came a change of lifestyle, Ernie Irvan, Martin's best friend in racing, said. "Years before, he'd party a lot, and he wasn't as focused as he is now," Irvan said. "He'd just as soon party as race. Now, he has fun within the Christian life. He's more focused on what his goals are. He knows what God has ne for his life." By Victor Lee

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