There’s an old saying that “almost” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. If JR Hildebrand and Dale Earnhardt Jr. ever doubted such wisdom, this past weekend has likely cured them of their disbelief.
By now, if you’re a racing fan or even a casual news watcher, you know that Dan Wheldon won Sunday’s famed Indianapolis 500 and Kevin Harvick emerged the victor in Charlotte’s Coca-Cola 600. Both men are highly talented drivers and well deserving of their titles. But Wheldon and Harvick ultimately came out on top because they capitalized on other people’s mistakes.
In Indianapolis, JR Hildebrand was in his final lap and in the lead by a comfortable margin. All he had to do was maintain his speed. But in the final turn, he ran into the wall. He managed to limp to the finish line, but not before surrendering the lead to Dan Wheldon.
Down in Charlotte, a race that I was privileged to attend (more on that in a moment), Jimmie Johnson lost the lead with several laps to go, leaving Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne in a position to battle for the win. But then Kahne ran out of gas, leaving the championship to Earnhardt Jr. – but a few laps later, he, too, ran his tank dry. Kevin Harvick pounced and pulled out the win.
Mistakes happen in every field of endeavor, but coming out of this racing weekend, I think there are practical lessons to be found within these two separate stories:
No matter how certain the victory, we can never give up, let up, or take our eye off the finish line. In Hildebrand’s case, he had properly executed that exact turn 199 times that day, but it was the 200th that mattered most – and the one that got him. As for Earnhardt Jr. and Kahne, the decision to push the fuel levels was strategic. Both men and their crews thought they had enough gas to finish. They were wrong. In the end, they were reminded you can’t win a race only on fumes.
It’s easy to waver when we are weary or to grow overconfident when victory seems apparent. And it’s understandable to want to skimp and try to get by with little, especially after a long and arduous effort. But whether you’re a mother or a father working to raise children or a new graduate looking for work, keep in mind that victory comes to those who can remain focused and maintain their intensity from beginning to end. And if you have persisted and done your best, even if you don’t ultimately win, there will be victory and nobility in the effort.
Perhaps this is why, knowing the frailty of the human condition, that Paul wrote to the Church at Philippi, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (3:14). He knew the reality of life – that tasks can become tedious and tiresome, but that we need to look beyond the discomfort of the moment.
But let me ask you: Do you make a habit of setting goals? For your family? Your career? This summer? If not, I’d encourage you to do so. Set a goal. And then go for it – and don’t let up, assuming it’s aligned with God’s Word pursued according to His desire for your life.
As I mentioned earlier, officials in Charlotte very graciously extended an invitation to my family to attend Sunday’s race and specifically asked me to offer the opening prayer, which was broadcast on FOX Sports. It was very exciting to proclaim Jesus’ name to hundreds of thousands of people in the speedway, and to the millions watching on television. Here is a clip of those opening moments. My prayer is at the 5:54 mark.