The TV spot was innocuous enough: NASCAR driver Blake Koch, 26 and a rising star, looks into the camera and urges viewers to register to vote, to "rise up and make our voices heard." But ESPN rejected the ad, citing "political and religious overtones," particularly on Koch's personal website, where he's open about his Christian faith. (ESPN later retracted its "religious" objection, but still declined the ad for violating its guidelines on "advocacy messaging.")
Without the national exposure, Koch's sponsor, Rise Up and Register, withdrew its support, worth over $1 million, leaving Koch scrambling for sponsors. Koch, who races in the Nationwide Series (sort of a training ground for NASCAR's popular Sprint Cup Series), says he has "complete peace" about his circumstances, which leave him seeking sponsors week after week—at a minimum of $35,000, just to get the car in racing condition. "But God always provides, and something will happen."
Rick Ware, owner of the team for which Koch drives, recognized the driver's potential even before he barely missed winning Nationwide's top rookie honors in 2011. "He's a good kid and a great driver, and only going to get better," says Ware. "But as a Christian business, we're also excited to have him on our team, because of his faith and his openness about it."
Question & Answer
Tell me about your spiritual journey.
I grew up in a Christian family, but I didn't really start living a Christian lifestyle until my early 20s. I prayed and went to church, but I just didn't have that relationship. Then one day a few years ago, I just decided I had to re-surrender my life to Christ, and I've been growing closer to him ever since.
How much of racing is risk-taking?
A lot, but you weigh the risk against ...