What does it take strapping into a car and racing at speeds exceeding 200 mph for a living?
For stock car racer Trevor Bayne, the answer is the power of prayer. The 20-year-old driver blazed to the forefront of the racing world last February when he won the Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Fla., largely considered the sport's most significant race. He is the competition's youngest winner ever. Bayne could have never pushed the pedal and won, he claims, without his faith in Christ.
"I'm extremely blessed to have won this race and that I did so at such a young age is simply extra," he said. "God guides every step I take. Before that race I prayed for anything that would increase my platform to talk about Him no matter what it was. When something like this happens, all you can do is say 'I asked for it, I got it.'"
Bayne said his story begins in Knoxville, Tenn. He started racing go-karts at age five, and by 13 he had switched to racecars, collecting championships in every youth category he could along the way. At age 16, he entered NASCAR, the sport's premier league for competition. Four years later, he's made history going neck-and-neck with drivers double his age.
"One error will take you out of the race," Bayne said. "You don't even know how fast you're going unless you crash. Even then, you can lead the whole race and still lose on the last lap. You've got to wipe all that from your mind and just go for it."
Godwin Kelly, the motorsports editor of the Daytona Beach News-Journal since 1982, said he'd seen few drivers rise as fast as Bayne. The athlete is successful beyond his years, Kelly said, because of his experience racing since a young age and the confidence his Christianity provides. This potent combination, he claims, is what helped Bayne beat 42 other drivers during over 200 laps around Daytona's 2.5 mile course.
"It's unheard of for a kid to go from a lower-level series in NASCAR to nationwide and cup series races in two years," said Kelly, who's releasing Bayne's biography, Driven by Faith, next month. "This is a star being born. Trevor is cut from the same cloth as people like Tim Tebow. He works hard in everything he does and isn't afraid to let people know he's of the faith without pushing it on them either."
For his part, Bayne said he'd never have found success without his parents. His dad helped him train by driving him to competitions, he said, and his mother always supported him no matter how much he traveled. Though it required large investments of time, money and energy, he said they wouldn't have had it any other way.
"My family is my foundation," Bayne said. "They would have supported me no matter what. It could have been baseball, football or anything else."
Kelly said Bayne's humble attitude and religious beliefs off the racetrack could make him a big star among NASCAR's faithful. The sport prides itself on down-to-earth competitors, he said, and Bayne fits the bill.
"Trevor Bayne is a goldmine as a driver, ambassador and representative of the sport," Kelly said. "He's going to be the guy at the point of a rocket ship."
Bayne said he hopes to compete as often as possible in 2012 so his momentum doesn't stall. Though he enjoys winning, he said he's found victory in Christ even more valuable.
"I'm not defined by my results in racing," Bayne said. "At the end of the day I go home and I'm still the same person in God's eyes. It keeps me going on my good days and bolsters me on my bad ones."
Correction: Thursday, December 22, 2011:
An article on Thursday, December 22, 2011, about NASCAR driver Trevor Bayne incorrectly reported that Bayne is 21 years old, he is 20. Also, Bayne beat 42 other drivers in the 2011 Daytona 500, not 22.