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MotoAmerica Road Race Series Chaplain - Mark Merical

This week, we discuss the current state of the Powersports trade show circuit and the recent AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.

Then we're joined by MotoAmerica Road Race Series Chaplain and founder of Race Line Ministries, Mark Merical. He talks about his start as chaplain at the races, role in helping racers through mental and emotional adversity, and what he's learned after 11 years in the paddock.

Note: This transcript is machine generated and may contain spelling and grammatical errors.
[00:00:17.260] - Dave

Hello everyone. Welcome to Pit Pass Moto, the show that keeps you up to speed on the latest in motorcycling and brings the biggest names in the motorcycle industry right to you. I'm Dave Sulecki.


[00:00:27.370] - Dale

I'm Dale Spangler. And this week our guest is Moto, America chaplain at the races and founder of Raceline Ministries, Mark Merical. This episode is brought to you by Moto America. Moto America is the home of AMA Super Bike and North America's premier motorcycle road racing series, with some of the best motorcycle racing on two wheels. Rewatch every round of the 2022 series and catch all the action from each race with the Moto America Live Plus video on demand streaming service. Or visit the Moto America YouTube channel for race highlights and original video content. Look for a complete 2020 free schedule coming [email protected] And be sure to follow Moto America on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for real time series updates. Well everybody, welcome to Pit Pass episode 143, and Dave, your suitcase is probably packed, spot, ready to head to Europe. What do you got going on this week? So you're heading out of town?


[00:01:29.370] - Dave

Yeah, we've got the largest power sports trade show in the world. Happens in Milan, Italy. Starts I think about Wednesday, Thursday next week. I'll be there early, kind of help our company set up for the show. But yeah, looking forward to it. It's one of my favorite. I've been there many times and just the vibe that you get from this show because it's so huge and it's kind of the center of the Power sports universe in November every year, so pretty cool. Have you made it over to that show deal?


[00:01:57.730] - Dale

Yeah, it's been quite a number of years and like when I went, it was half bicycle and that probably dates me right there, but I went when I was at Alpine Stars one year, that was the late ninety s. And then I went for Smith Optics in the early 2000s. Went over there once and it was amazing show. I've never seen so many incredible booths, the booth space, people definitely spend a lot of money there. And then of course, the bicycle aspect of it was huge then, so I would imagine there's a bike and emotorcycle aspect of it to the show now.


[00:02:30.450] - Dave

Yeah, there is. They'll actually allocate one of the halls to that segment and it's just a great vibe. They'll get 800,000 plus people through there over the course of the weekend because this show does go public on Saturday and Sunday, so that really ramps up and you see the hardcore motorcyclists and fans in fanatics all funneling through Milan, Italy. It's pretty cool and highly recommended if you're in the trade or if you're just a fan of all things motorcycle. That is the show to go to it's on a scale that's kind of hard to describe because it's so large, but it's where all of the OEMs attend every year and historically, it's where most of the OEMs will launch new models. So one of the cool aspects of being there is you got to actually see some of these new model introductions live and get to see it happen. So I enjoy that part, too.


[00:03:19.110] - Dale

Yeah, it works pretty well with the timing, doesn't it? With it being in the fall for a lot of new models coming out. But I saw where it looks like they skipped 2020 because of COVID Of course, in general, a lot of these trade shows, it seemed like the whole trade show circuit was in flux during that time. But they were back last year, and so it seems to me like they should be back to full capacity this year.


[00:03:40.660] - Dave

Yeah, let's hope so. And I had a friend in our company recently attend the Intermocht Show, which is held in Cologne in October. Cologne, Germany. And that one's a lot smaller scale, but the vibe from that show was that things are just not as strong as they used to be for that trade event. And I've done that one also, so it was kind of an interesting comparison to kind of see what we're headed towards because he also did Milan last year when he said it was pretty much back to normal last year. So kind of expecting that. I'm expecting the last time I was at Milan was 2018 because I was out of the industry in 19 and 20 and obviously Coving and 20. So it'll be interesting for me to kind of see from the last time I was there to where it stands today.


[00:04:24.340] - Dale

The show in Cologne, is that the same one that used to be in Munich?


[00:04:28.080] - Dave

Yeah, I think. Prior to Cologne. It was in Munich.


[00:04:30.490] - Dale

Yeah, that was a fun one. I went to that twice, too, and wow. Because it was October Fest when they had it. So it was like the real October Fest. Talk about it.


[00:04:40.290] - Dave

Great time to be in Germany.


[00:04:41.500] - Dale

Yeah, there is some shenanigans going on, to say the least. It's kind of like being in Vegas for a trade show. You know there's going to be some shenanigans going down.


[00:04:48.660] - Dave

So speaking of Vegas and trade shows in power sports, there's one coming up in February 2023, which would be the Aim Expo, which is the American version of, I guess you could say our largest trade show in power sports in the United States now. And that'll be in I'm not sure what facility in Vegas. Probably the same one they've been at, but largest trade event for the US. And I know it's bounced around the US. They actually had it in Columbus one year, which I loved because it was a short drive, but they've been kind of bouncing back and forth between east and west, trying to find a home. I'm not sure they have. I don't know what your thoughts are on that show. The Amexpo.


[00:05:26.550] - Dale

Yeah. I mean, vegas is always tough because I just feel like it's so distracting. And I went to it this year. It was back in Las Vegas at the Main Trade Hall. It was a pretty good turnout, but there's a lot of people I noticed a lot of vendors kind of talked about how difficult it was to get in and out of the showroom, and it was really expensive. And so I could see it'll probably be staying there for a while, but I don't know, I think it'll relocate to somewhere. Maybe it'll start to go east and west again like I think it's done in the past, but I'm not sure if it'll stay permanently in Vegas. And to be honest, I don't think a lot of people could take it or leave that place. But on that same subject, before I forget, the big news I saw, though was Lamont's Corporation, which is the parent company for Parts Unlimited and Drag Special. These two of our largest distributors in Power Sports have committed to confirm that they're going to return to Aim Expo, which is a pretty big deal because they haven't been for quite a number of years.


[00:06:19.240] - Dale

They've been putting on their own kind of miniature trade shows and at their own locations. And so for them to recommit to that, that's a pretty big deal because last year it was only Tucker was the main distributor, no Western Power Sports. So for Parts Unlimited, I think they're still the largest distributor to show up at this event that really is probably going to open the floodgates, hopefully for a lot of other brands to consider going.


[00:06:41.230] - Dave

I think so, too. They're one of the largest and also one of the oldest in the industry. They were one of the distributors that go all the way back to the Cincinnati days. But I really got to wonder what this will mean in the end because I know that Parts Unlimited has a very successful homegrown show, the NVP Expo. I think it's called the Expo, but NVP new vendor training that they do every year in their facility in Wisconsin, that is a very, very good show for dealers and interaction with the vendors. So I was really surprised to see that. But good on them. I'll definitely see how that goes. I'm really wondering still about Aim Expo and where things are headed with trade events in the US. Ever since the Dealer News Expo died away, I think that was somewhere in the 2014 2015 era, has never really been the same. An Aim, which I think was meant to pick up the mantle and carry it, has never really felt the same. The attendance hasn't been the same. The vibe hasn't been the same. So I'm interested to see how this next Aim Expo goes.


[00:07:42.780] - Dale

Yeah, and I agree. I think they've had some struggles for a while. I think even with the formatting, you know, it was a lot more educational focused this year as opposed to product focus. But you know, to go back to what parts and limiteds decision, I really think it's kind of like in addition to as opposed to in lieu of their own shows because I think you're looking at two different situations here. Like the Amex bow to me and I'll even read a quote that they had trade shows matter and face to face is the best way to do business in power sports. Couldn't agree more. Like there was so much reacquainting with people you hadn't seen for years in February when I was at Aim Expo. And so I think there's maybe not as much business being conducted at Aim Expo, but there's a lot of handshakes, a lot of networking going on that we've missed for so long because of things like COVID. And so I think part of their decision is we're going to keep our trade shows which are super effective for selling. I bet they sell a ton of those.


[00:08:35.530] - Dale

But then this Amax Goes is going to be there, kind of open the door again, welcome ourselves back to the industry. And they even made the statement to kind of reiterate their slogan, we support the sport. And so I think it's a really good thing. And I was kind of on the fence of whether I would go back again this coming February and I think I might go now if Parts Unlimited decides to go because I feel like it'll be that much better of a trade show.


[00:08:57.160] - Dave

Yeah, let's hope so. And I know personally of vendors that have pulled out simply because of the costs. I know you mentioned that earlier and that's been one of the barriers that they have to get over to kind of weigh that against what do they get out of it? At the end of the day, I think a lot of smaller companies, intermediate sized companies are probably in that boat where the larger ones it's a little bit easier to justify the investment. But there are some trade shows that happen outside of power sports in our country that are leaning into power sports a little bit and I want to bring those up and mention them. PRI, which is performance racing industry, which is a large automotive hard parts show done in Indianapolis every December, it's usually first week of December, is kind of leaned into power sports a little bit and they're starting to draw some attention and draw some vendors from that world into the PR I show which has an extremely strong vibe. It's one of the best shows I've personally ever attended in trade events. And I think that Aim kind of has to keep an eye on that to kind of understand what's going on that's drawing some vendors to that event.


[00:10:01.630] - Dave

It could be the facility, it could be the cost, it could be the logistics, it could be the location because I'm a big fan of having shows in the Midwest and Power Sports because it reaches so many core dealers.


[00:10:10.840] - Dale

Yeah, density.


[00:10:11.940] - Dave

Yeah, the density, exactly. East of the Mississippi, there's also this Thema show which is going on this week, which is in Las Vegas. Similar. We actually have attendance there with the company I work for. So that's another one that's kind of leaned into Power Sports and started tap into some of those vendors. And at SEMA in particular, you see a lot of UTV and sidebyside type business. So it's interesting to see how this dynamic is developing in the US ever since the Dealer News Expo went away. And I'm really interested to see if Aim is going to pick up that difference and become a very strong platform. Is it going to continue to be somewhat mediocre? How it's been ever since it launched? I think in, what, 2014, I think is when it started.


[00:10:52.500] - Dale

Yeah. I think somewhere around there. I think it looks bright, though. The future for me, like, seeing that Parts Unlimited press release to me was kind of like, wow, that was pretty big news because it's been quite a while since they've even been to one of those. And so for them to be able to even consider it, it definitely shows a little bit of a change in their outlook. So cool to see. I think trade shows might finally be coming back.


[00:11:14.020] - Dave

Yeah, it would be nice to get that normalcy back in the industry. And I think maybe what's driving it is the chairman of the board, Paul Langley for Parts Unlimited. He is a hardcore power sports guy. And just so you know, Dale, he is a huge Royal Enfield fan. He's English and he loves the brand. He and I have talked about that brand quite a bit, and he's a really good guy.


[00:11:34.690] - Dale

Did he work at SNS?


[00:11:36.100] - Dave

He was with SNS. He left SNS to become Chairman for Parts Unlimited. So he may be driving this just because of his enthusiasm and his belief in exactly the things you talked about, which was the face to face, the handshakes, the relationships, and the building of trust amongst your peers in the industry. So Paul is a big fan of that, and I believe he's maybe the driver behind it.


[00:11:58.560] - Dale

Nice. Well, something else I thought I'd point out, like that I saw over the weekend. The AMA had their Motorcycle Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and they inducted six different honorees this year in 2022. The class of 2022, they'll call it. Kenny Coolbeth flat tracker. Greg Hancock. Amazing speedway. Racer. I think he's a multi world champion in speedway. One of the few Americans to ever do that. A woman named Effie Hochkiss, who I haven't heard of. She was the first woman to ride a motorcycle transcontinental. I think she went from the East Coast to the West Coast and then rode it back to the East Coast. So she was the first woman to do that. Then there's Sandy Kaufman, who owned a seat company, which I wouldn't familiar with, maybe you are familiar with it, Dave. And then two other Ben Spies, who is AMA superbike champion and world super bike champion. And then last but not least, the scrub master, james Bubba Stewart gets into the hall of fame. And I actually watched his little Instagram interview and wow, it was cool to see him. He got pretty choked up when he got up to give his speech for his award this past weekend.


[00:13:02.680] - Dale

Did you see that, Dave?


[00:13:03.670] - Dave

I did, I did. And I'm a huge James Stewart fan. Having seen him race, which is gosh, I was so lucky to be able to do that over the course of his career and see him go at it with Carmichael, and it was like watching two boxers fight and the man transcends the sport. He brought it to another level with his skill and got nothing but mad respect for James Stewart, just for the things he did, which includes an undefeated season, which after Carmichael did it twice, which is pretty amazing in itself. Everybody said, well, that'll never happen again. And then 2008 rolled around and Stewart did it. Man 24 and oh, just amazing. I think about when I go out on the race track, I'm happy to get one lap without making a mistake. And he did a whole season and didn't make a mistake.


[00:13:52.090] - Dale

24, 30 minutes. Motives, that's a lot.


[00:13:54.520] - Dave

It's just amazing. James definitely changed our sport, all for the better. He had a rough go of it, he had some rough times with people, the way he was treated unfairly, and he came through it in the end. So hats off to James and the other five folks. Kenny Coolbeth, threetime flat check champion. allaround, good guy. I worked indirectly with him, supplying some components for his race bikes in years past, and definitely one of the class guys of the field. I honestly don't know much about Greg Hancock other than he was a fourtime world speedway champion, so and it says a lot right there, right?


[00:14:28.380] - Dale

Yes.


[00:14:28.750] - Dave

And I like you. I knew nothing about Epy Hodgekiss, but it's an interesting story. And what she did at the time, she did it on the motorcycle, she did it on. Yeah, that's a story in itself. Anybody who took a motorcycle on the roads, what you could call roads back in those times and took them crosscountry is just that's basically a trail ride from coast to coast.


[00:14:47.050] - Dale

No doubt.


[00:14:47.790] - Dave

Sandy Cosmon was a wheel manufacturer and a chassis person for just about all kinds of racing. And a lot of people, I think, used his components to great success. Companies like Vansenheim. So just by all means a fabricator extraordinaire. And Ben Speez winning championships in super bike, superstock formula extreme in world super bike. I think his scorecard just goes to show why he's in the AMA motorcycle hall of fame.


[00:15:15.390] - Dale

You think anybody had to go back to Stewart? You think anybody now in this period of racing, anybody will ever do that again? The perfect season? I don't think so. Personally.


[00:15:24.040] - Dave

You don't ever want to say never? Because when we said it after, Carmichael did it once and then he turned around and did it again, and then Stewart came along and said, oh, yeah, hold my beer. Yeah, it's definitely a very competitive there's a lot of parity in that sport. So I see it less likely to happen now than ever. When you think about the dominating year that Tomac had, winning the super cross championship, winning outdoors, the chance that he could go perfect over the course of one season just doesn't seem possible.


[00:15:53.560] - Mark

Yeah.


[00:15:53.950] - Dave

So I'd have to predict. No, but wrong before, right?


[00:15:57.780] - Dale

Yeah, I'm with you, though. I think it's definitely changed quite a bit. I feel like back then when Carmichael and Stewart did it, they were that much better than the rest of the field. Whereas now there's at least four or five guys that can go that speed. Maybe only two in some cases. And outdoors, but super cost it's even tighter, I think so, yeah, pretty cool. But before I close up on that, the hall of fame induction ceremony, they also did honor the memories of some hall of famers who have recently passed away. West cooley. I believe he was a road racer to Ed Fisher, not familiar with Bobby Hill. Preston Petty, who invented the plastic front fender, if I'm not mistaken, and of course, Loretta Lynn, who's been a big part of our lives. Dave going down to her ranch every August. And so she passed away this year. And, yes, good for the AA to keep doing that. I know they had a couple struggles with that hall fame induction ceremony, keeping it going. I think they might just get one year, maybe not, but great thing they do every year. And cool to see the people that got inducted this year.


[00:16:59.110] - Dave

So, speaking of these names and riders, let's talk motocross. Just because you and I are former racers, top five racers in motocross over the course of history, who would be your top five?


[00:17:11.310] - Mark

Five?


[00:17:11.710] - Dale

Wow, that's a tough one.


[00:17:13.140] - Dave

Put you on the spot because when you start talking james Stewart, Ricky Carmichaels and Eli Tomax, those names start to go. Oh, who was the top five racer of all time?


[00:17:23.190] - Dale

I would go with RC number one, for sure. Just for me. We're talking strictly outdoors. I feel like maybe James might have been better at supercross, but I think outdoors definitely was Carmichael's demand, just because he would do whatever it took. Like he might not have had the best style, but he would just smash his way to victory, whatever way it took, wide open off the bike, crash his brains out, get up to it again. It just didn't matter. He was going to win no matter what. And so Stewart just had that unbelievable style. He would do things that blow your mind. And so I'd say he'd probably be like a close second, but I'd give RC the nod over him.


[00:17:59.370] - Dave

Yes, I think most people would just simply because of his records, I don't know if they'll ever be broken, but my short list goes back in history a little bit. But I'm going to go RC. Because I'm a big fan of his song Race a lot and nobody could do what he did. But I'm going to say Bob Hannah a second because he was a man who helped change the sport. David Bailey, Ricky Johnson, and then James Stewart.


[00:18:19.480] - Dale

That's a good one. Yeah, I forgot David Bailey for sure because he's definitely one of my idols, someone that I always tried to emulate when I was riding his riding style. And so that was who I modeled myself. Him and Johnny Omar, probably. And then of course, Jeff Ford. Jeff Ford is another one of my favorite riders. I felt like he was just so smooth and methodical on the bike. He was a short rider, so he had to kind of make up for some things like in Whoops and different things like that. And so he just really made do with what he had, what he was given, and he still was an amazing rider. And of course he went on to do I think he wanted super bikers when it was on NBC TV, back when they had that raced Indy cars.


[00:18:55.410] - Dave

He did win.


[00:18:56.280] - Dale

Yes. One indy. Right.


[00:18:58.060] - Dave

Well, and the interesting stat about Jeff Ward is he's the only rider to ever win a title in every class, 125, 255 hundred CC. So that's a stat I don't think anybody will ever break because 500 have been long gone since 1993.


[00:19:13.740] - Dale

Pretty cool. Well, a few other things here before we wrap up. I think you'll be out next week, Dave, right at that Ikema show. So I'm going to attempt to I'm going to be going to the Enduro Cross here in Boise, and I'll be heading out there with my recorder and I'm going to try and get some interviews with all the top Endura Cross racers and maybe even like Eric Bernard, who is the kind of creator of Endura Cross. If he's there, I'll try and grab some interviews with him and maybe some of his crew. And other than that, not much racing going on other than EnduroCross. There's a couple of other regional series MotoGP finale going on in Valencia, Spain, where we'll find out who will be the next champion. Looks like Francesco Baniah has a pretty good lead, but there is a slight chance that reigning champion Fabio Cartero could possibly win it. But it's looking like it might be a ducati year.


[00:20:03.310] - Dave

Yes, I agree with you. I was really pulling for Fabio all year, but I don't know if he's going to overcome this gap. Who knows? Anything could happen. But Francesco good on it, man. I'd love to see to God he win one. I think they're about to.


[00:20:14.500] - Dale

Yup. Well, looking forward to this interview with Moto America chaplain, Mark Merical. He seems like a fascinating guy and looking forward to talking to him. We'd like to welcome to Pit Pass Moto. He's the Moto America series chaplain and founder of Raceline Ministries. Mark Merical.


[00:20:43.590] - Dale

Welcome to Pit Pass Moto. How are you today?


[00:20:45.670] - Mark

Hey, I'm doing great. Thank you for having me. And maybe you'll tell me exactly why you're having me. Well, I see some of the people you have. I'm like, man, these are really cool people.


[00:20:58.860] - Dale

Well, I think you probably play a more critical role than you even realize, just from what everything we've read already and doing research on you. And you came highly recommended to come on the show. So let's start off with you're in your 11th year in the paddock as a minister.


[00:21:14.620] - Mark

Yes.


[00:21:15.210] - Dale

So how did all this get started at the races?


[00:21:18.090] - Mark

Oh, man, it's a great question. It's a super long answer, but I'll try to keep it real brief.


[00:21:25.590] - Dale

Well, that's okay. We got time.


[00:21:27.540] - Mark

Okay. I just finished my 11th season, and I started in 2012. It's interesting, I was talking to a guy about this last night because he was kind of surprised that I did not have a racing background. I did not grow up in racing or around it, but I was surrounded. Motorcycles, which I loved, never had a motorcycle until after I got married. In fact, it was kind of my goal, too. When I got married, once I had income coming in, I would get a motorcycle. So about after a year, I was married to my wife dawn, and I told her one day, I said, hey, I'm going to the Omaha shop, and she said, well, why are you going there? And I said, Well, I'm really thinking about getting a motorcycle. And she said, over my dead body. Yeah, that's what I said. Oh, no. Because we literally had never talked about motorcycles until that moment.


[00:22:19.380] - Dale

Oh, no.


[00:22:20.340] - Mark

And my life flashed before my eyes, and I thought, is there a way I can get an annulment? Is there a way I can get out of this marriage and marry someone else? That is not true. I didn't think that, but I thought, oh, my gosh, all this time, I'm like 21, 22 years old, and I can't get a motorcycle. Anyway, a year later, all on her own, she reluctantly let me have a motorcycle. But anyway, so once I got one, that's all I rode and rode and rode. That was my way of getting around for the next almost 30 years. Actually, 30 plus years. I just love riding motorcycles. But I was never around racing until my friend Kevin Crowder, who was at one point was the director, racing director for Supercross for a number of years. He and I went to junior high and high school together. And in 2009, I think it was, he got me into AMA Pro and was a MotoGP race at Laguna Sega, and I was living in Bakersfield at the time and oh my gosh, I just fell in love with all of that. I've seen it, watched racing on TV, AMA Pro for years I watched it, but that's about the only involvement I had until that weekend.


[00:23:38.970] - Mark

And I got to go around and meet all kinds of riders and team owners, and I was just all in. And I thought, how cool would it be to take my love for God, my love for people and motorcycles and take that to the track? And I almost immediately laughed because I thought, how in the world would that ever work? That's kind of ridiculous. Just a dream. So told my wife about it. She got very excited about it. She did a lot of studying kind of on her own about chaplains and motorsports, and she came across MRO, which is Motor Racing outreach, and they are NASCAR's chaplain agency and have been, I think, for close to 40 years. Found out I had a couple of friends who run their board of directors that I knew. I contacted them and started talking about it. And two plus years later, after being in ministry at a few churches for about 27 years, my wife and I decided to pretty much sell everything, give away everything, leave our full time jobs, try to raise some money and go to weiro Motorcycle Road Racing. And that's what we did.


[00:24:51.450] - Mark

Think our very first race with weiro was in April, I believe, in 2012 at Summit Point in West Virginia, and we've been going at it ever since. So that's kind of how it started in a nutshell.


[00:25:06.670] - Dale

So it sounds like that MotoGP experience that you had at Laguna was kind of like a light bulb moment for you. And then I also read where your decision was kind of sparked a little bit by this Iron Butt Association ride that you did, you wrote on and completed, but then it took a couple more years for the ministry to come to fruition.


[00:25:25.680] - Mark

But correct.


[00:25:26.530] - Dale

Tell us a little bit about that. So it kind of just started to sort of grow. Like your interest in two wheels.


[00:25:32.460] - Mark

Yeah, actually the 48 and eight ride happened, I think, the year before I went to that Motor GP race. And I did all 48 states on my 98 Suzuki Band at 1200, and I did all 48 states in eight days. So what was kind of neat about that is I did it for fun, and I did it because it sounded like an adventure to me. And it was it was pretty incredible. But I also use it to raise money for a homeless ministry in Bakersfield. They had lost their building and lost a bunch of. Stuff. And so they were trying to find money to get going again and use that money that I raised for that. Anyways, I had a lot of opportunities to do like, newspaper interviews, radio interviews, TV interviews, and again, it was an opportunity to share about the ride, but I was also able to share a little bit of my faith in God. And it was one of those things that I thought about a lot while I was traveling 1000 plus miles a day thinking, man, it would be cool to do this and do ministry. But it sounded selfish to me.


[00:26:43.890] - Mark

It sounded like a golfer who would want to just golf every day, play this game and tell people about Jesus. I mean, how does that even happen? And, you know, we just start praying about it and talking about it. Then the MotoGP Ma pro race happened, and I thought, man, the thought happened again. My wife was all for it. She was super excited, pushing for it and pushing for it, and I just thought it was cool. I just thought it was not possible. It's just ridiculous. And so after two years of talking about it a lot, talking about the two friends that I had that were on MRO's. Board of Directors, we just finally just made it happen. I called Evelyn or texted Evelyn from Weira, who owns Evelyn Clark, and I told her kind of my dream, what I wanted to do, and she thought it was great. She said, I don't have any money for you. And I said, I don't really want any money from racing. I'll raise it up from outside of this. And she said, Well, I can't believe you want to do this, but come on, do whatever you want to do.


[00:27:48.390] - Mark

And that's kind of how it started and how that 48 and eight things was the thing that really initially started me thinking about racing and ministry and that kind of thing, because I had never thought of that before, ever.


[00:28:05.290] - Dale

We'll get back to the conversation in one moment, but first, here's a word from our sponsor.


[00:28:11.370] - Dave

And it's really interesting to me, Mark, how you've kind of taken kind of flash forward to today, but your presence on social media and your podcasts is the way to reach people, to kind of spread your message.


[00:28:25.710] - Mark

Yeah.


[00:28:26.190] - Dave

How's that work for you? And what's the feedback been? Is that something that's been very, very good for you? Is it good for you to fill that time? Or is it coming back to you? Are you seeing a return on that?


[00:28:35.670] - Mark

Oh, man, it's so hard to condense all this stuff because it's almost like too big to try to hang with it all. And some of my other chaplain friends, we've been talking about this some over the past year or two, but, yeah, we just started when we started at some at Point in West Virginia still after I think it had been four months since we've made the decision, and now we're at the track, and we're like, is this really going to work? Is anybody going to even want us here? In fact, when we got to that first day, there was no welcome. There was no like, hey, here's Marca Don from Race by Administrator. Where's new chaplain? We didn't have any of that. No one welcomed us. No one met us at the gate to tell us what to do. I think my very first neighbor was Brandon Posh and his mom, their crew chief mechanic guy. And we just started talking with them and other people and meeting people, and we would ask people, you know, hey, what are you doing here? What do you ride? Just trying to figure out this racing thing.


[00:29:42.190] - Mark

And then they would ask me, and I had my full on Chaplin shirt and all this with my name chaplain all over it, and they would say, what are you here for? And I said, well, where's the new chaplain? And they're like, what's a chaplain? I said, really? You don't know what a chaplain is? Then I would explain what a chaplain was. And I guess after a few weeks of that happening, we realized, okay, well, I think we're right where we need to be. And that first year was difficult because I think people thought we were there to cram Jesus down their throat or try to force people to come to chapel services, and we just didn't do any of that. We would talk about God if people brought it up, but we just came and we just decided a few things. We would not ask these people for money. We would not try to coax them to come to chapel, even though it would be announced, the announcer would announce that we're having it. Other than that, we just served people. We helped them. We went to the hospital. We helped them tear down their pit areas.


[00:30:48.430] - Mark

We helped them set up. We just had conversations and talked and talked to talk. And then it went from people not wanting to look at us or walk the other way to the next year. People would call us and say, hey, Mark, are you coming to the race next week? And I said, yeah, what's up? What's going on? Own nothing. Just wanted to make sure you were coming. And I would think oh, okay. I couldn't really wrap my mind around that at first. And then after two or three years of man just taking care of people, counseling, mentoring to people, and especially, I think, the thing that really endeared us to people was really going to hospitals and taking care of people, driving people home, driving people's, rigs home, spending day after day in the hospital, then doing funerals, and then we would do weddings. And people were seeing this, and we were coming back race after race after race, year after year after year, and chapel services started growing without us pushing it at all. I think they were just curious and wanting to maybe know a little bit more about God. And maybe for once in their life, they were seeing people who truly maybe lived what they believed.


[00:32:13.260] - Mark

And that's what Donna and I at least try to do. We certainly far, far from perfect, but just try to love people like God loves us best as we can, and just been doing that for years. And then the podcast thing came up about two and a half years ago. My daughter actually approached it to me, and believe it or not, I have been praying. I said, God, you know, we do chapels and we have these little conversations at the track. You know, it's difficult to have big conversations on a race weekend. It's so much happening with the racers. There's so much focus on racing, and that's what it needs to be. That's what it's all about. It's not about Mark Merical and chapel and God. It's about racing. So it's difficult to have conversations. And I thought, man, God, is there some other way that I can at least have available to people if they want to know more about God or know more about Jesus? And out of the blue, this was, I think in January 2020, right before COVID started gaining ground, my daughter said, hey, why don't you do a podcast?


[00:33:20.110] - Mark

That guy was the last thing I would ever want to do on earth, is a podcast. First of all, I know what they were, but I don't think I've ever listened to one. And she just kept kind of bugging me with this shit. You could record your chapel services, put that on your podcast. You could do like a Bible study if you wanted. Hey, and you could even do race interviews with racers. And that right there caught my attention a little bit. And I got thinking about it a little bit more, and that next month, February, I spent three or four grand on equipment, because this was a funny story. So the reason I spent three or four grand was because someone was going to raise money for us. And I kept saying, you know what, I love that, and we need money, but you don't have to do that and try to talk them out of it, and they wouldn't have it. And I said, all right, well, just go for it. And they said, we think we can raise $10,000. And I thought, oh, man, that would be huge. So I go out and spend three or $4,000 on equipment.


[00:34:27.260] - Mark

I would say at least a week after that or two, they let me know that they weren't going to do that. I was stuck. And I'm like, oh my gosh. Anyway, someone else stepped up some crazy situation and ended up paying for all of that stuff. So that was really cool. Anyways, started the podcast. And I mean, it's not huge, I don't think it is. I think I've been as high as six in the ratings in the Christian category in potomatic. But when I first started, I was like 1500 in Christian, like 10,000 overall. And I just kept plugging away because I was learning so much. I thought, man, if this podcast thing doesn't go anywhere, I'm learning and I'm getting to sit down with people and interviewing them and hearing about their life, it's just so cool. I'll tell you this lesson for whatever it's worth. I just had an interview with someone and I tried in the interviews, I really don't make those about God at all unless they bring it up. Well, this guy brought it up. He said, Why do you do what you do? And I said, well, I do it because I love people.


[00:35:37.830] - Mark

I love being around the racing, I love being around motorcycles, I love going to the hospitals and helping people and lifting them up and encouraging them, and love counseling and trying to help people in any way I can. But I said the thing that I really love most doing when I have the opportunity, is to share with them how much I love God and how much he has changed my life and how much he means to me and how much God could mean to them. And I said, People always say, Mark, you're such a nice guy, you're so cool, you're my hero, blah, blah, blah. And I'm thinking, you know what? If it wasn't for God in my life, there's no way I would be any kind of chaplain at all. I don't even know. I'd be a mess, there's no question. And the guy said to me, he said, Tell me how. And I said, what? He said, tell me how. I said, Tell you how you can know God? Is that what you're asking me? He said, yes, tell me how. It shocked me. And so I debated for literally a second in my head, do I do that now in front of everybody and the track talk part of my podcast?


[00:36:45.940] - Mark

And I thought, no, because that's not what this is for. When we finished the face to face interview that we had right there, we talked for another 30, 45 minutes about my relationship with God and how he could have one. It was amazing. And that is what has happened with the podcast and with the Facebook Live chapel services, which I haven't even told you about. That part that's been another even more probably effective than the podcast itself.


[00:37:11.380] - Dave

No, actually, I did see that. I was going to ask you about it, but I did want to shift gears slightly to talk about there's a lot of discussion these days. I guess you could say I'm air quoting it's. A hot button topic is mental health and race. All forms of racing motocross, super, cross road racing, car racing, whatever. And as your role as a chaplain, do you find racers to be more open or reachable than say I don't want to say general people in general, but do you find racers to be more receptive in order to kind of set themselves on a path or straight to work out their issues that are related to racing?


[00:37:54.060] - Mark

Yeah, that's a great question. Not really sure I know the best answer for that, but yeah, I do. I remember a chaplain does a chaplain anymore. He told me one time, he said, Mark, I left the track in the middle of the day, which I don't normally do, to go and visit a racer who had a really serious injury. And I just felt since there was another chaplain, there this same person, East Aid. And I went and later on, actually, when he came back, he kind of got in my face about it, and he said, you know what? These races, they're big guys, they're strong. They don't need, you know, their side at the hospital. And I thought what? And it kind of threw me for a minute. And then I thought, I'm not listening to this guy, because I'd already had my scary moments, going to a hospital, seeing one of our some of our biggest, toughest, baddest racers, thinking they're not going to want me to come into their room and talk to them because they're just too tough, I guess, in my mind. And I tell you guys, the tears would flow down their face, their arms would come out and just embrace me in a hug and start weeping.


[00:39:17.050] - Mark

I mean, a lot of them. And immediately I thought, okay, all right, yeah, these guys are super tough, but they're laying here in a situation between life and death, wondering if they're going to get back to their families, wonder if they're going to be able to work again, wonder if they're going to be able to race again. And for the first time asking me, OK, is this God thing really real? And starting to ask me questions about spiritual matters. So I would say yes, I think they're more open. I think sometimes they're not quite so open until it gets real bad for them or, you know, it gets to where maybe they won't be able to race next year for whatever reason, whether it's health or money or there's no one to pick them up. But yeah, I think because this racing stuff is serious. I mean, it's fun to watch. It's pretty cool. I've had a few times now to race and be out there with them, and that really changed my perspective about racing. You know, I don't know how to say because I don't want to make it horrible, but I did well, I've done more than that, but I did four funerals for racers in about a two month span of time.


[00:40:36.190] - Mark

It's a dangerous sport, and I think the guys and the girls know this. And so sometimes when we're able to talk and the discussions are serious, whether or not I'm standing there next to him at the track or I've laid down with racers on the track next to them, literally laying on my side, where they're laying on their side while the paramedics are working on them, look in their eyes and say, hey, it's going to be okay. I'm with you. I got you. Or we're head sighed at a hospital in ICU. Whatever the situation, it makes these racers become very transparent and very concerned about their future, and not just physically, but spiritually as well.


[00:41:25.320] - Dave

Yeah, it's fair to say they're probably not ready to use the word admit they need you or need the guidance until they really do.


[00:41:34.590] - Mark

Yes. And a lot of us are like, that, right? We kind of go do our things and do stupid stuff until the stupid stuff we do and I'm not saying motorcycle stuff is stupid. I'm just saying me as just a normal guy, I do dumb things until it's like the doctor says, you got to quit doing that or quit eating that. And I'm like, okay, I think I.


[00:41:59.920] - Dale

Know the answer to this, but I feel like just from what we've talked about already as a rider having a serious injury, that's got to be definitely one of the most challenging parts of your job. But I also want to know for you personally, it has to be emotionally draining, taking on other people's mental and emotional states and trying to help them. How do you deal with that at the races? It just seems like a very heavy burden.


[00:42:25.260] - Mark

It is. For several years, at the end of the year, it's probably started, I'm going to say, let's say five or six years into it. I would notice that when racing finished, like in November or when I was doing track days, they would end up maybe in November or first part of December. By the middle of December, I felt and I'm not like this, I felt depressed, almost like I couldn't take another step. And I kept thinking, what is wrong with me? I just kind of battle through it, through the winter, and then February would start with racing, and then I'd be fine again all year long. Never feel like that again until the end of November, beginning to December. And I finally, probably three or four years ago, realized, I think it's the letdown of every single race. To me, there's a level of stress that goes with it, especially when the what we call the meat grinder class, it's the 600 is the 600 guys, and there's usually it's the most they could have 30 or 40 bikes out on the track, and they are like the hungriest, craziest riders of them all.


[00:43:37.780] - Mark

And you're like, oh, God, just get them through this race. And very rarely do I sit and just watch a whole race that hardly ever happens. But in the back of my mind I'm hearing them, I'm hearing them going round the track, going, going, and there's a level of stress. They're going to make it, someone's going to crash. And if they do, how bad is it going to be? Is it going to be the worst situation? Week after week after week that happens. So there's that level of stress and then there's a year like we had this year. Just this last week. A couple of days ago I did a funeral for my aunt and it was the 6th funeral that I've done this week. Plus on top of that, several other ones who I just dealt with, I would talk with over the phone that I couldn't make it to a racer's parent or we just had one happened two days ago, one of our wheel racers was killed in a quad accident on his property and his services tomorrow and Wednesday. And I can't go to it because I have to babysit my grandkids and there's no one else to do it.


[00:44:45.660] - Mark

So there's been a lot of that week and does it weigh on me? Oh man, it weighs on me a lot. The heartbreak of these families and most of these losses are like immediate. I would have to say the worst one for me this year was Scott Bride, who passed away at Brainerd on the track and he died right in front of his canopy and pit on hot pit in front of his daughter Darien. And when I got there to the scene and we kind of slowly surely figured out what was going on and the doctor looked at me and said, I can see his lips. He said he's gone. Then I had to go over to Darrin. I had to tell her that her dad was gone, the worst. And then she wanted to go see him. And I said, Darren, you just don't want to see him right now. And she just wouldn't have it. And the doctor gave me permission to take her out there. So I took her out hand in hand, walked her to her dad and she kneels there and caresses his face, kisses him on the forehead, tells him how much she loves him.


[00:46:01.910] - Mark

What do you do? How do you handle that stuff? It's heart wrenching. It's heart wrenching. And then a few weeks later I'm in their home meeting her brothers and Scott's sons and his wife. And I've talked to some of them on the phone getting ready to do the funeral and stuff, but that's heartbreaking at the track. And then you meet them, it's heartbreaking again. And then you go through the funeral and it's heartbreaking again. And for me, but a million times worse for them. And then the conversations that we've had with them since, they're better because they're wrestling through their grief and they're getting through it one day at a time. I but it's still heartbreaking. And then there's the other. I went right from that funeral to pit race and we had two guys dying one day, two days after that funeral. Yeah, it's just been a year of that kind of stuff happening. And yeah, it's hard. Well, what gets me through it and I told him at Scott's funeral, there's three things that get through me, no question 100%. The number one thing, it's my relationship with God doesn't take it all away still.


[00:47:15.930] - Mark

We got living this human body that we all have, and it's difficult on us. But the other thing is family. Family was super encouraging to me and then the racing family as well. Very encouraging, very supportive, very helpful. And those are the three things that to get me through those hard times. And it's what gets those families through those hard times as well.


[00:47:42.480] - Dale

Well, I can tell you've very much been become an accepted, integral part of the road racing Moto American family. And I mean critical role. Obviously, people have rely on you these days. And so I have one last question, though, before we begin to wrap up this episode, and it's kind of a twopart question. What's next for Mark Merical? And how long will you keep going with your chaplain services?


[00:48:10.910] - Mark

Great question. I hope that when I'm 95, I'm rolling around in my electric really fast, souped up wheelchair around the paddock, doing the same thing I'm doing today. I don't know, maybe I'm still standing then. I don't know. I don't have any other plans to do anything different. I hope to come back and put a full year in with Moto America and with Weira as well, doing the same things. I just feel like the longer I can do it, the better I can get at it. And the more history that I'm able to see and be a part of, the more people that I can get to know, the deeper the relationships get. And the deeper those relationships get, the better you can encourage and serve people. And that's what I hope to do. I told one other person who asked me this question recently, I said if for some reason, if the economy tanked or whatever, we just couldn't do racing, maybe racing falls to the side for whatever reason, hopefully that doesn't happen. But if that were to happen, the only other thing that I could really see myself doing is actually being Chaplin for first responders.


[00:49:24.870] - Mark

I would love to be a chaplain for our police department or the sheriff's department or the fire department or for all of them. I love what they do and what they do and see a pretty tragic day after day after day after day right now. If I could do what I'm doing for the rest of my life, however long God gives me breath, this is what I would love to do.


[00:49:46.540] - Dale

Well, it seems to me like you and your wife have found what you're kind of meant to do, what it seems like everything I've heard just speaking with you today, and it's a great thing you're doing, and I think everybody in the Moto America paddock are happy that you're there. Well, with this last few moments, we'd like to if you have any social media handles you'd like to share or websites and where people can find your podcast, now would be the time to share that.


[00:50:10.680] - Mark

We have a website that's just simply called Graceline Ministry that ends with a Y, not Ies. You want to go check that out? Our schedule is on there, and everybody knows I hate to talk about this, but if you're meant to want to support what we do, you can do that there. And then the podcast is pretty much available on, I think, most all of the podcast sites, and it's called Raceline Podcast. Raceline Podcast. So you can check that out there. I'm on Facebook and Instagram. I'm pretty easy to find, so if you guys need anything or need encouragement or just need to talk to something, I'm available. And if I'm not, I'll tell you what I am.


[00:50:49.740] - Dale

Well, keep up the great work, Mark. And once again, thank you so much for your time today.


[00:50:54.370] - Mark

Yeah.


[00:50:54.720] - Dave

Thank you, Mark.


[00:50:55.690] - Mark

It's an honor to be with the two of you. I really appreciate what you guys are doing. Thank you.


[00:51:14.060] - Dave

Enjoy this episode. Episode. Make sure to follow Pittpassmodo on your favorite podcast app so you never miss an episode. If you have a moment, please rate and review our show. We'd really appreciate it. You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and visit pitpassmoto.com, where you can check out our blog, listen to past episodes, and purchase your own pitpastmodo swag.


[00:51:35.830] - Dale

This has been a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thank you to Tommy Boy Holverson and the production team at Wessler Media. I'm Dale Spangler.


[00:51:45.420] - Dave

And I'm Dave Sulecki. See you next week on Pit Pass Moto.


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The Team

Dave Sulecki

Host
Dave Sulecki is a 37 year industry veteran, and a lifetime motorcycle rider, racer, builder, restorer, and enthusiast.

Dale Spangler

Host
Dale Spangler is a lifelong motorcycle enthusiast, former racer, and powersports industry marketing specialist, writer, and content creator.

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