Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Women in NASCAR: Melanie Self


Melanie Self
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs   
If you’re a NASCAR fan, you’ve seen Melanie Self on television. You probably know her as the lady who directs the MRO kids singing the National Anthem at Bristol. With a background in teaching and music, leading the children in song is right up her alley. But what really puts a song in her heart is serving NASCAR families by showing them the love of Jesus.

Melanie is the Women and Children’s Ministry Coordinator for Motor Racing Outreach (MRO). Her husband, Monty, is MRO’s Touring Series Director of Operations, and the couple ministers to families in the racing community. They serve anyone who has a NASCAR credential and infield access – folks like crew members, sponsors, drivers, owners and officials.

Melanie leading the MRO kids in our National Anthem at Bristol.
Photo courtesy of Motor Reaching Outreach 
Because they moved seven times during Monty’s 23-year career with the U.S. Air Force, the Selfs are the perfect people to help racing folks cope. They empathize with the travelling lifestyle of NASCAR families.

“We knew God could use a few of the things we learned to help these families know they can have transiency and chaos in their lives, and yet have a good marriage, raise wonderful kids and know God is faithful,” Melanie said.

Melanie & Monty Self
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Fun for NASCAR kids on race day
The Selfs travel to 26 races a year with the MRO Community Center - a 24-foot trailer full of toys and supplies. Each Thursday they set up the trailer with all kinds of gear inside and outside, including a slide-out awning that creates a shaded outdoor play area for the children.

During races and qualifying, the MRO staff provides a supervised time where NASCAR moms and dads can drop off their children in a fun, safe place. During a typical Sprint Cup race, Self and her assistant, Danielle Bolin, have about 50 children in attendance for the kids’ programming. Miss Melanie, as the kids call her, said she prays with the children first thing.

“We pray for every team, all the drivers related to the team, mommies, daddies, any concerns the children bring to the track,” she said. “Then we worship. We turn the music up with the surround sound and the place starts rocking. Their little lives really have embraced this ‘faith moment’ of their weekend and they look forward to it as much as they do playing because it’s so doggone fun."

Each weekend, the kids learn about God and talk about Jesus. In a roundabout way, MRO blesses the adults through the children, because the little ones share what they’re taught with their parents and caregivers.
The MRO Community Center's outside play area
Photo courtesy of Motor Racing Outreach

“I know the first question that gets asked when (the kids) get on the plane is ‘What did you learn at MRO today?’”

Thankfulness for the opportunity to serve the children spills out in Self’s words. “We have received the most amazing gift to be able to open up the very throne of God in the middle of a race track every weekend while the whole world watches, and many people don’t even know that we’re here,” she said.

A community center on wheels
When a race weekend is over, the staff packs everything back into the trailer, travels to the next venue, and sets it all up again. The MRO Community Center serves as a neighborhood hangout where women and children come to socialize, with husbands checking in throughout the day, too.

“We’re open 24/7 for them to come knock on the door and potentially have us come be a part of their lives, whether it’s a celebration or a crisis,” Self said.

Credit: Charlotte Bray
The women in NASCAR face normal struggles like having a good marriage and raising children, but there is also the anxiety that comes with having a driver or over-the-wall guy as a husband or boyfriend.

Even the children sense the fear. In the Community Center during races, the kids sing, pray, and do all kinds of faith-based activities like Bible stories, crafts and games. But if the cars are red-flagged, the children know something is wrong on the track and they want to hear that their daddy is okay.

“We have this deal, that unless Mr. Monty comes to get me, that everybody is okay,” Self said. “The children wait for the thumbs up sign from Miss Danielle that tells them everything is all settled and they’re going back racing.”

Family fun
Melanie & Danielle share a laugh
Credit: Charlotte Bray
Each year, Self organizes about six main events to bring the racing community together on a Friday or Saturday evening on race weekend. The events are festive and fun, some with holiday themes like an Easter egg hunt, Father’s Day Olympics and Fall Festival. She said they’ve tried just about anything you can imagine – kickball games, watermelon-eating contests and seed-spitting contests.

“I’ve made moms squish water balloons by sitting on them,” she said with a chuckle. “I simply want to be able to bring families together to ‘do family.’ Nobody talks about racing. Everybody talks about each other’s kids and catches up. It’s beautiful to see all the little kids running around.”

They also do projects outside the track, as a way to disciple the children as they grow in their faith. Last year the MRO kids did a recycling project to clean up around the track at Martinsville. Venturing off-track, the children visited a Veterans hospital to help serve lunch and give out hero cards and gifts.

Hosting the Summer Caution
Photo courtesy of MRO
Ladies only
There are several MRO events for the NASCAR women, too. Self hosts the Summer Caution, a time of ministry and spiritual encouragement for ladies. At last year’s Summer Caution an artist ministered to the women as they partnered with Bright Blessings, a Charlotte area charity that provides for homeless moms and kids.

In 2011 and 2012, Self organized and competed in the Better Half Dash, an event where drivers’ wives and girlfriends race in Bandolero cars to raise money for charities, including MRO.

“We’ll come back with the Third Annual Better Half Dash unless something really crazy happens,” she said. “We haven’t set the date yet, but likely it will be the fall (Charlotte) race again.”

Melanie strapped into her car for the Better Half Dash
Photo courtesy of MRO
Fans can visit the Better Half Dash website to see photos of the lady racers, donate to the cause, or view a video of the inaugural event, won by Jacquelyn Butler (David Ragan’s fiancĂ©, who is now his wife.) Lyn-Z Pastrana won the 2012 race.

How fans can pray
When Self speaks, the joy and humility she brings to her job is unmistakable. She and the MRO staff pray for many people, so if you feel led to pray for them, here is her request: “Pray for us physically, emotionally and spiritually that we might be that thing God needs us to be ... and that God would work in the hearts of those we come to love.”

Just about every weekend she hears someone say, “I had no idea there was anyone doing that,” about one of their MRO programs. So her hope is that the more people who know about their ministry, the more people will pray.

“We are upheld through the prayers of God’s people – no doubt in my mind. Prayer is the work that makes this happen.”
Courtesy of MRO
Along with prayers, financial support from fans is important for MRO, too. Self said they’re a nonprofit supported solely by donations, which can be made through their website.

Keepin’ the faith
Like many folks in ministry, Self spends most of her time and energy pouring herself out for others. How does she keep her own faith strong?

“It is a real challenge to keep myself to overflowing,” she said. “Working with my spouse is a blessing. We’re able to spur each other on, reading our Bibles together, doing studies together, reading the same books.” To keep their own spiritual buckets full, the couple listens to podcasts of their home church service on weekdays while driving to the next track.

Miss Danielle (left) & Miss Melanie
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
In the off-season, Miss Melanie and Miss Danielle go on a week-long retreat to get recharged and refreshed and seek God’s direction for the next year. “We just go away and really get our minds and hearts around where God would lead the Community Center programming.”

As the 2013 racing season begins, Miss Melanie enters her 12th year of service with MRO. Whether she is directing the Star Spangled Banner, praying with children or encouraging a NASCAR wife, Self has a single goal: “There is nothing I need except to serve ... and to be God’s hands and feet.”

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Beth Bence Reinke is a columnist, editor and media representative for Skirts and Scuffs. Her column, “Faith on the Frontstretch,” explores the role of faith in motorsports.

Beth is also the author of Race Fans’ Devotions to Go, a devotional book geared toward female NASCAR fans. Follow her on Twitter at @bbreinke or e-mail her at bbreinke@skirtsandScuffs.com

3 comments :

Fascinating article. This is a whole side of NASCAR I knew very little about.

I stumbled upon this article today while doing some online research of my family history. Reading through pages of search results, I came across a name that caught my eye. Not unusual, as I come across this name frequently due to her involvement with MRO. As I always do, I proceeded to read about what Miss Melanie was up to.
I have to say, I was brought to tears because this article shows a little more of who Melanie actually is rather than what she does. It tells how important faith, family and friends are to her, as well as how she serves God by serving her fellow man. Quite simply, you will never find finer people than Miss Melanie and her husband Mr. Monty. I say these things because I know them to be true and I thank you for telling everyone about my big sister.

Claudia, how blessed you are to have Melanie as your sister. She is indeed a committed servant of God through her love of the racing folks. So glad you stopped by to read! Blessings to you.

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