January 9, 2022 Jan Opperman: The Racing Hippie by Pastor Jim Pentz
The year was 1969. It was the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. I spent my summer Saturday nights at the Selinsgrove Speedway, a very fast half-mile clay race track in central Pennsylvania – the heart of the northeast auto racing community.
A couple of high school buddies and I worked in the pits for a local sprint car driver. We were gaining experience and saving money with the dream of buying our own car and going racing. But God had other plans.
Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart, a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” (NIV)
Because the racing was so good in central Pennsylvania, drivers came from around the country to compete. That is how I met “The Racing Hippie,” Jan Opperman. On his first night at the track, Jan competed wheel-to-wheel with one of the best drivers in the track’s history. I was impressed with his ability to drive a race car, but I also was intrigued that he was a long-haired, free-spirited “hippie.” Remember, it was 1969, and I was an impressionable seventeen-year-old. Fast cars and a free spirit were what made my world go round.
I was somewhere between impressed and intrigued when God began to work in my life. He was working in Jan’s life as well. Jan made a solid commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Racing Hippie became the Racing Evangelist. After every win, he would give glory to God. He interacted with competitors and fans with genuine grace. He modeled what it meant to be outstanding in your profession while being humble in your confession. As a seventeen-year-old racing enthusiast, I wanted to be just like Jan.
During that same time, I made my personal confession of faith in the lordship of Jesus Christ. Now not only was I impressed and intrigued by Jan Opperman, but his changed life also inspired me, his commitment to Jesus Christ, and his desire to help others find Christ as well.
Jan went on to race in the Indianapolis 500, “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” along with many other major races at premier venues. Right up until his death, Jan Opperman was a “Ride or Die Man of God.” He was using his name recognition and his winnings to build a ranch in western Montana to help troubled youth come out of the drug culture and find real life in Jesus Christ.
In Luke 12:48, Jesus tells us, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (NIV)
Jan was given much talent and much recognition; he also gave back to those who were less fortunate than himself. Except for the grace of God, he could have been one of those “troubled youth.” Because of the grace of God, he was there to help.
I often wonder how different my life might have been had I not had the privilege of meeting Jan Opperman at the very time that he met the Lord. God’s timing is amazing, and God certainly used him to change me.
Regardless of how you are known to the world, what you are good at, or what you are known by, always be a “Ride or Die Man of God.” Always be willing to give your all for the One Who gave His all for you.
For your consideration:
Who has God brought into your life at just the right time to help you change for the good?
What has God entrusted to you? How are you using that for the benefit of others?
By Pastor Jim Pentz
Lead Pastor, New Covenant Assembly, Montgomery, PA
Presbyter, North Central Section of the PennDel Ministry Network
Today’s Scripture: From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:48)
New International Version (NIV)
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