NASCAR & Auto Racing

Cancer claims life of Max Helton, whose work led to founding of MRO

Max Helton, who 20 years ago helped begin a Christian ministry in the NASCAR garage that grew into the Motor Racing Outreach organization, died Sunday afternoon at his home in Huntersville, N.C.

Mr. Helton was diagnosed with brain cancer in August. He is survived by his wife, Jean, along with four daughters and nine grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements had not been finalized Sunday night.

Mr. Helton was working at a church in Glendora, Calif., in 1988 when he met Darrell and Stevie Waltrip at a race in Riverside, Calif. Helton told the Waltrips that he felt he was being called to lead a racing ministry. The Waltrips, along with Lake Speed and Bobby Hillin Jr. and their wives, were looking for a spiritual leader for a Bible study group they had formed.

Within a year, Mr. Helton had moved his family to North Carolina to begin MRO, which conducts chapel services at the track each weekend and also provides counseling and support services to people in racing. Helton led Bible study and counseling sessions at dozens of NASCAR drivers' homes and race team shops before leaving the organization in 2002.

Since then, Mr. Helton had formed World-Span, an organization to serve the spiritual needs of racing series around the world. Before his illness, Mr. Helton traveled extensively, helping spread his message of “personal evangelism” and teaching others to serve as spiritual leaders and teachers.

“A lot of lives and a lot of things have changed in our sport because of Max.Helton,” Darrell Waltrip said.