Jon Denning, right. Photo courtesy of jondenning.com

The other day I came across "Before the Thunder Rolls: Devotions for NASCAR Fans", a Christian prayer book written by a former NASCAR chaplain. It brought to light for me the degree to which stock car racing and Southern Baptist Christianity intersect. Drivers of Catholic background like Juan Pablo Montoya, Jacques Villeneuve and Dario Franchitti may be making inroads into the sport, but that's of little consolation to Jon Denning.

The budding Jewish racing driver from New Jersey says he's encountered a surprising degree of antisemitism during his climb up the NASCAR ladder. The 20-year-old driver, currently on a visit to Israel, races in the lower-level Whelen All-American Series. He has won seven races in his career and was ranked among the top 500 aspiring stock car drivers before his sponsorship ran dry. Over the course of his experience so far, Denning has described an alarming degree of racism and bigotry in NASCAR, and was even told by colleagues that if he accepted Jesus he'd have better luck on the racetrack. Ouch. Although NASCAR has a diversity program in place, Denning has been refused three times, having been told the program is only for women, Hispanics and African-Americans.

[Source: Jewish Telegraphic Agency via Winding Road]