Sign up for our free newsletter

Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.

Dave and Paulette Porter own Racing Mania, a racing-memorabilia shop in Cumberland, Md., that carries die-cast scale models, uniform jackets, and other knickknacks immortalizing Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte.

The Porters credit Gibbs with more than their livelihood, though: They’d always been churchgoers, they say, but it wasn’t until they met Gibbs that they truly found religion.

In 1998, the Porters and their two sons were visiting Richmond International Raceway before a Sunday race when they dropped in on a service run by Motor Racing Outreach Inc., which ministers to NASCAR crews as they travel across the country. The service was small; only a handful of strangers attended alongside the gasoline-alley regulars. But the Porters didn’t realize that one of those regulars, Gibbs, would be speaking at the service.

Gibbs’ words, which emphasized cultivating a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ, stirred something deep inside Dave Porter. “I’d been going to church all my life,” he said, “but I’d never had a personal relationship with Jesus.”

After the service, the Porter family met Gibbs, and the racing-team owner autographed copies of his pamphlet “Success and the Lessons I Learned Along the Way,” which invites its readers to, in turn, “invite Christ into your life.” Soon afterward, the Porters switched to an evangelical church.

The family hasn’t forgotten Gibbs’ effect on them. Dave Porter still uses his pamphlet as a bookmark for his bedside Bible, and they distribute copies of the pamphlet in their shop. Last month, 12-year-old Marshall Porter spoke before the family’s congregation at LaVale United Methodist Church outside Cumberland, praising Gibbs, among other NASCAR figures, for influencing his family’s faith.

That Gibbs is back at the helm of the Redskins only weeks later delights Paulette Porter, but not because of her football allegiances: The Porters are Ravens fans. Most fans want Gibbs to save his old team, but the Porters hope Gibbs will be saving souls. “If Joe Gibbs can touch one or three people out of 10,” she said, “just think of how he could do that through the Redskins.” —Mike DeBonis