Stories

Faith in the fast lane

Date posted: 20/10/16

Adriano Medeiros 

Adriano Medeiros got far more than he bargained for when he sought career advice from an ex-Formula 1 driver.

Hoping to boost his dreams of making it in the world of motor racing, the Brazilian instead began a journey of faith that is still shaping his exploits on the track today. Adriano thought Alex Dias Ribeiro might point him in the right direction to drive professionally overseas, but was told “I can help you meet Jesus Christ".

Ribeiro was renowned for having ‘Jesus saves’ displayed on his car during his F1 races in the late 1970s. His meeting with Adriano prompted the younger man to look into this Jesus in the Bible and put his trust in Him.

Some 20 years later, Adriano is himself racing with his own ‘Jesus Saves’ team in the UK in the Classic Formula Ford Championship. Having grown up as a motor racing mad youngster near the Interlagos track in Sao Paolo, he is now looking to use the sporting gifts he has been given to make Jesus known.

 Adriano Medeiros is interviewed in the latest Christians in Sport Podcast

With those words clearly displayed on his car, Adriano’s faith in Jesus is there for all to see and means there is a real onus on him to compete fairly. He said: “That question is going through my mind every time I am door to door with another competitor.”

Championship rules state drivers must give opponents a car’s length space during certain race situations. Sticking to this cost Adriano a place during a race in 2013 and he admits it is not always an easy task.

He said: “Being Brazilian, I’m very passionate about things and show my frustration very easily. After that race, I just jumped out of the car and walked away as far as I could and hid away for a few minutes.”

Adriano added: “When you are door to door with another competitor, you have to remember who you are representing. I am not doing this for myself, I am doing this for the honour and the glory of the name of Jesus Christ.”

Adriano Medeiros

 

This approach, however, does not make Adriano any less competitive. He said: “I race as hard as I can, knowing that I won’t bring harm to anyone. I know where I can put the car without harming anyone.”

The Jesus Saves team also gives Adriano many opportunities to share his faith, which he is keen to do.

“It’s a very interesting relationship because my message is quite clear,” he said. “Who I am is quite clear to all my friends and colleagues at work and also the people in the paddock.

“I can always start great conversations. I can always explain to people what I do and why I do it. I had a conversation with a team that I’m racing this year. I was able to explain my faith and one of the guys on the team said I’m really glad you said that because that is the first time I can see Christianity in a way that actually makes sense to me. I was really pleased with that and sometimes I believe the Holy Spirit just gives me wisdom to talk to people.

Adriano Medeiros

“There are some funny situations as well. I was teaching in a car called an Ariel Atom, which is a very fast car. We had an almighty spin at probably 100mph and went miles off the track. The guy turned to me and said ‘sorry Jesus’. I hugged him and said ‘don’t worry, Jesus already forgave you. My name is Adriano by the way!’ After that, the conversation was really good.”

Adriano added: “I have a great respect for my colleagues and they all know who I am. The relationship is really good. There are some times where the arguments get a little bit hot because of everything that is going on in the world. I was able to explain the difference between Christianity and what’s going on in the world. Our God has done everything for us. We don’t need to sacrifice ourselves for Him. He has done the sacrifice, the biggest sacrifice.”

Not everyone accepts what Adriano says about Jesus, but he remains a determined evangelist.

He said: “There is a guy that I love so much. He is a great guy, but he is an atheist. We have a great relationship, but at the same time we are very different in some ways. There is always a good, respectful way between me and my friends and I love everybody that I work with so much.

“Sometimes they don’t get too close to me because the way I am, ‘this crazy Christian guy’, but they know the respect I have got for them and all the respect they have got for me.”

Adriano is very much doing what he loves. His attraction to the Interlagos track in Sao Paolo began at a young age and he was soon finding crafty ways to see the action.

He said: “My father really liked motorsport and watched it at the track. I used to cry because he couldn’t take me as I was too young.

“When I went to school, the bus passed by the track. If you arrived late at school, they would close the gates and not let you go in. That was a rule to make you be on time. What I used to do was get the bus a little bit late, say ‘I’m not going to make it’ then get off the bus at Interlagos and go and watch the cars!”

Adriano Medeiros

 

The young Adriano was keen to become a racing driver, but raising the finances was very difficult.

He said: “My father told me that this is not a sport for you because you don’t have the money. Later on, when I could make my own decisions, I went to racing school because in Brazil you can’t drive a car on a track unless you have been to racing school. You need it to get your race licence. I only had 50 per cent of the budget, which I borrowed from my girlfriend at the time. I had to start work as a mechanic at the school to be able to pay for the remaining 50 per cent.”

Now in his 20s, Adriano managed to compete in a few races, but a lack of money meant he had to be his own mechanic.

He added: “I didn’t even have a car to get to the race track. My friends towed me with a rope and I sat in the car going to the track! I thought I needed to go abroad where motorsport was more professional. I needed to meet someone who could help me go all the way.”

Adriano was optimistic when he was invited to meet ex-Formula 1 driver Alex Dias Ribeiro at Interlagos, but he didn't know much about Ribeiro’s faith. To his surprise, he also met Emerson Fittipaldi, another fellow Brazilian and a double Formula 1 world champion.

“It was something unreal for me,” said Adriano. “Because I was born in 1972 (the year of Fittipaldi’s first world title), my father argued for hours to put my name as Emerson Fittipaldi. My mum won that one as you may imagine!

“I walked into the pit lane, because that was where the meeting was. There was a racing car in the middle and Emerson on one side and Alex on the other. As I walked in, I literally took two steps back because it was overwhelming for me to see these two guys in front of me. Alex said ‘come in, don’t be silly’. He introduced me to Emerson and introduced himself.”

Adriano Medeiros

 

Adriano then got another shock. He explained: “Suddenly, everybody sat around in a circle and got their Bibles out! I started looking around thinking ‘what’s going on?’

"These guys started talking about Jesus and God. I was very against church at the time. I saw it as a marketplace for money. I started asking myself ‘why am I here, doing this?’ I stayed because I wanted to talk to them about my desire to be a racing driver. I stayed until the end and listened to everything they said.”

Adriano also challenged Ribeiro and Fittipaldi about why they were not supporting another struggling driver who was at the meeting.

He said: “I don’t remember well the answer that Alex gave at the time, but I remember that I just calmed down and listened to him with respect.

“The fact that I heard two former F1 drivers talking about God. That opened my ears. I listened and gave consideration to what they were saying.”

Adriano asked Ribeiro if he could help him go abroad and progress his driving career.

He said: “The answer Alex gave me at the time was I can’t help you to be a racing driver, but I can help you to meet Jesus Christ. In a certain way I felt a little bit of anger. I felt disappointment and frustration because I went to find something and got something else.”

Despite this, Adriano returned to the Bible study the next week and kept coming back. He didn’t see Ribeiro and Fittipaldi there again, but the invitation to meet Jesus had struck a chord. A couple of months later, Adriano gave his life to Christ at one of the Bible studies.

In 2002, Adriano decided to leave Brazil to pursue his racing driver hopes. While praying, he felt God twice prompt him with the words ‘follow your dreams’. Having failed to get a visa to the USA, he came to the UK where he started working in McDonald’s and as a mechanic at a garage. Times were tough, but the encouragement of his girlfriend and now wife Ana, who had also become a Christian, proved crucial.

Having returned to visit her in Brazil, Adriano doubted whether he should go back to the UK, especially as he learned his boss at the garage in London had replaced him with another mechanic.

Ana told him: “You always teach me about Jesus Christ, where is your faith in God? Believe in God and jump on the plane.”

Adriano did return and a Brazilian contact encouraged him to look for work at PalmerSport in Bedford. Expecting to work as a mechanic, Adriano ended up being employed as an instructor – a job that helped him begin racing in the UK in 2006.

From here, Adriano worked his way up the ranks to eventually win the Classic Formula Ford Championship with his new ‘Jesus Saves’ team in 2013. Adriano then won a second title in October 2016.

Adriano Medeiros

Having now competed in the UK for 10 years, Adriano can point to plenty of highlights. These include his maiden victory at Brands Hatch in a Porsche 996 endurance race where two drivers alternated behind the wheel.

He said: “I will never forget my first win at Brands Hatch. It’s an amazing track and used to hold F1 races up to 1986. I opened up a gap of one minute between me and second place, which gave my teammate Chris Bentley (a ‘gentleman driver’ Adriano was teaching) enough advantage to win by two seconds. That was an incredible moment.”

Adriano also enjoyed victory at the same track on his NASCAR Whelen Euro Series debut in 2012 – a result that proved key in getting the Jesus Saves team up and running the next year.

And as Adriano continues to fly the flag for Christ in the Classic Formula Ford Championship, why not pray that God may raise up others like him across the world of motorsport?

 

 

Ed Mezzetti

Ed Mezzetti, City of York Athletic Club
Ed runs for City of York Athletic Club and is Digital Content Manager for Christians in Sport. He is a member of St Thomas' Church, York