Richmond Hill resident Pastor Alfred Banks lives life in the fast lane – in a good way, that is.
When he’s not in the pulpit at Daniel Baptist Church in Richmond Hill, he’s in the pit at Oglethorpe Speedway in Pooler where he is a regular on the racing circuit.
"Racing is just so exciting, and so is pastoring," Banks said. "In both, there are blessings and there are tribulations. Both are full of uncertainties. From weddings to funerals to checkered flags to hitting the wall, I never know what each day has in store for me."
Born in Savannah, Banks was raised right up the way from Richmond Hill off Hwy. 17 near what was then a dirt road off Bush and Little Neck Road. Banks admittedly tore up that little dirt road "driving fast and spinning around curves. I just drove on dirt roads the way I shouldn’t have, and I’ll be the first to admit it."
Perhaps this was a sign of things to come.
Another sign might have been Banks’ ill-fated term as a Savannah police officer. His occupation on the thin blue line was cut short when his chief let him go after two incidents that involved wrecking his squad car.
"I was in hot pursuit," Banks said of one of the incidents. "I hit a dip at White Bluff and Abercorn and flew up in the air. Man, it was like something out of Dukes of Hazard."
Banks said he was 27 years old when he first sensed the calling from the Lord to preach, but he "put it on the back burner for a while. I didn’t actually surrender to the ministry full time until I came to Daniel Baptist in 1990."
"In 1989, I was in the study praying one day when God just broke my heart about that call again," Banks continued. "I got through praying and I went and told my wife Rita that I had made a commitment to the Lord, and asked for her thoughts on it. She said wherever I go, she’ll be with me."
"With Alfred, it’s either black or white," said Rita Banks. "There’s no gray area. If it’s right, it’s right. That’s just the way he is."
He had a similar revelation while watching his son Elliott, also a racer, on the track at Oglethorpe in 2004. "I told Rita that, if we come here next season, I’m going to be down there racing. I’m not sitting in these stands," Banks said.He had previously dipped his toes into the racing world by participating in the annual "Faster Pastor Race" at Oglethorpe every year since 2001 along with Daniel Baptist Associate Pastor Jimmy Anderson. In 2005, Elliott bought his pop a race car and Banks began hitting the track full time, which he maintains today.
Banks is also the official track chaplain at Oglethorpe, taking over those duties in 2004. Those duties entail praying with the drivers and fans before each race. He has even married some of the drivers. Coincidentally, driver Teron Roberts called Banks while this interview was being conducted and asked him to conduct a wedding ceremony between he and his fiancée, which Banks happily obliged to.
Banks said that the biggest blessing to him in the racing world was being "adopted into the D & R racing family" which includes his crew chief Bobby Lee Sauls along with drivers Roberts, Daniel Baptist member Donald Norby, and Dan and Don Douglas.
"Every one in that group has taught me about racing and has helped me with my car, as they do for each other," Banks said. "The amazing part about it is that these are my competitors. They’ll do anything in the world for me. But when they get on that track, it’s every man for himself. I’ve never raced for second place."
At the end of the 2005 race season, Banks finished ninth in points and won Sportsman of the Year for the pure stock division.
In the first race of this new season, Banks finished third place which is the best he has placed thus far in the sport.
This season also marks the debut of his grandson as a driver.
"It’s been a blessing to me to be at Daniel Baptist for the past 17 years," said Banks. "It has also been a blessing to be a driver at Oglethorpe. I thoroughly enjoy being out there. You go out there in a beat up car and have a blast. What more could you ask for? Slide on the dirt a little bit, race, bump fenders and just have a real good time. I love it."
For more information on Oglethorpe Speedway, go to www.ospracing.net; for information about Daniel Baptist Church, call 756-3637.