Church minister Paul is on a mission to rally
By Sandie Shirley
2009: Church minister Paul Harvey is a rally car driver on the fast track of faith in East Anglia and beyond. It takes him on the knife edge of danger at speeds of up to 120 mph in all weathers.
With a passion for motor sports, the Suffolk Baptist church leader at Occold near Diss races at dawn and through the night, across a changing terrain, including disused airfields, farmyards and the twists and turns of Thetford Forest and the Snetterton race circuit.
"I never had bags under my eyes until I did this, but using it to share the gospel is dear to my heart," said the man who has taken Jesus out of the church box and into the sporting arena.
Revved for faith, his 1993 Ford Escort Cosworth carries the Bible text: You must be Born Again (John 3:7). He takes the driving seat of the Christian rally sport team, the Alpha and Omega CMT and has shared the thrills and spills of faith both on and off road. Now Paul, aged 40, is hoping to win new ground with visits to schools, churches and youth clubs in neighbouring Norfolk and Cambridgeshire this year.
The last decades have seen toil, tears and sacrifice but Paul still holds firm to his future dreams that include competing in the Blackpool car rally that attracts 10,000 people along the promenade. With wife Pauline, the couple provide most of the finances for this expensive sport – one day of racing cost £15,000.
He swapped his full-time farm worker's job for a flexible groundsman's post 12 months ago to facilitate his rally mission role. He and his five-man team refuse to race on Sundays. "There are some events we would like to do nearer to home but they are on Sundays so we concentrate on Saturday events to keep the Lord's day of rest," he said.
Provision has come against the odds. The team has a premier car once owned by the Ford World Rally Team and driven by a former world rally champion, Carlos Sainz. "We were really blessed because the car also has a high build specification," said Paul.
Due to current expenses for the sport, the team only compete in three annual events at present – Manby in Yorkshire, Goodwood
in Sussex and Woodbridge
"This is one way we thought we could reach people. For many rally car drivers, the sport means everything to them and they can get into serious debt. For some, their life is empty. They may have a £100,000 car but they are still seeking something in life," says Paul, who visits churches and youth groups with his rally vehicle and has made two appearances at a local engineering show.
Paul was trying out the family car off-road as soon as his feet touched the pedals and he was always enthralled by motor sports on television. He put his enthusiasm to the test in 1990 at the Bill Gwynn Rally School in Oxfordshire where he was the fastest driver on his course. He saved his earnings and bought his first rally car, an Escort Mark II for £3,000. He entered his first event in Cambridge a year later despite parental threats that he would be evicted from home if he was involved in the dangerous, expensive sport.
Alpha and Omega CMT is now a family affair. Brother Mark is the mechanic and together they burn the midnight oil, preparing the car for the heavy assault courses. Mark's hi-tech surgery has saved the team thousands including £10,000 when he rebuilt the Cosgrove engine. Pauline is the administrator and his sister was the first navigator (co-driver) before becoming an overseas missionary. Today she is replaced by student Becky Pullen.
Teamwork is the key to successful rally driving. The navigator is often the unsung hero, judging and communicating every turn, jump, crest and hazard ahead to the driver.
"You are running blind with a navigator to guide you around so it puts a bit more fear and excitement in the sport," admits Paul.
"I have had various rally drivers but my sister was one of the best," he adds. She never lost her cool and continued to signal the course ahead despite hitting a redundant barracks during a race in Watton after being wrongly advised to use a particular set of tyres in wet weather.
"I always say to the navigator, don't worry unless the car actually stops but ladies are usually better navigators than men." They have no pre-conceptions about the holding and manoeuvrability of rally cars unlike many men who incorrectly compare their performances with normal road vehicles which rally cars far exceed, explains Paul. "Once a former male co-driver screamed 80 per cent of the time, which was not very helpful."
Paul found faith at 19 but the foundations were laid when he went to chapel and pondered creation. One of four siblings, the family was strapped for cash. There was no pocket money so sometimes he stole from home. He left school with few qualifications and joined a youth training scheme to follow in his father's footsteps as a farm worker. "I earned £25 a week and thought I was rich."
He was rebellious and wrestled with adolescence until his brother and sister became Christians and he was drawn to church after seeing their lives change.
"I knew I was a wretch and had done wrong but I had to deal with it," he said. A bedside prayer became the turning point of confession and commitment. Peace came, striving ceased and there was a new confidence that changed his life's course with a thirst for adventure and faith.
Pictured above is Paul Harvey in his 1993 Ford Escort Cosworth.