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  June 14th, 2010  

“Smoke On the Water”


            My first drag boat race was in July 1967 at Ski Land in Perris, CA. At that time I loved any type of drag racing and was intrigued by the thought of drag boats (doing it on the water!). I enjoyed that initial race, but seeing as there was so much drag racing (my god at that time) going on in Southern California, and we were attending every race we could, I didn’t make it back to a drag boat race again until 1980 when a friend asked me to go; and I answered, “Of course I’ll go.”

            I remember going back to Ski Land (thirteen plus years later), and watching Eddie Hill set the world record at 206 mph and I was hooked on the boat racing…and a few other extra curricular activities that went with it in those days.  

In the early to mid 1980’s we went to Bakersfield, Chowchilla, Firebird, Puddingstone and Lake Irvine. The racing was thrilling, the new friends I met were remarkable, but the danger factor was a reality, and was not my favorite part of the sport. It eventually chased me away after a big time tragedy with a spectator at Lake Irvine in 1985.

            At virtually every drag boat race you and I’ve attended, there will be parts and pieces flying during the weekend, and that means plenty of “smoke on the water.” Throw in some wild header flames reaching high (like some of the fans were) from the fuel boats made for seriously superb and spectacular sights.

            At Lake Irvine one bright and sunny day during that 1980’s era we saw Frank Dade crash at 196 mph in the “Smoke on the Water” Blown Fuel Hydro. Looking back on that day, the smoke on the water was more than man-made engine smoke given the odds of a driver surviving such a horrifying experience. I would have to say that God was hovering over the waters (like in Genesis chapter one), and watching out for that old gray fox, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14).

            I don’t know what song Frank may have been singing that day as he was flying through the air, or, even when he arrived back after being checked out at the local hospital, but it could have possibly been something like the old time favorite gospel song written by Horatio Spafford (who tragically lost his four daughters when an ocean liner sank at sea). “It is well with my soul…when peace like a river, attendeth my way when sorrows like sea-billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.” It’s hard to imagine writing those lyrics when you had to deal with such emotion and loss.

            To escape a harrowing crash at almost 200 mph and virtually walk away…you had better be singing the right song. Deep Purple (whom we saw in concert in the late 1970’s at the Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino, CA), sang…“Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky,” an appropriate description of a Blown Fuel Hydro anytime it’s in the water.

That song wasn’t written about a boat, it was written about a building that burned down on the Geneva shoreline (“They burned down the gambling house, it died with an awful sound, Funky and Claude was running in and out, pulling kids out of the ground”) with lots of smoke on the water. What a fitting name for a high-powered drag boat.

            Getting back to that night in San Bernardino, there was plenty of smoke in the air during the concert that night. When you’re watching and listening to one of your favorite rock and roll bands, the amount of smoke in the air and the obvious fire in the hearts of the concert-goers was enough to propel anyone higher than the header flames on a fuel boat.

            But, what’s really in the hearts of men and women at a drag boat race or at a concert? Is it they’re in fact sold-out for the sport or the songs they dearly love so much? Or, is there something else that drives them to enjoy the sound of the music—be it eight cylinder motors or six string guitars?

            Thankfully, as we mature in life, the smoke usually clears up, and then we have a chance to get a good look at reality. Reality is what stares us in the face after all the smoke has cleared and our life becomes an open book with the words in plain sight. At times, though, it’s only after the fire and smoke have cleared-up from a run (or a human life) that any damage can be determined—then the real story will unfold, as it should be told, that if you’re bold, you’ll finally grab hold.

            At a racetrack, the smoke eventually clears away from above the waters (after a motor has expired), and in a short while, not a trace of the smoke is left to be seen. There is a similar spiritual illustration: it’s the same way God treats our sins.

When God blots out our sins, He chooses to no longer remember them, “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that were against us which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross,” (Colossians 2:14 KJV). Blotting was the Greek word meaning wiping a slate and totally obliterating what was there before. Martin Luther said, “The remnant of sin is not laid to our charge but freely pardoned…but we raise ourselves up through faith.”

Think about it, Christianity is not smoke on the water; it’s simply being the best Christ-like individual possible, and living-it-out at all times regardless of who we are, where we are, or what time of day it is. For the business man—people are looking for more than just a successful company with a good profit margin, they need to see Jesus in you. For the mother—people are looking for more than well dressed children and a nice polite family, they need to see Jesus in you. For the chaplain—people are looking for more than a skilled expositor, a gifted teacher, and a compassionate person, they need see Jesus in you. For the racer—people are looking for more than your name in the record books, or a world champions ring on your finger, they need to see Jesus in you.

It’s simply a matter of displaying Jesus through your attitudes and actions every day. Jesus said, “If I be lifted up… [I] will draw all men unto me,” (John 12:32). We help do the lifting; Jesus does the drawing, that’s how it works. Remember, “When others are looking at your past, Jesus has His eye on your future.”

            “Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky.” One day this old world will be an inferno bigger than any fire you’ve ever witnessed when a fuel engine ignites into a ball of flames. “What’s left of the motor” the driver says? The better question is what will be left of your faith when that inevitable last day happens? “Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it's your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory,” (1 Peter 1:7 MSG).

God’s victories won’t be tallied up on the surface of the water. His winning runs come from a believer’s heart that’s “smoking hot” for Him. These victory laps prove a faith of greater worth than gold that will never perish when refined by the fire of the Word which keeps you refined from the fires of the world.


Jim Jack



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