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IN THE FAST LANE WITH AN ALMIGHTY CO-PILOT

What's better than a speed demon?

A Faster Pastor, of course.

The Rev. Todd Glendenning zoomed to victory during the first-ever Faster Pastor race at Holland International Speedway on Memorial Day. He was cheered on by more than 80 members of his congregation from the Wesleyan Church of Orchard Park as he won a heat and then the feature race in a 4-cylinder car provided by the racetrack.

His astonished family had no idea the mild-mannered minister was such a holy hellion on wheels. His wife, Wendy, brought son Levi, 10, twins Leah and Cori, 8, and daughter Jaime, 5, who voiced their delighted reaction: "Daddy, I didn't know you were going to win the race!"

His time on the track is as much a blur to Glendenning as it was to the 26 other clergymen who ate his dust. Track records indicate that he zipped past the Rev. Grant Appell of Delevan Baptist Church on the third lap of the 10-lap feature race and never looked back, but Glendenning admits, "I didn't know what lap it was.

"They told me I was fearless. I was just going!" says the racing reverend. When he saw the flagman signal that there were two more laps left, he checked his rearview mirror and saw that he was well out in front of his competition. "So at that point, my only fear was that I'd go slamming it up into the wall when nobody was near me, and I'd be really embarrassed," he says.

But with God as his co-pilot, Glendenning kept the rubber on the road and took the checkered flag.

The turnout was exaulted for this first-ever event at Holland Speedway, says general manager Tim Bennett, who got the idea dor the competion at a seminar. " The response was tremedous, in fact there were almost too many drivers. It was very trying just to keep the cars running after that many people were in them."

Churches with lead-foot leaders were offered tickets at a discount to sell as fund raisers. "The track was terrific," says Glendenning, whose church will use the money to fund summer camp for its teenagers.

But all that Christian charity screeched to a halt at the starting gate.

"My assistant pastor was racing, too," says Glendenning. "He came in second to me in the first heat. He thought for sure he was going to get by me, but he said I cut him off or something. I said, 'Hey, we're all out there for ourselves!' "

The next-fastest pastors, who are no doubt praying for another shot, are Appell, who was second; Pastor Roy Elliott of the House of Prayer in Salamanca, third; the Rev. Brian Rotach of Buffalo's Seneca Street United Methodist Church, fourth; and the Rev. Dennis Fronczyk of St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Holland, fifth.

"Oh, yeah, I'll do it again," says Rotach, who has been itching to drive a race car since childhood. "Next time with a better car! Mine had to be towed away after the race."

But Glendenning seems to feel a holy obligation to defend his title, which earned him a trophy featuring a race car and a cross.

"I will definitely go back," he says. "I'd go next week if they wanted to do it again."

But unlike the turnout for his pulpit productions, says Glendenning, "I don't think I could get people from my church to go back to the racetrack week after week, though."

e-mail: aneville@buffnews.com<

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