Sting Ray Robb says he was between 5 and 10 years old when he watched Tim Tebow wear the Bible verse "John 3:16" on his eye black when suiting up for the University of Florida. That stuck with Robb, 21, from Boise, Idaho, who wears John 3:16 on his racing helmet.
This isn't exactly new with Robb, who began the practice with duct tape during his decorated go-kart career.
Like Tebow, Robb was home-schooled.
"I grew up in a Christian home, and I was home-schooled by a lady from our church. I spent a lot of time in her living room with Bible study," Robb recalled. "She gave me a tool box full of things to pull from at a young age. The lessons I learned, the memory verses, the Bible stories … I grew in my faith because of all that."
Robb got his first go-kart at age five. He won a national championship with Rotax Junior Max karting in 2015.
Robb competed across America and Europe and soon found himself drawn to IndyCar racing with the big wheels churning close and the varied courses as opposed to only the ovals offered in NASCAR.
"I spent some time in lower-level NASCAR, now the ARCA series, had had a good time there, but open wheel kind of won me over," he said. "I love the down force that the wheels produce and the road and street courses."
Robb will be competing in the heart of NASCAR country in the Children's of Alabama Indy Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham this Sunday. It's one of two races before the Super Bowl of IndyCar – the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 28. Right now, Robb is running 25th in the standings with 32 points.
"As with anything when you step up the ladder it becomes more difficult," Robb said. "Our last race we finished ahead of where we qualified, so we were happy with that. The competition is stiffer, and the margin for error is smaller."
Getting a feel for the Honda
Robb is still getting a feel for the Honda he drives for Dale Coyne Racing.
"The learning curve happens quickly the more you drive in IndyCar," he said. "The first improvement I'd like to see is natural speed through the car, working with the team in communication with the engine, figuring out what I need from the car and what the car needs from me."
Success in motorsports is so much more than just mashing the gas, he explained; technique and teamwork have to be in place to get where you want to go.
"There's a lot of strategy that goes on behind the scenes," Robb said. "Being successful doesn't mean you have to be the fastest, but you need to be the most consistent and make right decisions. That comes from experience as well."
Robb believes he has the ability to pick up on things quickly in new surroundings. "I'd like to go faster and gain as much experience as I can in a short time."
Tebow wouldn't have been able to wear his eye black in today's college football nor would he be wearing it if he still played in the NFL. The NFL is very particular with its messaging.
While numerous coaches and players for many years have shared Christian faith in media interviews, players are not allowed to modify their uniforms with personal expressions of any kind except from a short list of messages pre-approved by the NFL. The list is heavy on social justice themes but does not include Bible verses.
The NCAA instituted a rule against personal messages on eye black in 2010, the year after Tebow's run at Florida concluded with a Heisman Trophy as a sophomore and two more years as a Heisman finalist.
In his brief NFL career Tebow was mocked by some for taking a knee in prayer before or after the football game.
Important to know truth
"I haven't felt pushback near as much as I think Tim Tebow did. I'm not saying that I won't," Robb said. "It's something I'm willing to stand up for. I'm not going to change my beliefs and loyalty if it does not go with what culture says is true."
It's important to know truth and speak truth rather than risk confusion created by ambiguity, Robb said.
"Truth is unchanging, truth is truth. If it's not defined, you fall into that trap that we have so many times. I'm here to be salt and light in our generation, and I think other Christians are called to do that as well."
Like Tebow, Robb has the unique opportunity to share that often comes with high-profile sports. He intends to make good use of his popularity.
"God put me in position and has given me a platform to create a voice of hope and truth where things and times are turbulent. That's something that's needed in my generation," he said.
Robb hopes to see his John 3:16 message on his car at some point. He points to the recent revival at Asbury University and the "He Gets Us" movement – anonymous donors committed to spending over $100 million to spotlight Jesus in an ad campaign – as evidence of an awakening in America.
"We want to be doing the same thing here" on the track, Robb said. "Tim Tebow started the movement, and I can carry it on in motorsports. We're all called to do something. God gives us our passions for a reason. How we give back to Him is how we utilize that."