If someone were to say the name “Jake Vanada” to you, there’s a chance it may not resonate. However, if you mention the same name to a number of riders, families, and other industry personnel found in the paddock of Monster Energy AMA Supercross, a smile will casually appear on the faces of just about anyone you talk to. Amidst the bikes, haulers, riders, mechanics, fans, sounds, smells, and excitement that make up the sport we all know and love, you’ll find a man who is just as much a staple as the aforementioned.
While popular among riders and staff, there’s a strong chance that a number of you weren’t even aware that the series had a chaplain on staff, let alone how important he is to those you cheer for on Saturday evenings. During my time in Atlanta, I decided to shadow the man who serves as race chaplain inside the pro ranks in hopes of shining a light on what many feel is a prominent position in our sport.
Here’s what I learned:
The role as series chaplain is just as fast-paced and wide open as any other job found in the pits. Jake spends time during the week preparing for his weekend’s sermon the same as any rider prepares to do battle on the track. Once at the track, it’s a wide-open day that ranges from speaking to the KTM Jr Challenge kids to delivering a trackside sermon after track walk, from praying with riders in the tunnel to checking in with teams and families when a rider gets injured—sometimes that means the unfortunate visit to the hospital. For instance, when Cole Seely crashed in Tampa, Jake and his wife were at the hospital until after 1 a.m. to visit and pray with Cole. I spoke with Rich Simmons, Seely’s mechanic in Atlanta, and he had nothing but appreciation for Jake and the way he approaches communicating with the riders. “You have to respect Jake and what he does. I know Cole really appreciated that he was there at 1:30 in the morning.”
Jake is a person who a number of riders respect and look forward to conversing with. Being that he’s not a member of the media or affiliated with any specific team, riders seem to feel a personal bond with him. He is someone who they can confide in, no matter the issue or time of day.
“It’s really nice to have a guy that you can relate to and kind of bounce ideas off of, and go to when you need something,” Zach Osborne says. “Jake’s a really outgoing guy and I think it’s a really good position for him, because he’s just a people person and somebody fun that you can share your faith with.”
Though he serves as series chaplain and is solid in his faith, Jake never pushes his beliefs on anyone. When he does speak to riders on such topics, these conversations usually take place in a quiet setting away from everyone. Not only is this a time for riders to reflect on their beliefs, but it’s also a way for them to reset their way of thinking before a race.
This guy also has an outstanding personality! After spending an afternoon with Jake, a person starts to just genuinely feel good about themselves. He is someone who has a contagious smile, and you find yourself riveted with how he interacts with everyone he comes in contact with. All in all, he’s just a fun dude to be around.
Why are riders, mechanics, team members, TV personalities, media folks, etc., so receptive of what he has to offer? From what I’ve witnessed and gathered from conversations with people—and with Jake himself—in the paddock, it’s his ability to communicate a message in a way that relates to the surroundings of his audience. If you’ve listened to him speak, you know that he has a way of delivering a message that makes you go, “Hey, wait a minute, I know exactly what he’s saying here!”
Admittedly before spending the day with Jake, I had only participated in brief conversations with him and didn’t feel as if I knew him on a personal level. But after spending just one afternoon with him, I now have a better understanding as to what he does, who he is, and what he stands for. Hopefully after reading this, you’ll have a better understanding as well. And if you’re at the races and see his smiling face, say hi. I promise you won’t be disappointed!