Alex Dias Ribeiro

Alex is usually calm when he is not driving his car. But he was feared as a tornado, the "terror" of the Formula 3 championships, as the British press referred to him in the 70s. He never became world champion, nor did he ever set any outstanding new records, nor was he the youngest driver, or the fastest or the most successful of all Formula 1 racers. Nevertheless, Alex became known all over the world for the inscription CRISTO SALVA (JESUS SAVES) which he always printed on his car. His personal testimony and his Christian commitment always followed along in his racing career. Today he is the Executive Director for Atletas de Cristo in Brazil.

I came off at top speed on the third curve of the Watkins Glen circuit in the States. I forced the third gear of my Copersucar as much as I could until the engine started howling and growling at 9,800 rpm and then I pushed in the fourth gear. I took my foot off the clutch fast and felt the force of the Ford Crossworth 500 horsepower fully on my back! Then to my astonishment I realized that the steering wheel had come off complete with the column and everything! And I was speeding at 150 miles an hour! Instinctively I pushed the steering wheel back into place and it fit miraculously! I returned slowly to the boxes knowing that those were my last moments as a race driver. I had been to many places, experienced many emotions and a lot of problems, but--above all--I had done what I had always dreamed of doing: drive a car in the fast lane and tell the world that Christ saves. I went into the boxes, pushed the brakes and left for good. That was the end of Alex Dias Ribeiro in the Formula 1 circuit and that was also the end of the CRISTO SALVA logo in the fastest circuits of the world. It felt like the end of a dream and an ideal, much like the death of a vision.

For many years I felt the bitterness of that moment. I was facing a new, harsh reality after I had stepped down from my career as a race driver. I had desired so badly to become a world champion but now I had to swallow my defeat--and it tasted sour. My first job upon my return from Europe was as a car salesman in Brasilia.

At the end of that year, 1981, I published my book "More Than Conquerors", which tells of my experiences as a race driver. After that, I bought a farm in Goiás State and planted 50,000 jojoba trees. I worked myself to death and lived almost like an Indiana Jones. I returned to racing in 1984 with the Brazilian Automakers Championship. At the end of that year, I had the chance to return to Europe, but at the last minute my sponsors gave me up and I was alone one more time. I was jobless again, and I resorted to the stock market.

I made big money, but I almost got crazy. The stock market experience taught me in a practical way that "where your treasure is, there is your heart also", as the Bible says. Meanwhile I started helping with the Atletas de Cristo in Sao Paulo at a time when Silas and Muller were beginning their race to fame as great soccer players. In March 1986 I accepted the post of Executive Director of Atletas de Cristo. After much prayer and thinking, I decided to do one crazy thing: I left behind every financial activity and took over all the aspects of managing the Atletas de Cristo organization. I needed a lot of faith in order to take that step - my salary now was US $25 per month (roughly one third of our national minimum wage) which was what the organization could afford to pay me! Initially I thought of dedicating only three months of my life to help organize Atletas de Cristo. When that was done I would look for a part time job and I would try to keep both jobs. But that didn't work. Up until now, many years later, I find myself working full time with the Atletas de Cristo organization.

Many years later, I heard the testimony of a goalkeeper (with the Atlético Mineiro) who said that the crazy guy racing at 180 miles/hour had made an impact on his life. Especially the fact that the driver had JESUS SAVES printed all over his car, his helmet and even his outfit! When that goalkeeper got married and went on his honeymoon, he liked the idea so much that he decided to print JESUS SAVES on his T-shirt. Everybody noticed, because he was the main goal keeper with the Brazilian squad in the years 1979 through 1981. The sports authorities didn't like the idea and forced him to drop those words from his outfit. They argued that the legislation did not allow any publicity on the players' uniforms. Another famous soccer player who was an excellent center-forward in the State of Goiás had an experience with Jesus too. He changed his life and kept his job as a soccer player. He even played for the Brazilian squad.

One day he read about this goalkeeper who had JESUS SAVES on his outfit and how he answered to those who told him to drop that "publicity". He had said: "They have taken the name of Christ out of my uniform, but He lives on in my heart". These two guys met and found that they had a lot in common. They decided to raise the banner of Jesus Christ high up against all opposition - even in the midst of the Brazilian soccer world. They came to be known as Joao Leite, "God's goal keeper", and Baltazar, "God's striker".

Only then did I realize that the time I had spent as a race driver within the Formula-1 circuit had not been in vain. Though I had to swallow one bitterness after another during my time in the Formula-1 circuit, my frustrated career contributed somehow to start off the Atletas de Cristo organization. It was very much like a grain which dies in the soil but which rises up as a plant and bears much fruit. Today we are more than 6,000 athletes competing in all kinds of sports and as we do so we convey the message of Christ everywhere we go.

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