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Along the Journey: Racing Widow Finds Healing with New Book

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

Personal identity ... it is something we all have but don't always discover. Perhaps it is because you are the product of a childhood that was less than nurturing. Maybe it's a job that is less than satisfying due to not having the freedom to express thoughts and ideas openly. Or, as author Terri Lynn Schmidt experienced, you might find yourself in a loving marriage but always taking a secondary role to your spouse due to circumstances beyond your control.

In her new book, When Drag Racing Met Country Music, Schmidt reflects on her 20-year marriage to late drag racing legend Harry Schmidt. Known for his racing exploits in The Blue Max car, Terri Lynn was forced to emerge from her husband's shadow upon his death in 2012. Seemingly content to be known as "Harry's wife", in her grieving process she rediscovered a Heavenly Father who became her best friend.

I recently sat down with Terri Lynn to discuss her marriage to one of racing's legendary figures, valuable lessons she has learned about faith, and some sound advice about finding one's personal identity.

In the early 1980s you came to Nashville to make it as a country singer. And you quickly discovered that the music industry is highly competitive and often unforgiving. Yet you persevered and eventually landed a job singing. Tell me about that?

In 1983, Opryland USA came through Dallas on an audition tour. So I auditioned for them, and they accepted me as one of their performers in one of their shows. So then I moved to Nashville in 1984 at 19. Opryland USA was a theme park mostly known for its entertainment inside the park. We were right next to the Grand Ole Opry, and we performed there many times as our show was called Country Music USA.

How long did you do that for?

I did that for four years. Of course, you know, the music industry is just like anything else in life. I came from a very humble means family background and just had a lot of raw talent. I met so many people during this time. So many wonderful, amazing people came out of our group, out of our one particular show. One of those was Steven Curtis Chapman. Eventually, I went back to Dallas to regroup because I had become disenchanted with the music industry. But if I hadn't gone back I never would have met my husband.

Your husband of course, was National Hod Rod Association (NHRA) drag racing Hall of Famer, Harry Schmidt. How did you meet him?

We met at a water fountain in an office building.

So, it wasn't a matter of you performing somewhere and he happened to be in the audience. You met him at a water fountain?

He had just retired from drag racing and had an office on the second floor of a building where I worked. I had a little part-time job and was re-evaluating whether I wanted to continue in the music industry. He was walking in the front door to get a drink from the water fountain, and I just happened to be walking through there and we met.

Later on, I went to lunch one day and when I came back and there was a box of a dozen roses on my desk. I opened it up and all that it said was, HMS. So I started asking people in the office who HMS was? They said that's Harry Schmidt. That's the man upstairs.

So you had no idea who he was or that he was famous for drag racing cars?

No. I'd never even heard of him or his legendary car The Blue Max. Many people in my family who were racing fans had.

Harry was 20 years older than you. I'm guessing your family wasn't very happy that you were dating a guy that much older than you?

No. Especially my mother. In fact, Harry and my mom literally argued on the phone over the future of my life. My mom wanted me to continue pursuing music, and Harry being in the spotlight from the racing industry and knowing what hauling equipment and just being on the road a lot was like, he just didn't want that for me and my life.

So, I listened to my mother and went back to Nashville for two years. The highlight of that time was the opportunity to go over and perform for our troops through the Department of Defense. We performed in Central America, Panama, Cuba, and Honduras.

Eventually, that time came to a close but while I was touring around the world I started praying that God would give me opportunities to go on mission trips to serve Him. Since then, I've been on many mission trips to Uganda, Amazon, Thailand, and I've discovered I have really a large passion for learning songs in different languages, worship music to honor the people of the land wherever I'm at.

What about your relationship with Harry?

He had just retired from drag racing and was trying to figure out what he was going to do with the rest of his life. I was 21, and he was 41 when we met. He had just started his own company, and so he was three years into that when I met him.

We eventually got married and had two beautiful girls. We landed at Prestonwood Baptist Church. We were both baptized again. My daughters were saved and baptized in that church. We brought them up in that church, and I sang in the choir on the praise team at some point. That is the direction that God took me. Life was good.

But at some point you found out Harry had cancer, correct?

We knew that the 20 year age difference between us was eventually going to change our mindset as far as raising our daughters and our family lifestyle. Harry wanted to fully retire, and then we decided to take the girls out of school and homeschool them on the road. We bought a bus. We took the girls and ventured out across the world to every place they could learn in their books. We wanted them to actually see it in person. But we grieved leaving the church and the school and all of our friends but the family unit was extremely important to Harry. Only God knew what was coming around the corner. We didn't know. So we were just being obedient in following His lead, and we understood it later. The reason why is when God revealed that Harry had cancer in 2008. We caught it early, but the choices that we decided on for treatment did not alleviate or eliminate it, and it came back after a year. It was an aggressive cancer cell, and it went outside into all areas, through the lymph nodes, and eventually into his bones. He died in 2012.

You must have felt that you were too young to be a widow. This is something that is supposed to happen when you are much older, or at least that's what you tell yourself.

I have to say that death and grief can change you. It changes you, and I knew I was a believer. I knew that Harry was in Heaven. I knew all of God's promises, and I also knew that God's Word said that I was mourning with a hope. I knew I would see Harry again, but I questioned my faith, everything because of the way I was responding to it, just the devastation and the “What now?” and in an instant when holding Harry's cell phone and thinking, “He just held this last night.” Everything business-wise and personality-wise, everything just kind of shut down for about a good year.

In your book, you mentioned that you lost your self-identity after Harry died. How were you able to redefine that?

Before we got married, of course I identified myself with my music. Then when I married Harry I discovered the history of the Blue Max dragster and his success. Harry was a very humble man and hardly ever talked about it, but the moment that he passed away, I realized the magnitude of his racing career when the National Dragster Association, Hot Rod Magazine, and all of these columns and articles came across the Internet of his passing. I was always “Harry's wife” not Terri Lynn. Even now, six years later, I'm in the process of discovering who Terri is again, outside of being Harry's wife in a way that we kind of attach our identity for our self-worth. I speak about that a lot in the book as well. But our self-worth comes from who God says that we are.

This has been quite the journey of rediscovery for you. How have you been able to accomplish this?

When I rediscovered my passion for writing and how God gave me titles and spoke to me through them, I realized how much it meant for me for others to know that go through this grieving process, for them to know that they're not alone, that they're normal, that everything they are going through is natural. Most importantly, they should never question their faith. So my writing journey kind of started helping to redevelop what I believe in and what I stand on.

If there's one core message of this book, what is it? What are you trying to convey to people?

That people are not alone in their grief. We're all going to go through it. It's a process. There's no right or wrong way. God's word backs up every piece of it, every confirmation, every sense of hope, every promise and rediscovering who you are again after the loss of a loved one, and then just putting one foot in front of the other and listen closely for God's voice. You are never alone in your grief.

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