The Singlers and Faron Sanders found a special connection at church and on the dirt race track.
Under the lights at the dirt racetrack in Barberville, the late models were always on the verge of spinning out of control — and that was part of the excitement: The drivers hit the gas on the straightaway, then jerked the steering wheel left and drifted, hoping the tires were grabbing onto enough dirt to keep them from flying into the sidewalls or crashing into one of the other cars just inches away. There was a kind of addictive intensity to this track, where very few fans showed up in the late 1990s, and it was all done for the love of the sport.
In practice rounds, driver Rick Singler would tell his crew, including family friend and recent Flagler Palm Coast High School graduate Faron Sanders, how adjust the setup. “This car is looser than a sock on a rooster!” he would say.
But now — around and around Singler went! — it was too late for Faron to worry about all that. In this short track, if Singler got a flat tire or his chassis got loose, he was done. No time for a pit stop during the race. Everything depended on the preparation.
It was a unique relationship between Faron and Singler, one forged not just by their common need for speed but also by the need for spirituality: Singler was Faron’s bishop.
One person who did not attend those races very often in the 1990s was the bishop’s wife, Nanette Singler. She would stay home at the couple’s house, which was on six acres of farmland on Leeway Trail, in Ormond Beach. She felt the races were too dangerous, and it made her a nervous wreck to watch them. But she knew it was good for her husband to be spending so much time with her son — and with Faron Sanders.
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a bishop is equivalent to a pastor in many other Christian denominations; he is the leader of the local flock, usually for five years. But a Mormon bishop is not paid; it’s a lay position, fulfilled alongside a regular career. Bishops do not apply for the office but are called through the inspiration of the church’s regional leader, called a stake president, and ultimately approved by the church’s worldwide president, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
As bishop, Rick Singler was spending his time doing something he loved — racing — but he was also shepherding Faron. And, Faron later recalled, he knew what Singler was trying to do, and he allowed it happen.
Faron grew up on a Kentucky cattle farm. His parents were faithful members of the Mormon church, and Sanders learned at an early age that the way to be happy was to follow Jesus Christ’s two great commandments: love God and love your neighbor. For a time, Faron’s family moved to Palm Coast, where his grandmother Cassandra Waddoups lived, and then his parents moved back to Kentucky after he graduated high school. But Faron decided to stay behind.
And he started getting into trouble. He was a typical rebellious teenager who would hide in the bushes to avoid people who came to visit to try to bring him back to church.
But something clicked between Faron and Rick Singler, and then Nanette had a moment of inspiration.
Late one night in about 1997, Nanette Singler was watching TV in her bed. She was exhausted; she had a son and three daughters of her own. Her bedroom door was open, and at the far end of the long hallway of their home, she saw the front door open. In walked Faron, to see Bishop Singler. He had never been to their home before, so she was surprised to see him.
Then a voice came to her mind: “You need to take this boy under your roof.”
Her first reaction was, “No. I’m too tired.” But she felt convinced this was a direction from God, and she felt an overwhelming love for Faron, as if he were her own son.
It was from that moment that Faron started to spend weekends with the Singler family, working on the race car — and reawakening spiritually.
“Satan knew who he was,” Nanette Singler recalled. “Satan was pursuing [Faron] with great vigor. And I’m really proud of him for being able to overcome the temptations that were in front of him. … Faron began reading his scriptures, and he would call me and talk for hours with me. We’re probably closer than most mothers and sons. … He is an incredible young man.”
In 2000, Faron left for two years to be a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Arkansas.
'Sometimes, you can't see a thing'
Upon returning, Faron again lived with the Singlers in Ormond Beach and was given a job in the family landscaping business. And he was given a chance to drive at the track in Barberville.
“You’re driving down the straightaway at 100 mph, barely lifting your foot off the throttle,” Faron recalled. “You turn left, turning into your slide, hogging back down on the throttle, and you’re throwing mud, and the car in front of you is throwing mud at you — and I mean, like, thick mud — and you’re pulling the tear-off from your helmet.”
“Wait, wait,” I said. “What’s a ‘tear-off’?”
We were eating lunch at Cracker Barrel in June 2017, reliving the wide rides he had on that Barberville track.
Faron explained that a dirt-track racer’s helmet has a plastic shield to protect the driver’s face. But when mud lands on that shield, it’s impossible to see. So you have to tear off a layer of the plastic shield, about one layer per lap, if you’re behind somebody.
“You’re feathering the throttle,” Faron continued, “and the rear end is coming out from underneath you, and so you’re turning into the slide, and as you’re pulling off a tear-off, you’re looking at your gauges, to make sure your oil pressure is good, your water pressure’s not too high because you don’t want to burn up your motor, and you have all the other cars around you, while that’s happening. Sometimes, you can’t see a thing. You just have to go on a feeling.”
Faron got married in 2004. In 2006, the church boundaries were redrawn, and Ormond Beach was no longer in the same congregation as Palm Coast. In the Mormon church, each congregation is called a ward, and Faron and his wife lived closer to the Bunnell building, which is located across the street from Bunnell Elementary School. (Today, Faron and his wife, Erin, live in Seminole Woods, in Palm Coast, with their four children: Brayden, Aislyn, Keaton and Adaline.)
The change in boundaries meant Faron no longer saw the Singlers on Sundays. Rick Singler was no longer his bishop. Still, Faron kept in close contact with the family.
Then Rick Singler got some terrible news: He had cancer. When Rick was too weak to do it anymore, Faron would drive to Ormond Beach and mow the six acres around the Singlers’ house. He took care of the hedges. He would sit with Rick and talk.
Rick’s cancer was unpredictable. “We’d think he was OK and that he was going to pull through, and then it was back down,” Nanette Singler recalled. One day, “I called the ambulance because he was convulsing. I thought he was having a stroke. At the hospital, they didn’t want to restrain him with restraints, so the family would have to hold him down.”
Faron was the one to hold him down.
“This is no hill for a climber.”
“He was my spiritual rock at that time,” she recalled. “Some of it is a fog to me. Faron was the one to take me out into the hall and say, ‘Come on, Mom. It’s going to be OK.’”
But Faron also struggled as he watched cancer take Rick Singler’s body and his mind.
“Seeing someone suffer like that, someone who was so great, who did so much good — I had to do some soul searching,” Faron recalled. “I needed to understand why God let that happen. It didn’t make any sense to me why the Lord would take him when he was doing so much good here.”
He thought about all the lessons he had learned from Rick Singler. For example, when Faron was worried about a task ahead, Rick Singler would say, “This is no hill for a climber.” In other words, Faron said, “If you’re prepared to climb, you’re going to enjoy the journey.”
Rick Singler also taught, “You can’t teach what you don’t know. And you can’t lead where you don’t go.”
Faron said that intellectually, he already knew the answer to his question about why God would let bad things happen to good people. But when Rick Singler died in 2013, Faron also felt the answer: Rick Singler was going to do a great work in the after life, as well. And it was time to begin.
The weight of caring
It was also time for Faron to progress.
In April 2017, the DeLand Stake leadership called a meeting for all the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the region. Nanette Singler and the other Ormond Beach residents who had been attending the Daytona Beach Ward traveled to the DeLand building for the meeting, and saw old friends from the Bunnell Ward there, including Faron.
“It was like the joy of a mother when a mother sees a newborn child, and you know the child is going to progress."
She gave him a hug and noticed that he was wearing a black tie with purple stripes. It was once her husband’s tie; she had given it to Faron after Rick died. “It was one of his ways to connect,” Nanette said.
Then she looked at him and saw concern on his face. She looked at his wife and thought, “Oh my, Erin is not happy.” Then she realized what was about to happen. As a former bishop’s wife, Nanette knew the look: It was the weight of caring for a congregation, the sacrifices that would be required of the whole family for him to serve for many hours each week, while he maintained his career working for the Flagler County Property Appraiser’s Office to support his family.
Without anyone telling her, she knew that Faron was about to be called as a bishop.
“It was like the joy of a mother when a mother sees a newborn child, and you know the child is going to progress,” Nanette recalled. “It was that kind of joy.”
She had seen him as a troubled teenager and watched him struggle. It had been hard work. But he had gone on a two-year mission and made a lifelong commitment to give his life to God, and she was proud of him.
Nanette was right: That day, Faron was called to be the first bishop of the newly created Palm Coast Ward. It was announced that the boundaries throughout the region were being redrawn: Half of Flagler County would continue to attend the Bunnell Ward. The Palm Coast Ward would consist of the other half of Flagler County — in addition to many of the members who lived in Ormond Beach.
And that included Nanette Singler.
So, 20 years after Rick Singler had helped mentor Faron as bishop, Faron was now Nanette’s bishop.
She thought back to experiences that Rick had had with Faron, teaching him about what a bishop does, visiting with members who were mourning, modeling the kind of dedication needed to serve.
“Those are some of the experiences that helped Faron become the man he is,” she said. One of those experiences was comforting her after Rick’s death.
“That was a preparation to be a bishop,” she recalled. “There will be plenty of times where he’s going to have to comfort someone in need."
At peace: prepared
Faron Sanders has been in his new role as bishop of the Palm Coast Ward for about three months now. The church has training meetings for bishops often, and there are handbooks of instruction to help them with the many decisions that need to be made.
“Everything that’s gone on in my life, whether good or bad, has prepared me for being in the service of our Lord.”
Faron Sanders, bishop of the new Palm Coast Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
But there is a feeling that doesn’t go away completely, and it’s not unlike the feeling of driving around a race track under the lights: the feeling of being almost out of control.
“Sometimes, you can’t see a thing,” he recalled about driving in a muddy race. “You just have to go on a feeling.”
As he was waiting for the announcement that would let everyone else know what he had been told already, that he was going to be called as a bishop, he thought about the staging area of the racetrack for his first race when he was not in the crew but behind the wheel.
“Nerves hit me,” he recalled about the moment just before he was called as bishop. “I thought, ‘Am I really about to do this?’”
Once the starting flag waved, it was really happening. No more practice rounds.
But as he also reflected on the work he had done with Rick Singler in the church, as well as the work with his own father and mother in Kentucky and with other people of faith, he felt at peace.
He was prepared.