MONROE, Wash. -– The two events are separated by only a matter of hours, yet a full-throttle Saturday night seems so different from a spirit-filled Sunday morning.
A holy hymn versus an engine’s hum.
But it makes sense when you meet Jeff Knight, the race car-driving pastor who has successfully merged the two worlds.
Knight leads his flock at The Rock Church in Monroe every Sunday morning, often just hours after racing his final lap at Evergreen Speedway.
“I hope we win this race and I hope we win some souls,” Knight said with a smile before starting his final night of racing this season.
This is not where he expected to end up. Even though his parents, Joe and Linda Knight, started The Rock Church nearly 30 years ago, Jeff went to school for construction management. Then his dad guided him toward the church.
“It became my life’s calling,” Knight said. “I didn’t plan it that way, but the Lord had other plans.”
But no one thought those plans would lead to waters just off the coast of California, where Alaskan Airlines flight 261 crashed into the ocean in early 2000.
“I remember turning to one of my friends -– her name was Rachel and she was my dad’s assistant -– and I said, ‘Is that their flight number?’” Jeff recalled. “And she just grew pale and said, ‘It is, Jeff.’ And that changed my life forever.”
Within a week Jeff and his wife were installed as lead pastors. Ever since, he has filled his father’s shoes at church. But it was not until five years ago that he began to live his father’s dream on the speedway.
“I sat in those stands with my father my whole life, and my dad always said, ‘I’d love to be able to get on the other side of that fence,’” Knight said.
On the last night of the season, not only was Knight on the other side of the fence, he started the first 50-lap race of the night in the pole position.
Knight led for 41 laps until another car caught fire, briefly pausing the race. After the restart, Knight’s car slipped on water that was used to fight the fire. He thought he was about to pull out of it, “and the guy behind me just drove into me,” Knight said, causing his car to spin out. Dreams of a first-place finish went up in smoke.
“Yeah, it’s a little frustrating,” Knight said after the race.
But he bounced back and ended up winning the second race of the night -– his first win of the season.
Knight made sure to inject Saturday night’s drama into Sunday morning’s message.
“This year has been very challenging for our race team,” he preached. “What was supposed to be a championship run turned into 11 crashes.”
Yet Pastor Jeff pushed through the disappointment and found victory. It is that same faith that guided him through the death of his parents, whom he likes to think are watching from the banister of Heaven.
“I often picture my mom and dad as really excited, really proud and my biggest fans in the cheering section,” Knight said.
Maybe Saturday night and Sunday morning aren’t so different after all.