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Twin callings

Life as a minister can be pretty tidy, says Jeff Knight, so once a week The Rock Church pastor trades his place behind the pulpit for a spot behind the wheel of a race car at Evergreen Speedway.

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By Scott Whitmore,
Herald Writer
  • Jeff Knight, pastor of The Rock Church in Monroe, takes a moment to reflect after climbing behind the wheel of the car he races at Evergreen Speedway.

    Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald

    Jeff Knight, pastor of The Rock Church in Monroe, takes a moment to reflect after climbing behind the wheel of the car he races at Evergreen Speedway.

MONROE - Jeff Knight practices what he preaches: Find a passion, live a full life, take your faith along with you.
For most of the week, Knight fulfills a calling to help others as the senior pastor at The Rock Church in Monroe.
On most summer Saturday nights, though, he becomes a race car driver at Evergreen Speedway - another passion in his life.
"I'm doing what I tell my church to do," Knight said in a recent interview in his church office. "I tell them to go out, do something, make a life of it and take your faith with you. (Racing) is a small arena where I get to do that."
Knight, 36, is a rookie driver in the super stock division, the top tier of the NASCAR Whelen All American Series at Evergreen. Although he is in his first full season, Knight already has four top-10 finishes, coming in seventh in his first race April 28 and placing 10th in three subsequent races.
"He picked up (driving super stocks) pretty quick, I was surprised at how fast" Naima Lang, a second-year super stock driver at Evergreen, said of Knight. "It's nice to race with someone who knows how to hold the line and drive a clean race."
Driving a race car is more than an enjoyable hobby to Knight. It also serves to compliment and enhance his ministry.
"Racing is my place to go to interact with reality," Knight said. "The risk of being a pastor is sometimes you're sheltered from what it's really like to live out there ... You're kind of in a box. Racing is where I go to get filled up ... I'll never not be a pastor, but I'm a racer, too."
Knight is no stranger to competitive motor sports. His father, Joseph Knight, was a motocross racer and Jeff Knight raced motorcycles on and off from childhood into his late 20s.
"I can remember learning to count to 100 and my A-B-Cs in a motorhome at a motocross track," Knight said. "(My father) always had a passion for any kind of racing. Growing up in Monroe we had always talked about getting involved out at the speedway."
Knight achieved that ambition in 2001 by becoming the co-owner of a race car - but he did it without his father.
Knight's parents, Joseph and Linda Knight, who began The Rock Church in 1984 as a bible study group in their home, died in the crash of Alaska Air flight 261, which was en route to Seattle from Mexico in 2000.
The Rock Church board asked Jeff Knight, who was a youth pastor at the time, to take his father's place as lead pastor.
Leading a church was the farthest thing from his mind growing up, but Knight had had a change of heart while studying construction management at Central Washington University.
"Call it a stirring, or a calling, I began to examine what I was studying for, what I was living for," Knight said. "I just had this sense that my life was to help other people."
The year after Knight became the lead pastor at the non-denominational church, he was contacted by Roger Habich, a childhood friend and Evergreen Speedway driver. Habich wanted to know if The Rock Church would be interested in sponsoring his super stock car.
"I wondered if there was a conflict of interest (in that)," Knight said of the church serving as sponsor of a race car. "So I said instead (that he and his wife, Melinda) would like to buy into the team. ... It was something my dad and I had talked about doing."
In 2002, Knight and Habich formalized their business partnership by founding Total Velocity Motorsports to coordinate racing operations for the car Habich drove. Total Velocity expanded to a two-car shop in 2006, purchasing the car Knight now drives.
Knight started one super stock race in 2006 - on Labor Day weekend - but made plans to race full time this season, including attending a racing school in Atlanta.
"There's a lot more involved as a driver," Knight said. "It's very different looking at racing through the eyes of a team manager or owner ... versus actually being in the car. I'm enjoying it, the racing thing is great."
Although winning is his long-term goal, for now Knight wants to improve as a driver each week, to become more consistent and to be a gentleman on the track.
"He's doing exceptionally well (as a rookie driver). Jeff is one of the most genuine human beings I've ever met in my life.," said John Zaretzke, Evergreen's super stock point leader. "He's got a great organization in The Rock Church, and he contributes a lot to the community."
Find a passion, live a full life, take your faith along. Knight is doing it, as a pastor and a racer.
"I'm still a man of God (at the track)," Knight said. "There's not a year that goes by that I don't have somebody - crew members, officials, drivers - walk into our pit and say 'You know Jeff, I'm going through a hard time right now and I could really use your help.' That's why I'm there, I love doing that.
"I love the racing, too. I love both."
Story tags » Auto Racing

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