On Sunday mornings, Inman pastor Dwight Carter buttons up his dress shirt and speaks before his congregation.
Saturday nights, he steps into a fire resistant suit and steers a roaring racecar.
Both are deeply rooted life passions, and both allow him to reach out and help those around him.
His love of racing comes from his father, who participated in races since the late 1960s. It was a family affair. In fact, Carter’s father had a race the day he was born, and the family went to the track before they made their way home.
“That was my life growing up,” he said. “If there was a race at the track, we were there.”
At the age of 9 or 10, he recalls sitting in the stands when a strong feeling came over him.
“This is what I want to do with my life,” he remembers thinking that day. “I want to be a dirt track race car driver.”
He spent the next 10 to 12 years doing everything he could to work toward that goal, and began racing on his own at age 16. Races consumed almost every weekend.
When he was about 22, his father was diagnosed with cancer and died one year later. His drive for racing took a significant detour.
It was about this same time that Carter, now married to wife, Jennifer, was feeling a pull into full-time ministry. After many hours of discussion, thinking and prayer, he sold his car and all of his equipment to pay for seminary.
“It was probably the darkest day of my life. That was a struggle,” he said. “But there was also excitement because I felt God had given me that and built that up so I could have it as a resource to pay for schooling. In a sense, it was trading one dream for another.”
He dove into ministry and was passionate about his work within churches. But for the next 10 years, he struggled to find the same adrenaline he found in racing within other hobbies.
In the fall of 2010, he realized even though he thought he had given up the hobby long ago, he was still holding onto pieces of it and putting this before God. He finally surrendered his racing dreams and accepted he would never drive on the track again.
Only one month later, he received a phone call. An acquaintance had a Street Stock car and was wanting to get rid of it.
“I had gone from, ‘Lord, I’m content,’ then he blessed me with a phone call out of the blue saying, ‘Here’s a car,’” Carter said. “It was humbling, but also it was scary.”
Page 2 of 3 - Carter wondered if he should take it, especially not long after giving up the dreams of being on the track. After more prayers, he concluded it was a blessing. He had a car again, and at no cost to him.
The car needed a lot of work, and he spent the next few years fixing it up.
“It’s been neat to see how the Lord has provided all the components I needed at various times,” he said. “Not all at once. But a little bit here and there, just what I needed at just the right time or price or trade.”
During this time, he received help from his neighbor, Lloyd. Lloyd was a former driver himself and was eager to talk racing, but made it clear he did not want anything to do with church. Over time, however, the two became good friends, and today Lloyd is a member of Carter’s church, Zoar Mennonite Brethren Church. Carter said his neighbor has come to peace with God.
This is what Carter hopes to bring to others as he meets them on the track.
“It’s been neat to see how God’s used that race car as transforming ministry in (Lloyd’s) life,” Carter said. “Lots of men are involved in racing who need a healthy relationship with God. They need an understanding of his grace and his love for them and what they can find in a relationship with Christ. That’s one of my goals, to be that bridge to a group of hurting people.”
The pastor had his reunion with the race track at 81 Speedway in Wichita this summer.
“To know that, boy, all of this is finally coming to the place where this is reality is really pretty neat, and in some ways overwhelming when you step back and look at the big picture over the last 18 years since I drove a car,” he said.
As a sport, racing has changed since he drove his last car. In fact, Carter said the only thing that remained the same is both have four wheels.
But the adrenaline behind the wheel has remained the same.
“I always heard it was like riding a bicycle, but I didn't believe it,” he said. “When I actually got in the car, I realized that in some ways that was true.
“The feelings that I’ve had in the past driving the race car, I’ve never experienced anything like it. There’s not an amusement park ride, there’s not a vehicle in the street, there’s not anything I’ve ever experienced that gave me that adrenaline rush and that feeling of the control of the car and this situation. After not doing that for 18 years, coming back and experiencing that again, I was like, ‘Yeah, there’s that feeling.’ It's an indescribable feeling to be out there.”
Page 3 of 3 - Dirt track races happen every weekend, and Carter plans to participate as much as he is able. And although some may scratch their heads at the thought of a pastor behind the wheel of a race car, he knows the uniting of his two passions provides both joy and purpose.
“What I’m passionate about is dirt track racing,” he said. “And I also see that this passion God has given me is a huge mission field. So connecting my own personal ministry with my passion is something I think he has called us all to do. Regardless of what you are passionate about, it should be used for his glory. And that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Contact Jenae Pauls at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel