“Dragster Pastor” Races for God’s Glory
Story by Carmel Flippen
Photos Courtesy of Hope Over Heroin
Muscles taut, heart pounding, Mike Bucher sat strapped in his dragster, watching for the flash of yellow lights signaling him to hit the throttle and release the brake handle. His reaction time needed to be better than .070 seconds before the green light flashed and his car accelerated 100 mph in the first second, ultimately reaching 270 mph. After 20 minutes of waiting in the hot sun, strapped in so tightly he could barely breathe, and sweating in a head-to-toe fire suit thicker than a winter coat, all his months of preparation would come down to a race of a few seconds.
“I have dealt with extreme stress in life,” Mike proclaimed. “I have experienced the stress of my father’s death as a teen, of basic military training, of four Ironman Triathlons, of being a father to 14 children, of planting a church (Calvary Chapel Cleveland, OH) from nothing and being a pastor for 28 years. Nothing has come close to this last race. The hours before the final round, I was sick to my stomach. The stress felt like electricity. I have never been so desperate or felt so weak in my life. This led me to pray more than I ever have.
Crew Chief Tony Samsel pushes Pastor Mike Bucher’s dragster to his position before a race. Mike is pastor of Calvary Chapel Cleveland, OH. Pastor Mike is grateful for the Samsel racing team (Robin Samsel, owner), (Tony Samsel, crew chief), (Kole Samsel, crew) and (Grayson Biehn, crew) for making racing for the Glory of God a real-life possibility.
“The key to driving is to be calm. There is no room for error. The way I find calm is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I do this by filling my mind with worship music. Ephesians 5 says to be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:18b-19).
Pastor Mike’s team in front of the Hope Over Heroin ministry stage. All the men pictured are drug-free through the ministry. Pastor Mike got involved with the ministry after seeing opiate deaths skyrocket during his time working in prison ministry. The members of Hope Over Heroin regularly help Pastor Mike’s team and the ministry logo appears on the dragster.
“It is not passive to be filled [with the Holy Spirit]. We ask God to fill us, but then we take the first step by worshiping.” Over the past two days, Mike had listened to Aaron Shust’s “My Hope Is In You” more than 50 times. Now, as he sat in his dragster, it poured through his mind. “As it did, God truly filled me with His Spirit,” Mike said. “His presence was so real I felt like I could feel His heartbeat. When that engine started, the Holy Spirit took over.”
At the finish line, Mike climbed out of his car and fell to his knees, leaning his helmet against the car. He had not only won this race, but the entire points championship for his region and class. “If you asked, ‘Who is the last guy that should win this?’, that would be me,” he insisted. ”We were up against guys with far more experience and money. One guy told me that in 20 years of racing, he’s never won a points championship. I was bawling my eyes out, but it wasn’t about the racing—it was the goodness of God that overwhelmed me.”
A Dream Deferred
Mike’s main vocation is pastoring Calvary Chapel Cleveland; he has only been racing for four years. Although his involvement in drag racing as a pastime is fairly recent, his passion for the sport is literally lifelong: He attended his first drag race at only three days old. His father, Jim Bucher, is in the Drag Racing Hall of Fame. Mike was only 15 when his father died; the loss devastated him. Determined to follow in his father’s footsteps, he moved in with a racing family in California, just two miles from Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa.
Cars typically hit 0-100 MPH in one-second during “the launch.”
Mike continued, “At this point, someone told me about receiving Jesus. I did, and a joy and peace filled my heart that changed me forever. I wanted to tell the entire drag-racing world about Jesus.” The day Mike received Jesus, he went to a race wearing a drag-racing T-shirt over which he had printed “Jesus is Lord” in huge blue letters. He walked around the track sharing Christ with anyone who would listen.
However, for many years, God put his drag-racing dreams on hold. While working as a courier, “I listened to five Chuck Smith Bible-teaching tapes, five days a week, for five years,” he explained. “Through those, I felt God say, No, you are going to be a pastor. God also gave me visions that He would someday allow me to be a witness in drag racing, but for 40 years He asked me to offer it like Abraham offered Isaac.” (Genesis 22:1-19)
Pastor Mike at the winner circle at World-Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis, MO. This was Pastor Mike’s first win, and he also locked up the regional points championship.
Over the years, Mike befriended many drag racers who had begun listening to his Bible studies. Two of them, top competitors Antron Brown and Brian Corradi, helped him get his license in 2016. Suddenly, after years of waiting, he had sponsors, a great car, and surprisingly good times in his races. “God has given me a supernatural ability to drive this car,” Mike testified. “There is no way I should do this well. I’m 58 years old, but He’s letting me have reaction times better than 28-year-old guys. I know God is giving me a platform to point others to Jesus.”
Pastor Mike shares the Gospel at every race he competes in & his car serves as a constant reminder of his mission.
During competitions, Mike takes every opportunity to share Christ with competitors, fans, and even announcers. He has given out more than 40,000 testimony tracts. Recently, the owner of a Columbus, OH, track invited the parachurch organization Hope over Heroin, which Pastor Mike promotes, to share at a competition. Their stage was so large that it took 25 men two full days to set it up. They shared testimonies and blasted worship music throughout the event—a huge witness in a community where most are in the stands rather than seated in church on a Sunday morning.
Pastor Mike and his wife, Sheila, have 14 children and 14 grandchildren together.
On the side of Mike’s car, where the driver’s name traditionally goes, he has emblazoned the words, For God’s Glory. “Part of why God had me wait 40 years was so He could replace my desire to race with a desire for Him,” stated Mike. “I’m never going to put racing before Him, my family, or the church. If I did, it would be empty. God says, ’For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to [show] himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him’ (2 Chronicles 16:9, KJV). The context of ‘heart perfect’ is those who rely upon Him. He told Paul, ’My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:9b).
Pastor Mike strapped in his firesuit, comparable to wearing three winter coats, on a 90-degree day.
“The more we see our need for God, the more we cry out to Him, the more His power is in our lives,” Mike declared. “In 1981, God used a scene from the movie Chariots of Fire to speak to me about racing. Eric Liddell was given a note that said, ’He who honors Me I will honor’ (referring to 1 Samuel 2:30). God called me to honor Him, and if I did, He would give me a platform in drag racing to point people to Jesus. He did. Eric Liddell said that when he ran, he felt God’s pleasure. I can say the same—when I race, I feel His pleasure.”
Pastor Mike waiting for a run in the staging lane. Sometimes competitors wait for up to an hour before a race begins.
Racers are strapped in so tightly, it’s impossible to move their chest even one millimeter.
Mike poses next to his car while sporting the Hope Over Heroin shirt.
Pastor Mike gives glory to God in all of his racing endeavors.
The winning trophy for Pastor Mike’s first official victory at the World Wide Technology Raceway in 2020.
All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.
© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.