ONE YEAR AFTER UNSPEAKABLE TRAGEDY, TF RACER MIKE BUCHER KEEPS ON KEEPING ON
Mike Bucher proudly displays his faith and has pointed out that it guides him in decision-making regularly. But this time, it was a struggle.
On the one hand, he wanted to drive the Leverich Family Top Fuel dragster during the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals. On the other, Wednesday marked the first anniversary of daughter Abigail passing away following a battle with Leukemia.
The second-generation drag racer's passion kept pushing him to travel to Concord, NC, while his heart inspired him to stay home close to family.
"I was originally going to leave Sunday and go down there and meet the team and work on the car a little bit," Bucher admitted. "But I just couldn't be away from my family and wife (Sheila). And so I just had no peace about going."
For good measure, Bucher leaned on faith and prayer for the finality of his decision.
"What I prayed for is, 'Lord, give me your peace and your direction," Bucher explained. "I really had no peace about going. So near Monday, it was like, I don't know. I needed to be here for the family on the 20th. But at the same time, I want to use Abby's life as a testimony. And I just feel like God's given me a platform to share. And so the team and everyone involved was still on board to go."
Sheila supported whatever Bucher decided, whether it meant staying or going.
Bucher is adamant his wife's wishes were most important, but when it came to God's will, that was most important.
"My struggle is I don't want to do anything without being in God's will," Bucher said. "I also will not race and put it ahead of my wife, kids, or the church. And Saturday and Sunday, I had no peace about leaving because I needed to be here for them."
When Bucher let go of the idea and admitted when he put it in God's hands, the picture became clearer.
"After I decided not to be gone all week, I just had this peace, and it just seemed like I needed to be here for the anniversary," said Bucher, who is the pastor of Calvary Chapel Church outside of Cleveland, Ohio.
Bucher used Wednesday evening's service to deliver a message about Abigail and how faith can help through the grieving process.
Abigail, his eighth of 14 children, passed on September 20, 2022. Father's Day 2023 would have been her 26th birthday.
"I want to always use her life as a testimony," Bucher said.
Bucher said he was so grief-stricken following her passing that he initially considered walking away from drag racing completely. "My very first thought... as soon as the moment she was gone, I just looked at life and people so much more important than anything, including racing. I'm like, 'This is dumb. I'm not going to race anymore," Bucher recalled. "My first thought was, 'I quit."
"But then my oldest daughter, she's like, 'Dad, Abby loved the racing, and she would hate it if you quit."
"I'm like, 'Well, then maybe I'll do it in her honor and use it to reach people."
Bucher believes racing by itself is empty and sometimes in vain. But, he believed, it could be used for the greater good and used as a platform for faith; there is incredible value to be redeemed.
"The eternal value is me using that place because I think it is a platform to point people to Him," Bucher said. "But if I don't do that, it's one of the most empty, vain things. The amount of cost and stress involved is not worth it. It's just not worth it. For me, I got to do it. It was awesome. But the joy that I have is talking to people about the Lord and using that."
As much as some would prefer he separate his drag racing from his spiritual platform, Bucher said there is no gray area. Regardless of the cost, he's unwilling to separate the two.
"I won't race unless it's a hundred percent a ministry," Bucher said. "To me, it's no different than if I went to an orphanage in Mexico, if I went to the mission field in India, if I went to Ukraine on the battlefield and witnessed the soldiers, it's all ministry. I will not race unless it's 100 percent a ministry. There are Christian racers, and there are racers. But I'm not a Christian racer. I am a pastor, and this is a ministry. I go there for one purpose and that's to talk to every single person about the Lord. And I don't leave anyone out: every fan, every racer, every sponsor, the announcer, I don't care who it is. I'm going to point them to the Lord."
Bucher doesn't mince words, and even one social media campaign hash-tagged him as the #dragsterpastor.
"A dragster pastor, just kind of unique," Bucher said. 'It's not what most pastors do, but I don't think there's anything secular. When I did triathlons, I witnessed to people... I did chapel services before triathlons. When I ran the San Diego Marathon, I talked to people about the Lord, who I was running next to. I had a triathlon suit. I had Bible verses on it."
Abigail, Bucher confirmed, was a tremendous drag racing fan and said on more than one occasion that it was her father's uncompromising faith in the arena that inspired her the most. Additionally, Bucher's Hope Over Heroin campaign attacked straightforward the bondage of drug addiction.
"I don't compromise the message," Bucher said. "I teach God's word beginning to end. I go verse by verse. In context, I don't leave anything out. The one I don't want to offend is the Lord. And so I'm going to teach the whole counsel of God, which is what Paul said, and some people might not like it.
"But as far as sponsors, I don't go around begging for money. I tell people what I'm doing. I'm not a normal drag racer. I'm using this as a ministry. I'm talking to people about not touching drugs. I turn kids away from drugs. I help people get off of drugs. And so that's what I'm about."
Bucher wants to make an impact. He wants to use Abigail's passing as a message for keeping her memory alive and letting folks know it's okay to be imperfect because spiritual forgiveness is readily available.
"I want to be a light, and that's what I'm out there for," Bucher said. "The racing is secondary. And even when it comes to success on the track, what I'm praying for is, 'Lord, give me a platform."
"They don't interview the guy that doesn't qualify. So I'm not looking for personal glory or success, but Lord, do something that draws attention; in Top Alcohol Dragster, I did 20 races and was in three finals. I was in the final of the 50th. I won a regional race, and I won a regional championship. And all those things just drew attention and allowed me to speak to people.
"I tell a lot of the guys, a lot of my friends, Justin [Ashley], Antron [Brown], Steve Torrance, Josh Hart, I said, 'For you guys, the mountain is winning. For me, the mountain is being there. If I'm there, I'm on the mountain."