Deese passionate about ministry, racing

Jeff Birchfield • Mar 18, 2018 at 4:50 PM

Dennis Deese wheels a race car nearly as easily as he spreads the gospel.

After serving as pastor for two different churches in the Stoney Creek community, he has served as a traveling evangelist for the last decade. However, the longtime minister has a different way of getting his point across than most. He competes as a race car driver at local tracks and often uses the situations he faces on the track as part of his message.

On a typical Friday night at Kingsport Speedway, the lessons may come from a variety of places. The seemingly endless amount of material may include the joy of winning, the disappointment of losing, the satisfaction of doing the best one could, the anger of wrecking or the thankfulness of the Lord's protection.

"I try to help people realize you can be saved and still enjoy the things you like to do," he said. "I enjoy racing more now than when I wasn't saved."

Deese, who drives a white No. 24 Chevrolet in the Modified Street division, has big plans for both his racing and his ministry this season. He's starting a new church in Elizabethton in April, and his racing efforts will focus more on Kingsport with a recent decision by Lonesome Pine (Va.) Raceway track officials to not run a weekly program.

With the rough-and-tumble action for which Kingsport Speedway is known, Deese may have to remind himself of his day job. Like those times when someone hits the back of his car or sideswipes him.

Sure, the longtime preacher believes in turning the other cheek — but when someone intentionally bumps his race car, it's not the kind of fiery message they would want to hear. The preacher doesn’t use bad language, but he's sure not happy in those moments.

"When you work on your race car like I do, sometimes day and night to keep it right, you don't want someone tearing it up," he said. "I try to respect other people's property and the hard work and money they invest. I don't care about people roughing us up too much. I know the saying rubbing is racing, but sometimes people don't use any sense."

Deese is well respected by his peers and the racing is not a gimmick to promote his ministry. He is serious about the competition and has won races each of the last two seasons. In addition, he finished fifth in the Modified Street point standings at Lonesome Pine last season — when he was voted by his fellow racers as the track's Sportsman of the Year.

He was hard at work over the winter months to get the car better for the March 24 season opening race. The car is equipped with a powerful 350-cubic-inch motor, but Deese faces a challenge with new rules allowing some of the older Late Model cars to now race in the Modified Street class.

But his racing is about much more than just the competition. There are obvious pressures with his job ministering to others, and his own family has recently gone through a rough ordeal with his wife’s battle with cancer.

"Racing is very therapeutic to me," Deese said. "You get out there, you're focused and your mind is not distracted. I like that, getting away from everything. We've been dealing with a lot of things with our family and our life. With the ministry part, I get to talk to a lot of drivers and crew members and help them. I love that part of it."

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