A decade ago, drag racing was much different for the Lake Preston and De Smet communities. The track looked the same, but the number of cars that showed up was drastically different, as the number of racers has declined over the past ten years. Currently there is only one bracket for High School, where 10 years ago there were five different brackets. At that time, how fast racers went on the ¼ mile determined which bracket they raced.
Stephannie (Bentley) Ladwig was a former racer in high school. During her two years, she raced a 1981 Monte Carlo in Bracket V. She was pretty successful on the track her junior year, earning second place in points for the season in Bracket V. She followed that by winning Bracket V her senior year and receiving a championship jacket. One of her fondest memories was the one yellow mustang she could never beat; she finally did beat her the second to last race of her senior year. Ladwig hopes to return to the track someday and race her Monte Carlo again.
“Never decide that you need to stick to one lane in life or racing,” said Ladwig. “Travel both lanes, and you’ll learn to overcome your fear of the opponent.”
Matthew Bentley was another member from Lake Preston High School who also raced in Teen Championship for two years. During this time, he won three first place trophies and one second place trophy. He raced a ‘96 S10 pick-up. When he joined the High School bracket, he raced a ‘91 Camaro. He got one first and two second place trophies in Bracket III. He also got one first and two second place trophies in Bracket II, alongside a second-place High School shoot out and a second in Bracket II overall for the 2010 season. He never did end up getting a trophy in Bracket I, but he did race in it for over two years. He remembers fondly all the kids just having fun enjoying cars.
“It’s not about taking a trophy home; it’s about having fun with what your activities are,” said Bentley.
Anthony Strande began racing in the 8th grade in the Teen Championship in a white 1981 Monte Carlo with a stock 350.
“It was nothing special, it just got me down the track,” said Strande. Except for the exhaust, he never really upgraded the car during his time racing the Monte Carlo. When asked what class he raced in the High School bracket, Strande jokingly said, “I liked to refer to it as Pro Slow. I was in the slowest class, but regardless I always had a blast.”
He also won a few times throughout the years and placed 2nd overall his junior year.
“Lake Preston has had a very great history of success when it comes to drag racing, and some of my more found memories were my junior and senior year of racing when Lake Preston, as a team, took home first place both of those years,” said Strande. “This sport will always be a huge part of my family; I love that I get to share it with my two younger brothers and to watch the excitement that it brings to them as they hit more goals they set for themselves, like how good of a reaction time Austin can get or can Allen get over 100 miles per hour over the quarter.”
His advice for people interested is to not worry about what kind of car you may drive.
“A lot of people think that drag racing is for fast, expensive cars. It’s not. This sport is as expensive as you make it. The fun and excitement are worth every bit, though,” he said.
Ethan Jones drove a 1964 Chevy Impala four door named “Agnus” when in high school. He raced from his sophomore to senior year. He recalls his best memories of going head to head against other Lake Preston drag racers like Layne Jensen and Matthew Bentley.
Michelle (Springer) Barker was a racer from De Smet who was a part of the Lake Preston team due to being the only racer from De Smet. She started racing in 2007 at age 14, driving a 1996 Grand Prix. In Teen Championship, which required her to have an adult copilot, her dad always rode along down the 1/8-mile track. Once she turned 16, she began racing in the High School category, which is when she started to race her dad’s 1981 Camaro. She raced that car until the summer after her senior year in 2011.
“My favorite memory was when our team and Howard’s team were tied for 2nd place,” said Barker. “My team picked me to race a guy from Howard to break the tie for second, and I won.”
She said that the team was all really excited, until they announced the race was set for a 1/8- mile. They had to redo the race since it was supposed to be ¼ mile. She ended up winning again, and the team took home 2nd place for the season.
“Drag racing was the highlight of my summers growing up, and it’s sad to see not as many kids doing it anymore,” said Barker. “My dad always told me when he was in high school, drag races went on for 2-3 days because they had so many racers! When I was racing, it only lasted one day.”
It was fun hearing from all the past racers about how different it was just 10 years ago. In 2009, Lake Preston took second place overall. In 2010, 2011 and 2012, the Lake Preston team got first place with racers Jordan Williams, Zack Longville, Anthony Strande, Dylan Deknikker, Ethan Jones, Isaac Wilde, Layne Jensen, Michelle Springer, Matthew Bentley, Kelsey Weber and Stephannie Bentley. Although, the number of racers has gone down, the track is still loud and alive with the Lake Preston team bringing home trophies.