Dylan Dancer and Riley Luberda may be best friends, classmates and neighbors, but when they climb into their Junior Dragster cars and roll up to the starting line, the gloves come off and the only thing that matters is crossing the finish line first.
The two 14-year-old Foley boys already are seasoned drag racers with a rivalry that goes back five years. Racing in Brainerd International Raceway’s Bracket Drag Racing Series, they regularly find themselves lining up across from each other in the final round, with the winner earning bragging rights…until the next race.
Dancer got the best of Luberda this year, though, finishing on top of the Junior Dragster Advanced class points standings at the end of the season. He’ll be among the 11 series champions honored Feb. 22 at BIR’s Annual Racer Banquet. He’ll take home a series championship jacket and a trophy that will almost be as tall as he is. As for Luberda, it’ll be a long off season.
Dancer will be joined at the Annual Racer Banquet by two other Junior Dragster series champs: Brody Thompson, who won the Junior Dragster Intermediate class (ages 10-12) and Lily Covington, who won the Junior Dragster Novice class (ages 8-9). The Junior Dragster Advanced class is for ages 14-18.
The Junior Dragster program at BIR is steadily growing, with 20 kids chasing series points last year and many more racing on an occasional basis. They cover the entire quarter-mile track in half-scaled dragsters that can top out at about 50 mph (Novices), 70 mph (Intermediate) and 80 mph (Advanced). Many adult drag racers in the Bracket Drag Racing Series got their start in the Junior Dragster program. Once they become teenagers, they can opt to race in a special Junior Street class, where they drive a full-sized street-legal vehicle with a parent in the front seat. The Junior Street cars race on Fridays during Bracket Drag Racing weekends.
For Dancer, this is his third series championship. He also won the Intermediate class in 2017 and the Novice class in 2015. In between his wins, Luberda won the Intermediate class last year and in 2016, and the Novice class in 2014. In addition to championships, Dancer has won seven Wally trophies, including one last September during BIR’s annual “Wally Race,” where drag racers get a chance to win scaled-down Wally trophies like the kind that the stars of the NHRA win.
Nowthen’s Brody Thompson is only 11 years old, but he just finished his fifth year of racing, which included a series championship in 2016 in the Novice class. Last year, he finished in fifth place behind Dancer and Luberda, and Dancer’s younger brother, Daniel. So, when Dylan Dancer and Riley Luberda moved up to the Advanced class, Thompson said he knew he had a “very very good shot at (a championship). I believed in myself.”
Daniel Dancer, who finished in third place, was Thompson’s nemesis last season, he said. “He always killed me on the tree,” he said.
Thompson can’t wait for the new season. He’s been practicing his starting-line reaction time, flushing out some season goals and generally getting his car ready, which will feature a new wrap.
Lily Covington made the most of her first year racing in the series when she knocked off the defending Novice class champ for her first series title. Living only 10 minutes from BIR, the 8-year-old ended the season with four wins and three runner-up finishes, which was enough to vault her to the top of the point standings, with a slim win over Addyson Scheleck, who won the Novice championships last year.
Covington may be new to the points series but 2019 was her third year of racing, and she’s got a pile of trophies that help motivate her to keep winning. In all, she said she has 32 trophies now, including her first Wally trophy that she won in the Wally Race. Those trophies are displayed on a “giant shelf in the garage.”
Covington will try to defend her title next year in the Novice class and is already looking way ahead to when she starts racing in the Junior Street class. She’s already got a car that she’ll be driving after she turns 13. Until then, it’s Junior Dragsters, trophies and winning that will occupy her time at BIR.
The Bracket Drag Racing Series also has racing for kids younger than 8. The Youth class is for ages 6-7. They’re not part of the points program but they can still win trophies. The Trainee program is for ages 5-7. No points or trophies.
Top three finishers:
Junior Dragster Advanced
1) Dylan Dancer, Foley
2) Riley Luberda, Foley
3) Ryan Leonard, Inver Grove Heights
Junior Dragster Intermediate
1) Brody Thompson, Nowthen
2) Carter Luberda, Foley
3) Daniel Dancer, Foley
Junior Dragster Novice
1) Lily Covington, Merrifield
2) Addyson Scheleck, St. Cloud
3) Wesley Krech, Inver Grove Heights