Mike Hyland, left, who drove the Kingsland-decorated bus to a win at Deer Creek Speedway, waves to the crowd as he prepares to accept the trophy. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Mike Hyland, left, who drove the Kingsland-decorated bus to a win at Deer Creek Speedway, waves to the crowd as he prepares to accept the trophy. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Kingsland students may be excited about having the fastest bus among area school districts, but the real prize comes during the school year when the funds raised in the annual school bus races at Deer Creek Speedway support student activities.

A race on Saturday, May 19, after the regular car races featured six buses from area school districts: Chatfield, Grand Meadow, Osage, Blooming Prairie and Goodhue in addition to Kingsland.

Mike Hyland drove the bus to the win as the Kingsland bus took the lead in the first turn and never lost it again, battling off Osage in the final two laps. The victory was popular with the fans, since the track is located in the hometown school district.

"It's a lot of fun," said Hyland, who was driving for the second year. Troy Lange first drove the bus three years ago when Kingsland started competing in the bus races.

The fun does have a purpose, though, as the money raised from ticket sales is used for school functions. Kingsland School Parents is the group that helps with the project, using the funds to support preschool to sixth grade activities, including transportation for field trips, accelerated reading and other projects.

Still, the attraction is the bus, which is a retired school bus that once transported students, but is no longer up to Minnesota Department of Transportation standards.

"A small group has made it all happen the last few years," said Hyland, who provides the space to paint and work on the bus at Hyland Motor Co.

Ron Merkel owns the bus, but he allows the group to paint it and race it each year. Lange and Jake Merkel have provided mechanical support while Todd Jones at True Value has provided paint and painting supplies. This year, Troy Leutink, Paul Anderson, Gavin Merkel, Cody Merkel, Peggy Merkel and Chris Howard helped prep and paint the bus.

Hyland has raced cars before, but he said racing a bus is much different, as they don't have the acceleration because they are so heavy and maneuverability is somewhat limited because they are so long.

"There's not much sliding, or spinning, and you can't really throw it in the corner to have it come around more quickly," he said. "Mostly we just drive it around the track. It's a lot different style of driving."

Hyland is a fan of racing, so he enjoys the challenge. He knows the drivers from Grand Meadow and Blooming Prairie, so there is some good-natured competitiveness. They all "have a lot of fun and put on a good show for the crowd and schools," he said.

Although the bus isn't up to MnDOT standards or even race car standards, it does meet safety standards with a five-point harness, mesh instead of glass for a windshield and other items.

The buses also get beat up pretty good during the race as they were racing neck and neck for long stretches at speeds up to about 50 miles per hour in this year's race. Some had flat tires and one sprung a leak in the radiator. Most had damage to the bumpers or fenders from bumping into each other.

"Our bus held together real well and we drove it off the track," said Hyland. "We're pretty much ready for next year."

There will be another school related theme at Deer Creek this summer, though. Mascot Night is Saturday, June 28. Like the bus race night, schools receive money for every ticket they sell.

There isn't any school vs. school race competition, but the Kingsland bus win in May is likely to come up as memories of that are still fresh in the minds of local students, who, as Hyland pointed out, have "bragging rights" for the fastest bus in the southern part of the state.

"The fans were terrific and the kids had a great time at Deer Creek for the bus race," said Peggy Merkel. "We are excited for next year's race."