Through the years, many NHRA competitors have come close to victory only to fall just inches short. Some never experience a second opportunity to own NHRA’s famed Wally trophy. That’s why 12-year-old Morgan Keyser’s story is even more impressive.

Keyser, from Marion, Ill., is in Bristol this week for the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League Eastern Conference Finals presented by Viperizer as a two-time and defending class champion. Keep in mind; she’s only been eligible to compete for three seasons.

She has been at the race track, however, her whole life.

“When I was little, as soon as I was born, I went to the race track in Denton, Ill.,” she explained. “My cousin raced Junior Dragsters. My family started racing a long time before that in regular cars. Once I saw Colby (her cousin) race, I knew I wanted to drive.”

One thing is for sure, she knows how to race. In 2007, Keyser earned the 8-9-year-old division in her first time at the Eastern Conference Finals. Last season, she struck again, taking the 11-year-old division in only her third time at the event.

“It is an awesome feeling to win it twice,” she said modestly. “It is outstanding.”

With a winning record like hers, some may feel Keyser has a special gift. According to her, it is simple.

“It is my self-confidence,” she said, “and I believe in myself.”

When it comes to racing, most parents have a strict rule about grades. In Keyser’s case, her parents never have to worry.

“Usually they don’t have to make me keep my grades up,” she said. “I like to keep my grades up because it makes me more confident.”

Keyser’s father, Brad, agrees, but says there are a few other expectations of his daughter if she wants to race on the weekend.

“She has chores at home and she has to keep her room clean,” he said. “She isn’t joking about the grades though. Since she started school she has been a straight-A student. We haven’t had to push her in that direction, but she knows she has to keep her grades up to race. She is a self-motivator, if she gets in a situation where she is close to having a B, she just turns it on.”

Like most champions, Keyser has her own routine to prepare for each round. The routine rarely changes, even if it is the final round of the Eastern Conference Finals.

“Once I get in the car,” she explained, “I don’t like people coming and bugging me. I like to stay in the zone. I take deep breaths and relax and get ready to race.”

“In the finals, I just close my eyes and think about what it would be like if I did win. Then, I take deep breaths and relax. My family’s saying is “it is just one round at a time.”

With the success she has had in Bristol, Keyser loves coming to Thunder Valley and claims Bristol Dragway as her favorite track. But it might not be for the same reason many people might think, although most agree with her reasoning.

“You might think I’m weird,” she said laughing, “but because the motor is really loud, since you’re in a valley, it echoes, and I really like that.”

“I also look forward to hanging out with my friends and competing against some of the best racers in the country.”

Do Ashley Force Hood and Melanie Troxel need to worry about Keyser showing up in the lane beside them one day? Not yet, she has other plans.

“I want to be a pediatrician,” she said, “but I do want to race on the weekend. I want to be in the Jeg’s Super Quick Series, Super Comp and Comp, and then have a Top Alcohol Dragster.”

With her current pace, she may very well find herself in the cockpit of a Top Alcohol Dragster one day.

“She definitely has the right mindset,” her father said. “You have to have it in your head that you can do it, and she does.”

Fans can visit the July 26-31 NHRA Junior Drag Racing League Eastern Conference Finals to see Keyser and several hundred of NHRA’s future stars take to the track.

Competitors drive half-scale dragsters powered by five-horsepower engines capable of reaching speeds up to 85 mph. Drivers will be racing for team and individual honors, as well as a share of U.S. Savings Bonds valued at nearly $100,000.

Bristol Dragway officials have planned several events throughout the week for the racers including a cookout sponsored by Safety Solutions Racing, free tours of Bristol Motor Speedway and various games and activities designed to help competitors have fun when not racing.

In addition, the Thompson Metal Monster Truck Madness is scheduled to take place inside BMS on Thursday night, July 29.

The event is expected to attract racers from across the East Coast and abroad. Race champions in 2009 represented Ohio, Indiana, New Jersey, Florida, Tennessee, Illinois, Ohio and Louisiana.

Each NHRA member track may send up to three teams of 10 racers to participate in the race. Team members earn points for their home track, with the top scoring team winning the conference final.

Individual winners in each of the eight age categories—8-9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16-17— receive a $5,000 savings bond and the “Wally” trophy. Each member of the top scoring team will receive a $300 savings bond and a Wally.

Single day spectator passes are available for only $20. Children 12 and under are admitted free.

For more information and a detailed schedule of events for the week, please call (423) 764-DRAG or visit