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Beating the guys: Rare female mud racer climbs the ranks

Morgan Larson races during the South Dakota Mud Racers Inc. mud races on Saturday, July 28, in Corsica. Matt Gade / Forum News Service1 / 3
Morgan Larson signs autographs for kids after handing her second place trophy away to a young girl after finishing second during the South Dakota Mud Racers Inc. mud races on Saturday, Aug. 4 in Canistota. Larson gives away all of her trophies that aren't first place and tries to give them away to young girls especially to try and draw their interest in the sport. Matt Gade / Forum News Service2 / 3
Morgan and her dad, Don, work on her truck Whiplash in their shop on the family's farm east of Canistota back in July. Matt Gade / Forum News Service3 / 3

CANISTOTA, S.D. — Morgan Larson grew up watching her parents work on trucks to race in the mud.

So, naturally, when she was 14, Larson got behind the wheel of her first truck, called "Unfinished Business," in the summer of 2010 and hasn't looked back.

Organized mud racing really got going in South Dakota in 1999. Larson is in unique company as a successful woman in what's been a male-dominated sport. Last season, she was the points champion in the Sportsman Division, only the second female driver to win a points championship. The first was Abby Wolf, of Parkston.

Larson was one of two women racers competing in the South Dakota Mud Racers Inc. this year, and she's the only from South Dakota. The season concluded in late July.

Getting started in mud racing wasn't easy for Larson.

"I cried a lot," she said. "When I lost I cried. When I just did bad, I cried. My dad used to tell me that I need to quit crying or he won't let me race anymore."

Although Larson said she never felt pressured to mud race due to her family's involvement, "it definitely was something I felt that I need to do," she explained. Her parents, Don and Donna, and brother, Nick, have all raced.

While growing up, Larson could usually be found hanging out with her parents in the shop on the family's farm east of Canistota in southeast South Dakota.

"I feel like I've been hanging around the shop as long as I could. Doesn't mean I was always helpful. But it was just being there," she said. "I know where to put a wrench away. That's always helpful when you're young."

Growing up with a brother four years older, Larson learned a lot watching when he first started, and they also raced against each other for a while.

"It's a good feeling," said their father, Don. "It's almost more fun watching them than racing your own."

Even though she competed against her brother, Larson now goes to him for help when pulling up to the line. She says he's a strong mechanic, and he provides advice about running a race.

The family has seen the evolution of mud racing trucks, too.

"Back when they were first were starting, there were a lot of farm trucks and people would bring stuff that they had," Don Larson said. "But now people don't bring stuff that doesn't have the ability to win. Every truck out there is modified."

While never actually winning a race in 2017, Larson was still able to take home the points championship, securing the title in the final race of the season in Tripp. She said consistency was the key factor in winning.

Don and Nick Larson each have won points championships in mud racing.

Winning her first points title was extra special, as her dad also took the points championship in the Pro Stock division the same year.

While she is one of the few female drivers to compete in mud racing, Larson said it feels like she's competing against family.

"I was born and raised around all of these guys. They feel like my cousins, brothers and uncles. So it's always kind of been like a family. So being the only girl has never really felt weird," Larson said. "It's kind of fun to beat the guys."

To encourage more young racers, Larson followed her dad's lead in giving away the trophies that she didn't get first in. And, when she can, she gives them to the girls.

"I always joke that my first-place trophies are few and far between," she said. "We had a stockpile of trophies when I was little, and I remember when my dad finally started giving his trophies away and signing them for little kids. Even when I was a little kid, I wanted his trophy."

While Larson is gearing up for her first job as a third-grade teacher at Tri-Valley School District in Colton later this month, after graduating from Dakota State University this past May, she doesn't see her family slowing down at all in the mud races.

"There's no reason to stop. Summer's off from school, and we've got lots of time," said Larson, who finished third in points this season. "I think the sport will die before we quit."