WEST POINT -- One West Point family's hobby is so uncommon, the three kids are the only ones at their respective schools who participate in the sport, known as junior dragster racing.
The Casteel children -- Kestra, 16, Tristyn, 13, and Trevyn, 10 -- all compete in the sport that became popular in the early 1990s. It allows boys and girls, beginning at age 8, to race on the 1/8-mile track in a junior dragster vehicle, a scaled down version of a top fuel dragster, with its long, narrow frame, caged-in seating area, and large back tires and small front tires to maximize acceleration and speed.
Speeding down a raceway in a dragster wasn't what Michell Casteel, 38, had imagined her family would ever be doing. But eight years ago, her husband, a former racer himself using three-wheelers, heard about it and suggested they look into it. Kestra, their oldest child, was 8 at the time.
They decided to give it a test drive. Once Michell got over her initial panic, seeing her young daughter speed off in a dragster she was steering all by herself, it became something they enjoyed. The two sons eventually joined the team as they came of age.
Now the three kids race every other weekend during racing season, which runs from April to early November, and they have a wall full of trophies to show for their efforts. The two oldest are competing against each other in the same class for the first time this year.
"There is a lot of competition between us, so when she beats me, I am more determined to beat her the next time," said Tristyn.
Kestra said she enjoys the competition, which drives her to do better at each race.
"I really like it, because it's something unique and I admit, I really am an adrenaline junkie," she said.
For the Casteels, mom Michell said, it's their family time.
They don't take vacations, dad Shane Casteel said, other than to some of the races out of state, and it's all about the fun they have. He said it's bringing the family closer because of the memories they share. It's also reigniting his love for racing.
"I had to give up my racing as we expanded our family, because money was tight, so my hobby fell to the wayside, but as the family got a little bit older, we started our kids out with something I didn't get to finish."
It's easy to get caught up in the competitive side of the sport though, both parents said. At first, it was really intense because they wanted their kids to do well, but that's when the fun of the sport began to fade.
"We decided we didn't want to lose ourselves in racing, so we made a promise to have fun," Michell said. "We win as a family or we lose as a family, but at the end of the night, we are still a family, and we did this together no matter what happened at the track."
They even work together as a family, prepping for a race. That means changing oil in the cars, cleaning the cars, checking all of the safety equipment in the dragsters, changing out tires, and getting all of their gear ready, including their fire-retardant uniform, neck brace, and helmet.
"You have to work to have fun," Shane said. "It's not fun all the time."
The junior dragsters are allowed to go up to 85 mph on the race track, a feeling that's almost like flying, Tristyn said.
"It feels like you are going so fast that the car will just lift up in the air."
Safety is of utmost importance in the sport, because crashes and rollovers are known to occur, especially when kids start competing in faster races as they get older. The safety factor is what worried Michell the most when her kids first started racing, but her fears were alleviated she saw other kids come out unscathed from rollovers or crashes because many precautions are taken to protect the kids. So far, none of her kids have been in an accident with the cars, and they hope that trend continues.