Erin Lantis is MC’s Demo Derby Queen

Abe Winter
Star Staff Writer

Erin Lantis, 33, isn’t certain how many times she’s won the Demolition Derby, which is held annually on the final day of the Eastern Montana Fair in Miles City.

The Miles City woman recalls winning in 2008, 2011 and 2015. She also finished second in 2012-13 and third twice, but doesn’t recall where or if she placed in 2014.

She also has won several heats and prizes in her 11 years of competing at the Eastern Montana Fairgrounds, plus the top prize in Lewistown last year.

In this year’s Demo Derby on Aug. 26, she won her heat but didn’t come out for the Main event because of a strained neck.

The injury has healed; no surgery required, although she did rest for a few days.

“I’m fine,” she told a reporter not long after the Miles City derby. “If I had a derby to go to this week, I’d be good to go.

“I got hit hard a couple of times. I know I took a hard one on the passenger side, but I try to get myself not thrown around in the car. I try to hold on a little harder.”

Her 2011 victory was notched with the same car she used in 2008. While winning in 2008, she recalled suffering a strained neck that required a trip to the emergency room and wearing a neck brace for a week.

Her list of four trophies includes one for best paint job and another for the Hard Luck award — being the first one knocked out of the competition.

She has a strategy that involves using reverse probably more than her forward gears.

“I pretty much use my rear end as much I can because I prefer to protect my engine,” said Lantis, who drove a black and white 1979 Lincoln Continental Mark V with the number 007 on it.

She truly enjoys the competition after learning all about building cars while growing up in Terry.

“I love being outdoors and building cars. It’s a family tradition for me,” she said. “My Dad was a great derby driver. He was my idol.”

Her husband, Keith Leininger, competed in the Miles City derby driving his wife’s former car — a 1977 Ford LTD. He didn’t have much of a ramming machine left after being in a heat, winning a grudge heat and then coming out for the Main, where he placed fifth and out of the money.

“My car lasted about one hit, 30 seconds in my heat,” he said of his first competition, which was in the same heat as his wife. “Yes, she gave me a little love tap.

“It’s fun and I’ve been around it for five years, helping her build her cars. It was a hobby to begin with. I kind of married into it.”

Their spacious yard includes several automobiles, including a Cadillac, the 007 car and a recently purchased small car they call a “Herbie,” a Mercury Topaz that is about 30 years old. They also are about to add a Ford Torino wagon and an Oldsmobile 88 to the fleet.

“He doesn’t have much of a car left,” Lantis said. “He has to buy a new one.”

The two were working on their cars recently, but there aren’t any upcoming derbies that they’re looking to enter.

“We’re just getting them ready for winter,” Leininger said.

Lantis prefers the bigger cars like her Lincoln and the Cadillac. “They hold up,” she said.

She also said she gets quite nervous before each derby.

“Yes, very much so. When I get into my car for my heat, my foot will shake until I’m able to hit the gas. Then I’m good to go.”

Meanwhile, they don’t confine all their free time to searching for what she called “good cars” and working on them. They both are employed by Transco Railway Products in Miles City and their eight years together involve many hobbies.

“We hunt and fish together, we do everything together,” he said.

“Yep,” she said, then smiled.

(Contact Abe Winter at or 406-234-0450.)

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Please see the the photo gallery Derby for more photos)