I have shared many stories with you all about growing up in the racing world, but my dad and I thought it would be cool to hear it from somebody else's perspective. So here is where it all began according to my father, Charlie
Often at the race track, especially being Katie's dad, I often get asked the same question, ‘How did you get to this point? Where did you get started?’ The bottom line to the question is what in the world gave you the crazy idea to put your daughter on a 190-mph Pro Stock Motorcycle. It got me asking the question; how did it all begin?
I’m Charlie Sullivan, better known by my alias “Katie's dad,” I’m originally from Glendive, Mt., which is one of the few towns with a drag strip in the great cold north. Glendive has two seasons; winter and June so we only had about three or four races per year.
The Hustler Dragway track was run by the Hustler Car Club. It was an all-volunteer club and the volunteers worked without pay for years in order to keep the track running. Glendive, Mt prospered during these times, because the surrounding oil fields were thriving. So, between the factors of a thriving economy and very few races, those races were like national events. The racers would fill up the town from Montana and surrounding states, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and parts of Canada. The spectators would number over 2,000 to watch Super Stock and Stock, Modified Production, and Comp with an occasional booked-in match race. At this point, E.T. bracket racing was just getting started.
My first race was in 1971 when I was just 10-years old. I was hooked. I hung out with the car club, helped set up the timing equipment, wrote time slips, ran the staging lanes, recorded dial-ins, and anything else I could find to do until I was 16. One time, I even remember sliding into the starter’s position when I was 14. I knew they didn't want me too, but nobody had the heart to tell me to move on.
There were a couple of local racers that could run competitively outside of our area. Clint Sallee, who still runs in Comp today, was a young guy with an attitude. Kubesh & Kutzler who raced Super Stock and Modified Production, and even qualified No. 1 in Denver and Pomona. They have long since retired from racing, but they would take me out of town with them from time to time. It was great. Those guys won most of the races they attended. Living in the isolated north, our exposure to big time drag racing was a little TV and Hot Rod magazine.
Unfortunately, when I was about 15, teenage trouble started to find me. I was tossed from the Hustler Car Club because of too many traffic tickets. At 16 I also bought my first drag bike, a lay down bike with a 350cc motor. I was getting in trouble, and never got to put the bike down the track. Then, while a junior in high school, I was in a car accident and I finally left school for good. There was an oil boom going on in the area. Drilling rigs paid good money and the dream of drag racing and the opportunity of work came together. Drilling rigs were an attraction because of the stories of danger and excitement, and of course, the money to drag race.
At 18 I went to work for Batman, a driller from Salt Lake City. I had bought a 900 Kawasaki and would race at Bonneville Dragway. We actually bracket raced bikes at AHRA national event featuring “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, and Bob Glidden.
Around 1989, a drought in the Midwest allowed us to spend two years drilling in Indianapolis. It also allowed me to bracket race the same bike and be exposed to the Pro Stock Motorcycle class. Now that was something to work for. At the time, the Pro Stock Motorcycle class was starting to grow in popularity and I developed a dream of running in that class. At 22, I married my wife, Terri, and continued to bracket race my 900 Kawasaki. We also started our own drilling company because I knew that being self-employed was my best bet to someday get ahead and live the Pro Stock Motorcycle dream.
In 1984, our son Chance was born. In 1986, our daughter Kristin was born. We thought that was perfect. A son and a daughter we didn't plan any more kids. Then in 1991, Katie was born.
In 1992 a drought in California brought us out west. The weather was good, the work was steady, and so California became our home. I now raced an H-2 Kawasaki. Jr. Dragsters were just being introduced and my son Chance was just old enough to drive. For Christmas we acquired our first Jr. Dragster. Then in 1994, Kristin began racing a Jr. Dragster. When Katie turned 9 in 2000, she began her Jr. Dragster career and continued until 2006. To be honest, after 15 years of Jr. Drag Racing with three kids, I was glad when it was over. I thank God and NHRA because I wouldn't trade the memories with my family for anything in the world. I had pretty much stopped racing myself. Around 1996 and 1998 we also bought a Top Alcohol Funny Car in boxes and we ran the car locally.
In 2003, when Katie was 12, she was the only one of our kids racing Jr. Dragsters. Chance was racing a stock car and I wasn't racing myself at that time. That is when Katie told me she wanted to race drag bikes. It was a cool thought, but it was terrifying in reality. Since she was just 12, I figured I had four years to hope she would change her mind. I laid down a list of all the things she would have to do in order for me to let her race drag bikes, and she did all of them.
Shortly after turning 16, Katie acquired what we thought was an 11-second Kawasaki to get her started. By her third run she went 9.90 and we got kicked out of the track because she was unlicensed. She later got her license and did very well.
Katie's brother and sister were through college and on their own at this point. A year later, Katie talked me into letting her ride my turbo bike. We turned it way down, and she could still go faster than any of us. In 2010 we went to the NHRA Lucas Oil Series race in Las Vegas. Blake Gann was there hanging out between the national events in Las Vegas and Pomona. He watched Katie ride and told me he would put her on his Pro Stock bike. The rest is traceable history. In 2010 my wife Terri also started racing, making a whole family event out of racing.
Now back the Hustler Drag Strip. The forefathers of Glendive did not see any positive use for a dragstrip and developable real estate was in demand. The day the lease was up they took a ripper down the middle of the track. That was in the early 1980's. Today there is still a former drag strip with water and sewer lined going down the middle.
There is a moral to this story, and it's not just about our Sullivan Family Racing history. The dream to race can positively influence young people to want to succeed, it did for me and it obviously did for Katie. It is sad to think that young people may miss this opportunity to develop a dream because the forefathers in a community don't see a need for a drag strip. I hope we can continue to give young people dreams and influence them through racing.
I really can't say that I am happy that the race season is ending, but I will say what an amazing season it has been. I hate to keep talking about starting our season with a crash, but I think it's important to remember how this year began. The testing accident was hard on our whole team, and my family, but what is so incredible about it is the way everyone pulled together to keep going. That bike was everything to my dad and I. We had spent so much time working on it together. To be able to come back out to the race track as fast as we did took a lot after the bike had been destroyed. It took a lot of hard work and perseverance, not just from my dad and I, but from many people. People came out of the woodwork to help us get back to the race track. Seeing the way people stepped up to help us is something I will never forget for the rest of my life, and from the bottom of my heart thank you to everyone for their support and help.
Our first race back was Houston, where unfortunately the struggling continued. We had a problem with the new bike. Our whole team worked so hard to get it figured out, but we just couldn't get the bike to work right that weekend. I knew after Houston, my dad was a little dejected. He has never said it out loud, but I know how hard my wreck was on him. I can't imagine as a father what he went through and was still going through when we went to Houston. After Houston we decided to take our team in a different direction for a while. We teamed up with Greg and Jimmy Underdahl. So I loaded up my new bike and drove the 2,000 miles to their shop in Minnesota to drop it off.
Putting my bike in the Underdahl's hands for a while was a good thing for us. First and foremost, I think my dad still needed a little time to re-group after the accident. He had also been so busy at work, he really didn't have time to help me re-wire the bike and fix the problem. The Underdahl's are also very smart and talented people, so I knew our bike would be well taken care of.
After Greg had finished up my bike, I headed back out to Minnesota to go testing. Testing went great. I got some riding confidence back, and the bike was working well. It was just a super great weekend. I was really looking forward to heading to Chicago for my next race. Chicago is a very special race track to me, it was the place where I first qualified and got my first round win. I thought after testing we were finally headed in the right direction, but of course when we got to Chicago the struggling continued.
To this day we still aren't sure what changed between loading the bike in the trailer after testing and driving it to the race in Chicago, but we could not make the bike leave the starting line. Greg and Jimmy worked so hard at the race to get it figured out, but we just could not find the problem. I felt so bad for everyone involved, we just could not catch a break.
Since I was a little girl, I have always been driven by failure. What I mean by that is, when things don't go my way it just puts a fire inside me to work harder. I really felt this way about racing after Chicago. Plus having the most amazing and supportive parents in the world, they seemed to feel the same. We had just struggled so much for the first part of the season, so when Greg called and offered to let me ride Doug Johnson's bike (the one that Jimmy normally rides) I was thrilled. When we got to Denver I was a little bit nervous, it was a bike I had never raced before. Even though we did not qualify we made a lot of progress. It was also a very special race for me, because it was the first national event where my dad was one of my competitors. All in all we had a pretty good weekend, which made me very excited for Sonoma.
In Sonoma we had an amazing weekend, we not only qualified, but I ran my career best pass of 6.94. That was really one of the highlights of my 2012 season, and I really want to thank the Underdahls, Stoffers, Johnsons, and Ben Kriegsfeld for that.
I stayed on Doug Johnson's bike for Indy and Las Vegas. Then, for the final race of the year my dad and I made the decision to run our own bike again. While I had been riding Doug's bike, Greg had been re-wiring mine. My dad and I tested in Las Vegas. We made seven passes with our Pro Stock engine. We have never done any testing like that before. Oh man, did we learn a lot. It really paid off when I got to Pomona, and went 7.03 right off the trailer.
Even though we didn't qualify, Pomona was one of the best weekends of my life. It felt great to be back working with my dad again, and I think he felt the same. It was a blast running our own bike. After every curve ball that had got thrown at us through the race season we had come back strong, especially with the help of some very awesome people. I got to end my season with a 6.99 run, just missing qualifying by five-thousandths of a second. This season was an absolute roller coaster of emotions, but I wouldn't trade it for the world. Thank you to everyone who made this a great season. Can't wait for next year!
I talk a lot about my family and the role they have played in my life, but there is one member I haven't shared too much about and that is my sister, Kristin. She would never admit it, but in her life she has been a huge inspiration for girls, especially me. Growing up, we hated each other and I do mean hated. We would have full-on wrestle-mania matches to settle our differences.
Secretly though, I always wanted to be just like her. She always did things her own way and she was always somebody who stood out. While watching her be herself, I also watched her get bullied and teased in grade school. Even though I am sure it had to have an effect on her, I never once saw her show it. She continued to be herself day in and day out.
I always knew Kristin was a great soccer player, but when she got into high school she really proved how amazing she is. I remember going to a lot of her soccer games, and Kristin was often the only girl on the field. She had no fear, and she could play as good if not better than any guy on the field. Never once did I hear her mention the fact that she was one of the only girls. It just . wasn't a factor to Kristin. I know she faced criticism and obstacles to do what she did. Now that to me is inspiring. She taught me it doesn't matter if you're a man, a women, or a kangaroo, you can do anything you set your mind to.
Even though Kristin and I had two very different passions in life, her drive and courage taught me a lot. When I faced criticism and encountered mean people in racing, I had this amazing role model to look up to. She was an inspiration for me to keep pushing through the negativity for what I wanted in life. Today I still look up to her for that.
One of the reasons I wanted to share a little bit about my sister is in light of October being anti-bullying month. Kristin is a prime example of a strong person who didn't let the fact she was being bullied stand in her way. To anybody out there who has ever been bullied, don't ever let anyone stand in your way of what you want. I also think it's a good reminder to be careful how you treat other people. Words can really affect a person.
Life has been so crazy around my house. I am unbelievably busy with work, and next week I start my very last class of my college career. I could not be more ecstatic about that! I am also busy getting ready for the national event in Las Vegas. I have so much going on that when I climb into bed at night, and I'm too excited to sleep. My dad and I are headed to a race this weekend for him to test on my Pro Stock Suzuki, it should be a great weekend. I will update everyone on how he does. Thanks for reading!
On my 2,200 mile trip home from Indy, I had a lot of time to think. I got to laughing about a question that I get asked a lot at the race track, "How do you ride a bike going that fast?" I had to laugh because I feel like the question people should be asking is "How does your heart not explode from the emotional roller coaster of racing?" It seems crazy to say, but riding the bike is probably the easiest part of racing.
This season has been one of the most emotional times I have ever gone through in my life. I went from sliding on my back at 170-mph to having one of the best weekends of my racing career in Sonoma. We have had some really good weekends, and a lot of really bad weekends. All of the emotion that I have felt this season really got me thinking of another question that people ask me, "What kind of skill does it take to ride a Pro Stock Motorcycle?" My answer to this question is that the skills it takes to ride a Pro Stock Motorcycle are heart and perseverance.
Through everything we have been through this season, my dad always offered me an out to get away from racing. Not because he isn't supportive, but because he never wanted me to do something I didn't want to do. Every step I took getting back on the motorcycle after my accident, my dad said "Katie, you don't have to do this if you don't want to." I never once considered quitting. It just was not an option for me.
We continued to struggle after the accident. Every time we took my new bike out, it had a problem. We just couldn't get on top of the motorcycle. I was really struggling mentally with the whole situation. Before the accident in Valdosta, I was on top of the world. A new season, a great bike, I thought it was our time to really shine as a team. Then everything went downhill and seemed to continue to go downhill.
Through all of the emotion, I never once entertained the thought of not racing. I woke up every morning with passion to get myself to the race track and to get my bike figured out. I'm not saying it wasn't hard, or that I didn't get down, I'm saying that even through the frustrated, sad, mad emotions that I was having, I couldn't give up.
While I do believe it is hard to ride a Pro Stock Motorcycle, racing takes so much more than having the skill to ride a motorcycle. When you can take the lows that you experience, and still have the heart every morning to want to be the best and work hard, then you have the skill to race. I also believe that goes for anything in life. When you want to do well and succeed at anything in life, it can be done. You have to be the one though that isn't afraid to work hard. That isn't afraid to get up at 4 or 5 in the morning and work until midnight. That isn't afraid to fail or struggle. It takes heart and perseverance to be successful.
Going back to our weekend in Indy, it did not go how I planned. We went from having an amazing bike in Sonoma, to struggling getting the bike to leave the line in Indy. When we did not qualify, I was very disappointed. I have learned through all the struggling we have done, that being disappointed for any more than five minutes gets you nowhere. So I had my small pity party, and then I started thinking about what we were going to do to get ready for Vegas. There are a lot of things to take away from our experience in Indy, and we are going to learn from them and set out to kick some Vegas butt!