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.