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Stolen from www.NHRA.com

Posted by: Katie Sullivan

A new friend of mine suggested that for one of my blogs I explain how I got into racing. I grew up at the track; all my child hood memories really revolve around Redding Drag Strip in Northern, California. Growing up, I watched my dad race a couple different drag bikes and at one point a Funny Car. Then, my brother, Chance and sister, Kristen Hayworth, began racing Jr. Dragsters. Chance actually started the first year that Jr. Dragsters were around. My dad eventually put aside his racing to help my brother and sister race. I was always out at the track, any time my family was racing. When I turned eight, I was finally old enough to get into the driver’s seat of a Jr. Dragster and no one had to ask me twice.
I remember being so excited the night before I was going to get my shot in a Jr. Dragster. However, the day of the race my nerves started to kick in. My brother and dad put me into the car and fired it up. I was so nervous; I looked at my brother and asked him if I really had to do this. Chance has always been an amazing brother. He always looked out for me when I was younger. Chance and my dad were really nice to me when I chickened out of driving the car. They never made me feel bad or stupid about it. I remember feeling disappointed though, and I told myself next time I had the chance, I was going to drive it.
When I was nine I finally earned my Jr. Dragster credentials and quickly became fearless of the car. My brother and sister raced a little while I did, but they were pretty much done driving by the time I started. It soon became just my dad and I at the track. This is where my bond with my dad really started. From the time I was 9 until I was 15 I raced at Redding Drag Stip. I earned a track championship, and also posted second and third place finishes. I won numerous races, but most importantly, I had fun.
My dad has never pushed me to race. He has always let me decide for myself what I want to do or be in life. I can remember watching parents yell at their kids for losing, or messing up. I can guarantee if my dad had acted that way, I would not love racing the way I do today. My dad and I always wanted to win of course, but we were out there to have fun too. We put so much work into racing; it was not worth it to not have fun. I would not trade all the time I spent with my dad and our friends at the Redding drag strip for anything in the world.
Most years my family went to watch the NHRA Fram/Autolite Nationals in Sonoma. When I was about 11 years-old, Karen Stoffer and Angelle Sampey were racing Pro Stock Motorcycles and I quickly fell in love with the class. Karen and Angelle were out competing with the boys, just like I had done with my Jr. Dragster. I admired them for what they were doing and they were both heroes in my eyes. The fact that the NHRA has an open pit to the spectators is an amazing thing to me. Going back into the pits as a kid, and getting to stand next to my favorite drivers meant a lot to me. Outside of the NHRA I also had other amazing influences in my life. Our family friend, John Widmann, or “Bomber John” as we like to call him, always raced drag bikes while I was growing up. He was always nice to me and I always looked up to him. There were lots of other people around the race track I looked up to, too. People like Byron Boyd, Chuck Vanness, Glenn Terry and so many more. Out of everyone though, the biggest influence in my life has been my dad.
I was about 12 when I first told my dad I wanted to ride a drag bike. His answer was a quick “Absolutely not”. I persisted, and pretty soon I had my dad convinced that I was sold on doing this. Every one else in my life was not so easily convinced. A lot of people didn’t take me seriously. My dad was the first person to believe in me. He surprised me one night with a dirt bike and told me if I was serious about riding a drag bike, I had to ride every day. I rode every day, and I loved it. When my mom started to see how passionate and driven I was to ride a drag bike, she quickly began to support my dream. With my parents' support behind me, there was no doubt in my mind that I could do it.
By the time I was 15, my dad and I pretty much retired from Jr. Drag Racing. He bought a turbocharged Kawasaki and I became his crew member and tried to learn everything I could. Just before my 16th birthday, my dad bought an 1100cc Kawasaki for me to race. We raced and crewed for each other. Every weekend we were not at the track, we were in the garage working to get to the track. It was difficult at times balancing my life and racing. I have always been so driven and passionate about racing. I was never interested in partying and many of my friends didn’t understand why I spent all my time in the garage or at the track.
A lot of the things I did in life were racing inspired. I always had good grades in school and my senior year I had a 4.2 GPA. My parents wouldn’t have helped me race if I didn’t have good grades. I loved sports and played tennis, basketball and track in high school. I spent a lot of time in the gym and I stayed in good physical condition for racing. Looking back, there were a lot of things I gave up to get where I am today, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. There was one time that I talked a teacher and the principal into letting me take a final early, so I could leave to go to a divisional race on the day I was supposed to take the exam. Another time I convinced a girl to go to a school dance with the boyfriend I had at the time, so I could go racing. I always used to sit in class and play with my practice tree behind my back pack. I live, sleep, eat, and dream racing and I love every minuet of it.
The way I started racing in Pro Stock Motorcycle was really a stroke of luck. I always had a dream of being the youngest female to qualify in PSM. I happened to meet Shawn and Blake Gann at the NHRA [Lucas Oil race] in Las Vegas. I was having bike problems and only made it off the line once during qualifying. That one qualifying pass was enough to claim the number one qualifying spot out of about 35 riders. Blake Gann had hardly seen my ride, but we made a deal that they would help me run some NHRA Full Throttle races on their Suzuki. Looking back now, I can’t believe that Blake Gann put an 18-year old girl he had seen ride one time on their bike. I really appreciate the confidence that Blake and Shawn put into me. There was even an incident at the track were somebody who I admire very much, tried to tell Blake before I made my first pass that he was crazy for putting me on the bike and that he didn’t think I could handle it. My brother happened to be standing in the trailer. When I heard that, I was that much more inspired to race in Pro Stock. I am very driven by the word no. My dad and I have had to face that word a lot, but my dad always told me to let it inspire me.
I am a very lucky girl and I have had great support and influences in my life. I could not be where I am today with out so many people in my life. I can’t say thank you enough to everyone who has helped me achieve my dreams. My dad and I have come a long way from the little girl and her dad racing Jr. Dragster at the Redding Drag Strip and we still have a long way to go. I will never forget all the amazing times we have had and the awesome people we have met. I have never had anything handed to me and I am so grateful for that. It has really made me appreciate our accomplishments and cherish every minuet of my Pro Stock experience. We will always be the good old Sullivan Family Race team, just chasing our drag racing high.
I can’t wait to see what the future holds for our race team. My dad and I started our Pro Stock Suzuki last Sunday. It is almost done, and I am ecstatic. I am going to get all the runs in I can before we step back into the ring with the big dogs. We are determined to be contenders. I can’t wait to find our way into that winner’s circle some day.
 
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