Oakley woman finds success on the track

Photo courtesy of Stephen Justice

Oakley resident Katie Sullivan prepares for a race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California.

Oakley resident Katie Sullivan grew up watching drag racing at the Sonoma Raceway. Earlier this month, she took the track herself at the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Sonoma Nationals and won the first round against one of the world’s best Pro Stock Motorcycle drag racers.

In the first round of the Sonoma Nationals, held Sunday, July 28, Sullivan traveled a quarter mile in 6.927 seconds to beat Hector Arana Jr., the first Pro Stock Motorcycle racer to run a 200-mph race and, currently, fourth in the NHRA national championship standings.

“Sonoma is my home track,” Sullivan said. “It’s always cool to go to Sonoma, because, as a little kid, I grew up there watching all of my favorite racers.”

Although she didn’t win the event, Sullivan’s first-round win was an inspiring one for her and her team. Arana is sponsored by Lucas Oil, one of the largest sponsors in the NHRA series.

“We’re small fish in a really big pond of people who have financial backing,” Sullivan explained. She said her team has been an underdog compared to others with larger sponsors.

Sullivan, 28, has been racing for about 10 years. When she began, she was the youngest woman to qualify and race in a national class.

“It’s cool now because there are so many girls doing it,” she said. “When I first started, it was a novelty to be a girl. Now, it’s just normal to see all these girls at the racetrack, and I think it’s so rad.”

As a racer, she has grown into a role model for young girls who watch her compete.

“One of the things that really stands out to me is the little girls that come to my races,” she said. “I never thought in my life that I would necessarily be an influence to anyone, but you get these little girls that come up to you and tell you that you’re their hero, and there’s no cooler feeling than that.”

Another high point in her career was in June, when she traveled to Ipswich, Australia, for the 52nd Annual Gulf Western Oil Winternationals Drag Race extravaganza. After a sub-par qualifying run of 7.36 seconds, she went on to set an Australian record with a run of 6.969 seconds and won the event.

“When I got home, it was Father’s Day,” she recalled. “My dad always races with me but wasn’t able to go, so when I got home, I was able to give him that trophy for Father’s Day, and that was probably one of the coolest moments of my career.”

Sullivan has a strong team around her, including her fiancé, Greg Justice, who also races. Justice — who races a Harley-Davidson — says they’ve helped each other out, on and off the track.

“She helps me, I help her,” Justice said. “Whether we help line each other up on the starting line, wrench on the bikes together, we just try to do whatever we can to get each other going on the track and help each other be better riders.”

Sullivan and Justice met on the racetrack and started dating in 2014. Since then, they’ve been a team. Justice says their free time is spent working on bikes in the garage, and their vacations are spent at the racetrack.

“I learned really fast how truly hard it is and how much it really takes to do this sport,” Sullivan explained. “It’s not something where you just get to go to a race once in a while and do it for fun. It’s a full-on lifestyle.”

Sullivan’s ultimate goal is to win an NHRA event.

“My dream as a little girl was to win championships and stuff like that,” she said. “As I got older and learned the reality of it, my goal really became to win a race. I hope there’s more in store than that, but it would be really hard for me to retire if I don’t achieve that.”

Sullivan’s next race will be the Dodge NHRA Nationals, presented by Pennzoil, Oct. 31 to Nov. 3, at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. After that, she’ll participate in the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, California, Nov. 14 to17. For more information, visit www.kaliforniakatie.com.