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Elko racer chases legendary father, serves as role model for girls

Chris Long
Updated: September 25, 2020 11:42 PM
Created: September 25, 2020 09:13 PM

21-year-old Julie Jorgenson starting driving full-sized race cars before she could legally drive a car on a public street, and has grown into several roles since then as a racer, role model and chip-off-the-old-block.

Click the video box to see this story as it aired on KSTP Sports, as well as our full interviews with Julie and Conrad Jorgenson about the bond they've formed being together at Elko Speedway - and where it may head from here

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Her father Conrad Jorgenson is a six-time division champion at Elko Speedway. Only two drivers (Jeff Martin 13, Donny Reuvers 9) have won more.

"I've been out here as long as I can remember. I started when I was 11 years old so I've been racing for 46 years," Conrad said. "I started racing because my parents worked at Elko Speedway back in the 60s when it first started."

With two nights of racing left in this, Conrad's 46th season and Julie's fifth, they both sit 2nd in their respective divisions.  Conrad runs in "Thunder Cars", Julie in "Power Stocks".

While Conrad has a half-dozen titles under his belt, Julie is chasing her first.

She's also chasing her father's well-established reputation on the track.

Like Conrad, Julie spent her childhood kicking around in the pits and watching her father turn laps. 

"I've been watching my dad race for as long as I can remember," Julie said, echoing her father's memory of how his passion for the sport first began. "I raced quarter-midgets at the little track at Elko. I did that from 12 to 13, and then I didn't want to do that anymore because I wanted the big cars."

Drivers know all about the 'racing bug', and what happens once you catch it.

"I love that I can be so competitive and I be aggressive and can basically do whatever I want to within the rules," Julie said. "I just love the fact I can express myself and - I've always struggled with doing that - my best way is just being super-competitive and aggressive and this is the best sport that I can find to do that."

Despite her pedigree and experience in lower levels of racing, Julie was intimidated when she made her main track debut in a full-size car five years ago - several months short of her 16th birthday.

"When I first started, I didn't want to get in anyone's way," she admits. "They had more experience so I didn't want to do anything."

That changed immediately and dramtically the night of June 16th, 2018 - the first time Julie took a checkered flag.

"As soon as I won my first race I was like, 'You know what? I'm as good as the rest of them'," she said. "'I have the right to be here and I have the right to try as hard as I can. I don't need to be scared'." 

Despite dozens upon dozens of visits to Victory Lane with her father, there was a catch now that she got there on her own.  "I didn't know how to pull into victory lane," she said. "Now I know how to, but it's it's a lot more complicated than you think."

Once she arrived the surroundings in Victory Lane were familiar, but the feel was completely different.

"I got out of the car and everyone's looking at me," she recalls "They were all congratulating me. I'm not standing outside watching them all go 'Congratulations, Conrad' - now it's me. It was a great feeling."

Even though he's been there countless times for his own wins, Conrad's trips to Victory Lane are sweeter when Julie brings them there.

"I tell you what, I have more fun watching her win races than winning myself," Conrad admits. "When she wins races I gotta hurry up and get in my car because I always go to Victory Lane with her. It's fun. Watching her race - it's a blast."

In addition to experience that comes with time in the seat, Julie obviously credits Conrad with helping her grow as a driver.

"Every time I get off the track, being able to hear him - before I'm even unbuckled - he's telling me what I could have done better or something else I could have changed or something different," she explained. 

While some sports parents may overcook the advice that hand to their kids, Conrad's input is welcomed.

"I actually like hearing what I did wrong so I know what I can do next time to be better," Julie said. "Every time he tells me something, the next time I'm on the track I'm always thinking about it."

They speak the same language and generally operate on the same wavelength.

"My dad and I are a lot alike," Julie said. "That's what I think connects us the most. He knows how I deal with things and I know how he does. Our brains work very similar. It's just awesome being able to go off of him and get his feedback  because if I say something I know he's gonna tell me exactly how I'm gonna deal with it."

Taking checkered flags is always a short term goal and Julie has plenty of long-term goals for her career as well.

But there's one thing she wants to accomplish above all.

"I grew up changing his tires and tightening some bolts. Just being able to be with him, and doing this, and learning from him - because he is the greatest racecar driver that I know... I want to be my dad when I grow up. I want to be as good as he is," she said.

"It's awesome being able to have him right there right next to me and learning his ways because that's what I want to be."

The type of success Julie is having is rare in the male-dominated world of auto racing, but not unprecedented at her home track.

In 2018, Minnetonka's Taylor Goldman became the first woman ever to win a season championship at Elko.

Goldman and Julie are friends, and are the only two women racing at the track this season.

"I like being one of the very few females at Elko," Julie said, beaming with pride.  "It shows the little girls who come on to watch that they can do anything they put their mind to - whether it's a male dominated sport or not."

Julie's grandmother - who first brought Conrad to the track - raced in "powder puff" races back in the 1960's.  Julie's aunt also drove cars for a time - showing the racing gene stems from more than just Conrad in the family tree.

"You've just got to push through, you've got to be determined," she said of challenges she faced breaking in as a woman. "I want to inspire the girls who I once was to be me or to try to do something they've always wanted to do but are afraid to."

Since earning that first win back in 2018 - the same summer Goldman win the division championship - Julie's made plenty of trips back to Victory Lane. Often, it's on the same night Conrad's found his way there too.

"It's so awesome being able to be like, 'Me and my dad both won a feature!' We're both up there we're both doing really well'," she said. "Every time that it's happened it's just a great feeling to know  we both have done it, we both get a trophy to come home to. It's just a great experience being able to win with my dad."

In addition to a swell of paternal pride, Conrad admits another benefit to Julie's success.

"Well, Julie's sponsorship takes care of paying for my racing these days, so that's pretty good," Conrad laughs.

With both Jorgensons sitting second in their division standings, a couple more trips to Victory Lane to close out the 2020 season could touch off one heck of a celebration.

"With us both being so close to the championship - I don't know if anything could ever top that being able to win a championship with my dad," she said. 

Conrad's six titles at Elko - and several others at other racetracks in the region - stem from a lifelong dedication to his sport.  It's a dedication that's clearly passed along to Julie.

"Racing is 100% everything that I do. My life revolves around it. It always has and always will," Julie said. "I apply racing in my life. If there's a problem I have I think, 'Okay, if this was something I'm facing on the track how would I get there'. I always make that connection my brain."

Julie wants to progress up the classes to bigger, faster cars, but doesn't want to leap into a higher class until she can win a season title in her current one.  The eventual dream, she admits, would be running in a national series - ultimately, if everything goes absolutely perfect, a chance at NASCAR.

As the Jorgensons look ahead to the next few race seasons, it's clear there's more torch-passing to be done.

"The next plan is for her to drive this car," Conrad said, gesturing to his larger and more powerful 'Thunder Class' car. "I'm just keeping it ready for her."

"Maybe next year," he wondered aloud. "Then her brother gets to drive her car and I'll be done racing because then I'll have two kids trying to keep up to."

Julie doesn't like that plan. Remember, there's that one thing she wants to accomplish above anything else.

"He has to stay around long enough that we can race against each other." 


Copyright 2020 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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