For retired Air Force officer Roger Kato, next week's NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway would be the perfect place to earn his first national Super Gas victory.

Kato, who retired as a Chief Master Sergeant in 2002, will be running his custom-built 2005 Chevy Cavalier at this year's competition. He will be hoping for a home-field advantage as he pursues a big-time national win at the three-day event April 10-12.

"I feel ready, the car is ready and now it's just a matter now of the driver doing his job," said Kato, a native Hawaiian who has lived in Las Vegas since 2002. "Like any other race I roll into, I don't just show up for the beer. I go in there to win that race, and if I didn't think I could win the race, I wouldn't show up.

"I feel my chances are as good as anybody's."

Kato, who has worked as an inspector of aircraft maintenance contractors at Nellis Air Force Base since 2009, won the Super Pro Championship in The Strip's bracket racing program in 2010, 2011 and 2014 and has been a mainstay in the Las Vegas racing landscape for a decade. His biggest triumph came in 2013, when he earned the title of NHRA Division 7 Super Pro category champion, and Kato's desire for the sport has remained strong through the years.

"It's something I like to do, but it takes a lot of money to run one of these cars," said Kato, 60.

The youngest of five brothers, Kato caught the racing bug at an early age in the late 1960s.

"I used to go racing with my older brothers, and they're the ones who got me hooked on the whole deal," Kato said of his brothers, Stanley, Roy, Earl and Rex. "They said, 'Come on, you've got to go.' So, we went."

Kato was out of racing from 1986-2005 as he was promoted within the Air Force and his 30-year military career took priority over his passion for the sport.

"I was moving up in the ranks, and we would deploy a lot," he said. "I didn't have time to dedicate to racing, so I said, 'Well, I've just got to stop,'" he said. "I always had the desire, but the military came first back then.

"It was a very exciting career, and when you get to take care of about 340 people, it's a large task, especially where we were going. It was a very rewarding career, and I know we did a lot of good things."

Kato always had the itch to race, and with retirement came the opportunity to return to the sport he's loved for a lifetime.

"When I retired out of the military in '02, I said, 'I've got to get a job here as a civilian so I can get back into racing and do it before I get too old,'" Kato said. "My wife (Debra) supports me 100 percent, and whatever it takes - without killing us - we'll do it."

Competing against top-level drivers keeps Kato on his toes.

"I think it's what keeps me young," he said. "I've got to get out there and compete with all of these kids who are 20 years old, and all of those folks are great drivers. When I go out there, I've got to be on my game."

In addition to the love of racing, Kato enjoys the camaraderie within the sport that keeps the community so close-knit year after year.

"There's nothing where anyone else wouldn't give you the shirt off their back to help you if you needed help," Kato said. "Drag racing is the only sport I notice where that happens. It's like a little family."

Fans can purchase tickets online at or by calling 1-800-644-4444.


2015 NHRA Nationals schedule

Wednesday, April 8
9 a.m.-5 p.m. - Sponsor Midway parking
10 a.m.-5 p.m. - Racer pit parking (all categories)

Thursday, April 9
8 a.m.-5 p.m. - Racer pit parking/Registration/Tech inspection (all categories)
5-7 p.m.-Autograph session - New York New York Hotel & Casino

Friday, April 10
7:30 a.m. - Spectator gates open
8 a.m.-Noon - Racer registration/Tech inspection (all categories)
8 a.m. - Sportsman qualifying
10:30 a.m. - Comp Eliminator qualifying
Noon - Top Alcohol qualifying
1 p.m. - Comp Eliminator qualifying
1:30 p.m. - Pro Stock qualifying
2 p.m. - Nitro qualifying
3 p.m. - Nitro Harley qualifying
3:15 p.m. - Top Alcohol qualifying
4:30 p.m. - Pro Stock qualifying
5 p.m. - Nitro qualifying 6:30 p.m. - Jet Dragsters

Saturday, April 11
7:30 a.m. - Spectator gates open
8 a.m. - Sportsman eliminations
10:30 a.m. - Comp Eliminator qualifying
11 a.m. - Top Alcohol qualifying
12:30 p.m. - Nitro Harley qualifying
12:40 p.m. - K&N Pro Stock Horsepower Challenge driver intro
1 p.m. - K&N Pro Stock Horsepower Challenge - Round 1
1:10 p.m. - Pro Stock qualifying
1:30 p.m. - Nitro qualifying
2:30 p.m. - Nitro Harley qualifying
2:45 p.m. - Top Alcohol eliminations - Round 1
3:45 p.m. - Comp Eliminator - Round 1
4 p.m. - K&N Pro Stock Horsepower Challenge - Round 2
4:05 p.m. - Pro Stock qualifying
4:30 p.m. - Nitro qualifying
5 p.m. - K&N Pro Stock Horsepower Challenge - Finals
5:05 p.m. - Nitro qualifying 5:45 p.m. - Jet Dragsters

Sunday, April 12
7:30 a.m. - Spectator gates open
8:30 a.m. - Sportsman eliminations
10 a.m. - Comp eliminations - Round 2
10:15 a.m. - Pre-race ceremonies
11 a.m. - Nitro eliminations - Round 1
Noon - Pro Stock eliminations - Round 1
12:15 p.m. - Top Alcohol eliminations - Round 2
12:45 p.m. - Nitro Harley eliminations - Round 1
1 p.m. - Nitro eliminations - Round 2
1:30 p.m. - Pro Stock eliminations - Round 2
1:45 p.m. - Sportsman eliminations - Semifinals
2:25 p.m. - Top Alcohol eliminations - Semifinals
2:25 p.m. - Nitro Harley eliminations - Semifinals
2:30 p.m. - Pro Stock eliminations - Semifinals
2:40 p.m. - Nitro eliminations - Semifinals
3 p.m. - Sportsman eliminations - Finals
3:40 p.m. - Nitro Harley eliminations - Finals
3:45 p.m. - Top Alcohol eliminations - Finals
3:50 p.m. - Pro Stock eliminations - Finals
3:55 p.m. - Nitro eliminations - Finals