Natalie Decker sets lofty goal for her racing career
By Bert Lehman
Editor, Full Throttle Magazine
Entering her junior year of high school, 16-year-old Natalie Decker, of Eagle River, is spending her summer racing in two different divisions at local asphalt tracks. It’s all part of a plan of getting as much seat time as possible.
Natalie’s 2014 season started in February when she raced in the World Series of Asphalt, a set of seven races in Florida during Speedweeks. During the seven races, Decker said she finished every lap of every race. Her best finish was 11th, while her worst finish was 19th.
“It was a great experience. I was learning with the best. I was racing against the best. I got to watch them all,” Natalie said.
When she wasn’t on the track in Florida, she said she was on top of the motorhome watching other drivers in action on the track.
“Watching their lines, seeing what the best guys were doing there so I could follow in their footsteps and try to be as good as them,” she said.
What makes the experience even more impressive is the fact it was the first time she had ever raced a Super Late Model. When asked what it was like the first time driving a Super Late Model, Natalie responded with a smile, “Fast!”
Prior to the trip to Florida, her racing experience consisted of go-karts, a four-cylinder car, a Super Stock, a Race Truck, and a Limited Late Model.
Chuck Decker, Natalie’s dad, has a vast array of racing experience in a variety of things, including cars and snowmobiles.
He remembers exactly when Natalie expressed an interest to race. She was seven years old, and the two were on their way home from one of Chuck’s business trips that Natalie tagged along on.
“We saw some go-karts on a little dirt track under the lights. We stopped in and thought we’d watch these karts running,” Chuck said. “She stood by the fence until I had to pry her away from it. That’s when it started. When we got home she said, ‘Dad I want a go-kart.’”
“When I found out about those little dirt go-karts, they were so cute, I wanted one right away,” Natalie remembered.
Chuck didn’t initially give in to the request. But after two years of Natalie asking for a go-kart everyday he took her to school, Chuck and his wife Amy finally relented.
“Finally on her ninth birthday I surprised her and bought her a used go-kart,” Chuck said. “It was an oval kart. We started racing, and that’s how it started.”
When Natalie started racing go-karts, Chuck said he didn’t give her any advice.
“I never raced go-karts. I was a snowmobile racer. I really didn’t have any advice to give her. She had to learn it on her own,” he said.
He said he never thought getting her a go-kart would eventually lead her to racing a Super Late Model at the age of 16.
“Actually I thought she’d race it (go-kart) once and be scared, and we’d be back to normal life. That didn’t happen,” he said.
Natalie said she raced the go-kart for three years, and won four track championships. During that time, because of the success she was having racing the go-kart, Natalie took her racing to different parts of the country.
“Once we started doing good in that then we moved up to cars,” Natalie said.
She was 12 at the time. Now, four years later, Natalie is racing a Limited Late Model and a Super Late Model at State Park Speedway in Wausau on Thursday nights, a Super Late Model at Golden Sands Speedway in Plover on Friday nights, and a Limited Late Model at Dells Raceway Park on Saturday nights.
Chuck said racing in two divisions in the same night gets hectic.
“We enjoy it. The bad part is you don’t give a lot of attention to one car or the other,” he said.
Chuck said Natalie progressed through the racing divisions faster than he thought she would.
“She was ready to move to a new class before any of us were ready to learn or buy equipment,” Chuck said. “She just progressed extremely fast.”
Listening to other people and absorbing as much racing knowledge as possible has helped her, Chuck said.
“She’s the type of person that wherever we are, she knows the top guy at the track, the track champion, she’ll go pick his brain,” Chuck said. “She’ll absorb all that. She likes to learn from her peers and does a good job at it.”
Chuck admitted he was a little nervous during the trip to Florida, when Natalie raced a Super Late Model for the first time. The first track Natalie raced at in a Super Late Model was New Smyrna Speedway, a half-mile track located in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. He said the Super Late Models average around 110 MPH at the speedway.
“There were a lot of big teams, even NASCAR guys are racing down there in the Super Late class,” Chuck said. “Within two or three practice sessions she was up to speed, she was getting comfortable. By the end of the week she was running as fast as the fast guys were. It was a great 10 days in Florida.”
The importance of seat time was the reason for the trip to Florida.
“Knowing that we were going to come back here and race Super Lates this summer, nowhere could you go and get seven races and literally hundreds and hundreds of laps in just 10 nights,” Chuck said.
There are two other Decker women racing Super Late Models, Natalie’s cousins Paige and Claire. Both are older than Natalie, but Natalie was the first one to race, which piqued the interest of her cousins.
Paige, 21, is currently living in Concord, N.C. racing for the NASCAR Drive for Diversity team. Claire, 19, races a Super Late Model at local tracks.
Natalie isn’t shy about her ultimate goal.
“I want to go all the way to NASCAR, all the way to the top,” she said.
She said she would love to have an opportunity to race for the NASCAR Drive for Diversity team, like her cousin Paige.
“If I want to be in the NASCAR Drive for Diversity like she is, I need to keep trying out for the program and hopefully they pick me, which would be awesome,” Natalie said. “I just have to keep getting seat time so when I get there I can show them how fast I am.”
She also knows to achieve this goal sacrifices have to be made. She doesn’t get to see her friends much on weekends because she is traveling to different tracks to race. She also misses out on school functions like prom.
“But I have to if I want to make it big,” she said.
Natalie knows none of her racing would be possible without her parents.
“My parents are really important in my racing career. They’re awesome. They support me fully. If they didn’t help, I wouldn’t go anywhere,” Natalie said.
(This article first appeared in the June 2014 issue of Full Throttle magazine.)