Racing in the K&N Pro Series is a daunting task in and of itself.
Doing so at Bristol Motor Speedway in your first career series start? That’s a whole different animal.
Natalie Decker will do exactly that this weekend for DGR Crosley, as she’s aiming to tame the World’s Fastest Half-Mile on Saturday (April 6) in the Zombie Auto 150 (4 p.m. ET).
Decker has never raced at BMS, but has three NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series starts at Daytona, Atlanta and Las Vegas (best finish of 13th) to her resume, as well as 28 ARCA Menards Series starts.
"I have no idea what it’s going to be like, but I’m so excited to go there," Decker said of her inagural trip to The Last Great Colosseum. "Everyone says how crazy it is and you get lost because you’re constantly turning. But I come from short track racing and tracks kind of similar to Bristol, so I’m really excited. I love short tracks, it’s what I grew up doing. I’m doing so many things this year and I think this will really help me as a driver to learn as much as I can."
Racing-Reference: Natalie Decker Career Statistics
Decker made the initial cut in auditions for the W Series, racing Ford Fiesta ST and Porsche Cayman S production vehicles. She will also compete in a four-day test later this month in Spain. On top of the W Series, Decker is competing part-time in the NGOTS and ARCA Menards Series for DGR Crosley.
Frank Kerr is the man atop the pit box for Decker this season. He has nearly 300 races crew chiefing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series as well as 70 in the Xfinity Series.
"DGR is such a wonderful team," she said. "I’m so happy I’m with them this year and they’ve taught me so much. It’s so amazing that I can go to an ARCA, Truck or K&N race like we are this weekend and get to be with the same guys, working with the same crew chief, same crew guys, everything. I feel like that’s so important. That’s really one of the main reasons we wanted to race with DGR. It’s just so comfortable to know your guys and not jumping around to different teams and different crew chiefs. This is the best way I can learn the most. David (Gilliland, team owner) is the best, I love learning from him. He’s such a good guy to be around, always so positive, trying to teach you a lesson in every way possible."
DGR is no stranger to success in the K&N Pro Series East, specifically at Bristol. Last season, the organization occupied three of the top four spots, including one in Victory Lane with Todd Gilliland. Tyler Ankrum went on to win the K&N East championship in his rookie season, with fellow ROY competitor Tyler Dippel finishing the season second in the standings.
The Eagle River, Wisconsin, native’s confidence heading into one of the toughest tracks on the NASCAR circuit is heightened because of DGR’s track record at the Tennessee short-track.
"We’re bringing four cars to the track, so our odds are pretty good of winning the race," she said. "I think it’s good for me as a driver to work with the same crew. It can teach me to learn more and not have to focus to learn a different lingo a different crew chief is using, so many different things. To work with the same crew chief all year long from Trucks to ARCA to K&N, I think it’s really important. I’m really glad I’m with this team."
Decker will have fellow rookies Drew Dollar and Tanner Gray, as well as Riley Herbst, who has over 20 K&N Pro Series starts, to lean on throughout the weekend as teammates.
The Zombie Auto 150 will also see two other females compete alongside Decker in the same event in Hailie Deegan and Brittney Zamora from Bill McAnally Racing are entered. Despite all being 21 years old or younger, those three have been amongst the faces of females in the garage area for some time.
"It’s so amazing and exciting there’s so many different females racing this year," she said. "You got them racing in K&N, in the Trucks you have me and Angela (Ruch) and Jennifer Jo Cobb. There’s so many females and there’s so many young girls coming up that are racing late models, dirt cars, go karts. It’s so cool to see so many girls in the garage area."
"I love going to the bathroom and seeing other girls in race suits going to the bathroom. Like that’s so weird, but so cool. From growing up short track racing, I barely would race against other females. It’s just so cool to see girls, whether it be drivers, mechanics or anything else at the race track."
Currently, Decker doesn’t have any other K&N Pro Series races scheduled this season. She’s planning to do a couple more ARCA races on superspeedways to prepare her for the Trucks race at the same tracks. The same thing is true of this weekend, as she’s looking ahead to the fall when she has plans to run a DGR truck at Bristol.
"I’m going to base this (performance this weekend) off what I can learn," she said. "I’m going to learn as much as I can to prepare myself for the Truck race. If I can come out with a really good finish, that’s obviously another goal. But to be honest the biggest thing I want to do is learn for the Truck race."
The Zombie Auto 150 will be live streamed on FansChoice.TV at approximately 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 6. The event will be broadcasted on NBCSN on Thursday, Aprill 11 at 4 p.m.