I have to say something right off the bat; if you are a fan of motorsports and walk away from watching 19-year-old Natalie Decker of Eagle River, Wisconsin, wheel ‘Ella’, her Super Late Model number 04 car, around a race track of any kind or size, without being overwhelmingly impressed, something is very, very wrong with you.
I recently had the pleasure of witnessing this young woman’s overwhelming desire to compete and to win, not just once, but twice in the span of three days.
I drove up to Wausau, Wisconsin, in late July to see Decker compete in the July 30 Detjens Memorial at State Park Speedway. As I was getting my media credentials I was told that Decker was battling a summer flu bug but was still planning to race.
I spoke to Amy Decker, her mother, who told me that Natalie had been receiving an IV solution in order to stay hydrated and was resting in the family camper. Despite being so sick, Natalie not only got herself strapped into her car for qualifying, but she also managed to set the fastest qualifying time for the 125-lap feature race.
Unfortunately, her car developed a distributor issue early on in the race that forced Decker to retire the 04 early.
A true racer knows that at times she or he must battle through adversity in order to eventually achieve victory and Decker exemplified this attitude completely that weekend in Wausau.
Just three days later Decker competed August 2 in one of the biggest races on the ARCA Midwest Tour calendar, the Dixieland 250 at Wisconsin International Raceway, just south of Green Bay in Kaukauna, Wisconsin.
Despite continued mechanical issues, Natalie was able to bring ‘Ella’ home to a P 13 finish in Kaukauna.
During a wide-ranging interview with Natalie and her parents Chuck and Amy Decker at their race workshop in Wausau, Natalie said that her desire to be a racer began when she was a little girl.
“My dad owns a world championship snowmobile derby track in Eagle River and he grew up racing snowmobiles, bikes and cars,” Decker said. “Then when I was around six- or seven-years- old, he brought me to a go-kart race and I was in love.”
Decker said that she pleaded with her father to buy her a go-kart of her own, a wish which was finally granted when she turned nine.
“After that we just kept moving up into bigger race classes,” Decker said of her burgeoning racing career.
Decker counts winning one of two feature races earlier this year during The Happening at State Park Speedway in Wausau as a career-to-date high point.
“I was competing against top racers including Johnny Sauter,” Decker said. “I won the first feature race and Sauter won the second one.”
Decker said that coming in third in an ARCA race at Norway, Michigan, is another top accomplishment.
Her fans mean the world to her, according to Decker. Several people that I spoke with over the course of the race weekend said that Natalie Decker has no equal when it comes to being present for her fans.
“I just get so much energy from them,” Decker said. “If I’ve had a bad night at the track, or even a good night, I always feel so much better after meeting with the fans and then reading all of the positive comments on Facebook.”
While speaking with her parents Chuck and Amy Decker, I asked them how they handled the stresses of having a daughter who competes in a sport that can be quite dangerous.
“When Natalie first started in go-karts I couldn’t watch her at the beginning of the race when they are all bunched up,” Amy Decker said. “I had to have one of the crew members tap me on the shoulder once they got spread out so I could start watching.”
Amy Decker said that as her daughter progressed in the sport, she matured along with her young racer.
“I feel like Natalie and I have really been growing on this journey together,” Amy Decker said. “Now I can watch the whole race from start to finish.”
For his part, Chuck Decker said that while safety is always a concern, he knows that his daughter is equipped with the latest safety gear.
“She has a lot of protection in that car,” Chuck Decker said. “Racing has come a really long way in the past 15 years on the safety front.”
Natalie Decker has a unique combination of good looks and a humble and gracious attitude that makes for an incredibly winning personality. Add in her literal track record to date and it does not take too much effort to envision her ascending to the top ranks of NASCAR in the not-too-distant future.