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Finding a Silver Lining with Smoke: A Record Setting Night I Will Remember Forever

South Boston Speedway
August 13-14th

Fans and Speed Sather Nation, I’m going to back track to Friday, August 13th, as it was a test day for me and the Sellers Team. We decided that we were going to work on one thing - qualifying, which was something I have been struggling with all season.
Now, this wasn’t just any other test session. Rather, it was one that has probably geared us up for the rest of the season in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.
Lee Puliam, a very successful driver at South Boston and a perennial pole contender at South Boston Speedway, (who is also affiliated with the Sellers team) came by to help us out. The Sellers Brothers Team had made some changes to the front end geometry on the No. 94 K&N Chevrolet Impala, trying to find that extra bit of speed and handling.
We were eager to see how it reacted on the track with all the changes made to the car. Being this is my first year in these types of cars, Lee got in first and ran some laps to give his valuable feedback to us as I watched and listened closely to him.
After a few laps and a qualifying run, it was my turn.
Not only were changes made to the car, but after talking with Lee and H.C., I changed the way I was tackling the corner as well. I ran 30 laps on the track and before you knew it, it was time for a few qualifying runs.
My time was extremely close to Lee’s and the team was very satisfied and we were all confident going into Saturday’s race. As we wrapped up our test for the evening, I felt like it was looking like the kind of racing weekend we’ve needed all season long.
Saturday morning began like most, as I had Lucky Charms for breakfast and watched Turbo Dogs, a cartoon about dogs that race. Before the day picked up, I was feeling pretty good as we had such a great test the night before.
With bad weather around the area, a few other race tracks’ events were rained out, including Motor Mile in Radford. A handful of those drivers from those venues came over to South Boston, making it a record field of cars for the year thus far.
Our qualifying regimen was changed for the night and the remainder of the year. Normally qualifying by points order, we now draw for the qualifying order, much like what the top three touring series have practiced for a long time.
We pulled a 12, which was right in the middle, meaning things could go either way for us.
Tonight, I opted to have H.C. Sellers, a crew chief, and Marcus, (my crew chief) on the radio with me for let’s say, “some moral support.” (laughter)
Taking the green, I missed turn one, which made for a “ok” first lap. Coming for the white flag, I took a deep breath and told myself, “You can do this! It’s just like riding a bike! Don’t try so hard - just do what you know how to do,” and that I did.
To be honest, I wasn’t feeling confident in my laps as I thought I could have been better. Pulling in after qualifying, Marcus came over the radio in a high pitched voice saying “66!”
I replied back frantically in a panic, asking “What does that mean?!?!”
He shouts back, “POLE!”
It was incredible, as I was in such disbelief that I couldn’t get out of my car fast enough. I clambered out of my car and what do I see on the scoreboard?
You guessed it! The No. 94 was in first place!
To be honest, I couldn’t even describe the emotions that I felt at that point, as everything I have been working so hard for finally all came together. For the remainder of the qualifying session, I sat around and watched each car.
As cars pulled out and with every top runner I would see pull onto the track, I would cross my fingers that the Lady Eagle Safety Wear No. 94 would stay on the pole. The final car out was none other than Lee Puliam, my teammate who helped me with qualifying.
Watching him go out on the track was so nerve racking. Of course I wanted him to do well, but just not quite as well as me! On his second lap, I saw the No. 3 in the first spot. Even so, qualifying on the outside pole was still a huge accomplishment for the entire team, and also a track record. In the 53 year history of South Boston Speedway there has never been a female to qualify on the front row. The team and I were very ecstatic to find this out!
H.C. came up to me while we were waiting in the tech line and he said to me, “OK, so it’s one thing to go from an average 18th place qualifier to like maybe 10th. But to go from 18th to first, I can’t believe it. Great job!”
It was pretty funny how excited he was, as well as the entire team. I was so glad that after all their hard work, I could finally get a good position that they so deserved.
Pushing the car up to the starting grid was such a great feeling. The guys were so proud and very excited for the race to begin. The view, the feeling, and being the first to see the green flag drop was unbelievable.
I got a great start only to have a yellow on the first lap. After a brief caution period, it was a complete restart and again, I got a great start, dropping into third behind my two teammates in Lee Puliam and Peyton Sellers.
This was the way we ran till the next caution period. It was then when I had started to notice that my car smoking.
After talking to the crew, we were hoping it was nothing. As the race progressed, so did the smoke. Another yellow came out and NASCAR directed me to stop on the front straightaway so they could check it out. They were still allowing me to keep my position despite this check.
Unfortunately, it was all for naught - NASCAR talked to my crew and told them that they thought they should check it out further. HC radioed for me to come to the pits.
“Do I have to?” I asked in a somewhat somber tone. By pulling into the pits, I had to give up my spot. With a motor on the line, I knew that I had to, even if it meant the worst case scenario – a DNF.
Opening the hood, they took a look at the motor and said the night was over, with interminable engine problem. Dejected, hurt, angered, you name it - I was so bummed, all that work with the outside pole and now nothing to show for in the race.
Overall, the night was bittersweet. I mean, we had accomplished a great feat with qualifying, which was the emotional high for us. However, the team was obviously bummed about the motor and the finish.
Still, we were happy with the qualifying efforts from that night. I can’t even thank all the guys that help out with the No. 94 Bell Helmets Chevy, as they do an incredible job with every race and you know something? I can’t wait for the next race!

Words of Natalie, edited by Rob Tiongson
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