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A Season Best Finish Proves There’s No I In Team…

Motor Mile Speedway
September 11, 2010

Returning for a second time to Motor Mile Speedway, I was going into the weekend with more confidence. We tested Friday night and did fairly well, but the car still wasn’t as comfortable as I would have liked. With practice over, it was time to talk about what changes we would make for the race.

On Saturday, we woke up to rain after heading to the track. As the rain progressed, so did the odds of an eventless Saturday night - the race was called for the day and rescheduled for Sunday. With an extra day to talk with the team, we discussed a lot of improvements we could make to the car and how I was tackling the track.

Sunday was an early wakeup call, with the race day schedule being moved up to accommodate all the activities leading up to the races later that evening. I made sure to be well rested as I knew it was going to be a long day. Rolling out for the first practice, we were pretty good.

During the second practice, we put on a better set of tires that had less laps on them to see what times we could lay down. Also, we wanted to get a better feeling for the way the car was set up.

Practice concluded and it was time to focus on qualifying. The track officials were coming around to let us know that qualifying would be starting in 10 minutes.

With the guys standing around the totally prepped up car, H.C., my crew chief, for some reason, decided to take a look underneath the car and he was about to get a surprise and not a good one, as he yelled…

“A cracked track bar mount?!?”

The guys were in an “organized” panic! (laughs) They borrowed a welder and went to work, fixing it as good as new. Now this is something that made me a little hesitant, but H.C. reassured me that the car was in good condition.

The No. 94 Bell Helmets Chevy was 12th in line to qualify. When I pulled out on the track, I knew this was my time to shine.

On the first lap coming for the green flag, the car pushed way up the track (something I wasn’t expecting) coming off of turn four, causing me to lose a lot of momentum.
The first lap was a wash, so during the second lap, I knew I had to step on it. Pulling in, the No. 94 was atop of the leader board! Woo hoo!

Our time didn’t last, but with 20 cars left to go, we ended up qualifying 11th. Being hard on myself, I wish we could have done better, but like I say, just more cars to pass! (laughs)

I have a few pre-race rituals before I go out for a race, with stretching being one of them. It gets my blood flowing, allowing me to me relax and really think of what I need to do out on the track. Knowing that the season was winding down, I knew that a good finish was key and pivotal to my future plans next season.

Pulling out on the track I told myself to relax, have fun, and then I asked God to be with me and give me strength.

“Green, green!” my spotter Justin Snow said enthusiastically.

It was pedal to the metal time, go big or go home! Going green for 60 consecutive laps till the first caution period, I found myself passing cars with ease. We were passing cleanly, although, you know, in short track racing, there may have been a few “bump and runs,” but all in the name of good competition.

As the first yellow flew, Peyton came over the radio and I could hear the enthusiasm in his voice - I knew that this was our night. I was very comfortable in the car and knew that if we could stay out of trouble, we were going to get a great finish.

With 90 laps left, I knew that I had to be patient, not wear my tires out, and make good decisions. As the race progressed, my car started to get a little tight.

Justin Snow, my spotter for the night and this year’s South Boston Limited Sportsman Division Track Champion, was extraordinary on the radio, making sure I got the car to the bottom of the track so it would turn better.

For the last half of the race, I found myself battling back and forth with Justin Johnson, a great racer who won this year’s South Boston Late Model Track Championship. Let me be perfectly honest here: I was a little nervous racing door-to-door with him.

I gave him room and as he did, that was the most fun I’ve had in a long time racing with someone. Going back and forth, I would be on the outside and get by him, and moments later, he’d pull underneath and so on.

A few more yellows and two red flag periods, I found myself running in third, ahead of Justin on the last red flag. We took the final green flag of the race with 10 to go.

It was a heated battle with Justin but I had the edge for the moment. With two laps to go, coming into turn one I got hit in my door, which sent me flying up the track, opening the door for Lee Puliam, who was now in third, and Justin to get by me, leaving me to hang on to a fifth-place finish.

The checkered flag was thrown, officially making the race over. Honestly, I should have been pleased with my first top-five finish of the season, as I had to pass a lot of incredible drivers to get there, but I wasn’t.

Third place was mine, but as I found out, mine to lose. I was upset with the move that was made and after my adrenaline wore off, I knew, well, as they often say in stock car racing, “that’s racing.” Peyton and Brian were the first to meet me at the scales and I have never seen them more thrilled.

H.C. soon made his way over and they were all so proud of the night we had. It was an unbelievable night and I was so glad that I could end the regular season with a top-five finish. The whole team really pulled together to make the car handle well and for us to work great together as a cohesive unit - I can’t thank my teammates enough.

An afterthought I would like to share with my fans was this…when I was driving home after the race, I was still disappointed that we didn’t get third. I wasn’t satisfied, but as a driver, when are we ever satisfied? I am my toughest critic but know that no matter what, you can mark my words: I will never, ever give up.

Words of Natalie, by Natalie Sather
Edited by Rob Tiongson
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