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Saturday Night Live: A Career High With Emotional Highs

Words by Natalie Sather with Rob Tiongson South Boston Speedway Saturday, April 2, 2011 There was a whole new meaning put on my favorite quote, “Never, ever give up,” this weekend. The night didn’t start out like we had hoped, as we struggled throughout practice, and qualifying wasn’t good either. After a bad qualifying effort, we opted to make changes to the car and go to the rear of the field. I was feeling a lot more confident going into the first of two 75 lap races after the guys worked their magic. Starting in the back of a 14 car field, I knew I had my work cut out for me, as there were a lot of really good cars in front of me. As the race went green and the laps winded down, my car improved, and I started making passes. I picked off one car at a time and was running in ninth place on lap 50 when an attempt at a pass with one of my opponents in turn three and four took a turn for the worse as I found myself spinning. Luckily, I was able to keep it out of the wall. I was extremely displeased with what had just happened so to show my displeasure, I pulled up next to his car and showed him my fist. Now I am going to be honest here, I am not the most intimidating driver on the track, as I am about a third of the size of the guy I am next to! Needless to say I don’t think he was too scared! (laughs) But with that said, yea, it did seem to make him mad. He proceeded to turn into me in turn one, then on the back straightaway, he put me into the inside wall. At this point, I was just about shocked, but what happened next was the last thing I expected! We got back going again and as we were entering turn three (yes this is all under a caution), he slams on the brakes, which I wasn’t expecting, then puts it into reverse and buckles my hood! I was in shock and extremely disturbed! I backed off as I wanted to keep my car in one piece, well what was left of it at this point. Having to tag the rear because I was the cause of the caution, I had only 25 laps to make it back up to the front. Once the green flag was dropped, I was on the move, running in the fifth spot very quickly due to a great restart. After a few laps under green, I was shown the black flag for rough driving…yep, rough driving. To be honest, I was very baffled as to why I was being shown the black flag. I mean, I was running in a solid fifth place and I was not about to pull in and give that up. Well, when my spotter Justin Snow informed me that they were not scoring me, I had no choice. Pulling in under green to make a stop-‘n-go penalty, I pulled back out on the track in the fifth position, one lap down. I stayed in this position actually catching the cars in front of me. For me, this was extremely disappointing! We had a great car and should have had a great finish. After it was all said and done, we were credited with a 12th place finish. Definitely unsatisfactory, but I knew we had a great car for the second race. Starting off the second race, I had one goal in mind: a top-five finish! I would stop at nothing to get it… Once again, starting in the back of the field would prove to be a challenge. Passing at South Boston is hard, especially when racing against a field of talented drivers in this race. Ten green flag laps into the race, I had passed a few cars and was running in ninth spot. On lap 20, I was running behind the 2010 Track Champion Justin Johnson, a driver who I really respect and know that I can race with (this being proved last year when we ran side-by-side for 40 laps at Motor Mile last year). He and I ran with each other for a while and as I was getting a great run on him in the center of the corner and coming off, I knew that he was going to be a really hard car to pass. It was still early in the race so I laid back and was being patient; I really had to think and wait to make my move. Now, Justin is a talented driver and wasn’t going to give it up easy. After about 15 laps of running on his tail, coming off of turn two, just as I was on the gas, he had to check up a bit coming off the corner and KABOOM! I hit him square in the tail end which sent us both spinning. Fortunately, we both stayed out of trouble and got back going. I felt just awful, telling my spotter, “Please tell Justin Johnson’s spotter that I am SO sorry, that is the last thing I wanted to happen.” Thankfully, Justin Johnson was not upset, as he knew what happened, and that I had not hit him on purpose. His response was, “No harm, no foul.” As the race went on, I again found myself being put to the back, having my work cut out for me. Going back green, there was a caution on the first lap, as well as a black flag being thrown…for none other than ME! I couldn’t believe that I was being black flagged for rough driving, as I had not made any contact with Justin until that point, and clearly, it was just one of those racing deals. It was not seen that way and I made my stop-‘n-go penalty under the caution. This time, I didn’t lose a lap, but I was in the back again. On the restart, we opted to go to the outside, and this was a great decision. We gained a few positions and were able to slip into a solid seventh place behind “my friend.” I followed the car in front of me for a few laps till I could make yet another clean pass in turn three and four, passing him with no contact as my spotter Justin Snow said, “Clear.” Little did I know that I was about to be dive bombed, as the next thing I know, I am spinning wildly in the corner. Even as I write this, I really have no idea how I kept it from sustaining any damage, but I got my car back going before the leaders came around. At this point, I cannot even begin to describe my feelings, well at least not on here! (laughs) I couldn’t believe the actions that just took place, but after he spun me, he pulled back to his trailer… With a quick effort to calm myself down, the green flag was dropped, and it was game on. With 30 laps to go, I was on a mission - to drive my wheels off to the front! I worked my way back up to a fifth place position and was gaining on the car in fourth. I took my top-five finish at the checkered flag and brought the Hooker Harness No. 94 to technical inspection line. After all that, wow! Finally!!! My first top-five finish at South Boston and a hard earned one at that! I parked the “Miss II” in the tech line, my crew chief Brian was the first guy at my window, as he was so thrilled with our first top-five finish (finally!), but at the same time, I was so distraught at what had happened throughout that race. To be honest, it was hard to be really excited. I raced my heart out, and never ever gave up! The guys that work on my car, like Jason, Les, Mac, and especially Brian, have never given up on me, no matter what. They have put a great a car together every week, and despite everything that went on Saturday night, I am so pleased that we were finally able to get a top-five finish. I cannot thank everyone at Sellers Racing for their continued efforts, as it has been a rough start to the season, but I know things will get better. I also need to thank Justin Snow; I don’t think he knew what he was getting into when he agreed to be my spotter! (laughter) He kept me motivated and somewhat calm (chuckles) throughout Saturday’s race. We have a few weekends off till our next race at South Boston, and I am going to enjoy being a spectator and take in some sprint car racing in the mean time. Thanks again to everyone for all your support, as you’re all the best fans around!
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