My 2011 Midseason Report
by Natalie Sather with Rob Tiongson
Every morning you have two choices: continue your sleep with dreaming or wake up and chase your dreams - it’s your choice. I have made it my choice to chase my dreams. This season has been a whirlwind full of new challenges that my team and I are faced with every weekend. We take every race as it comes and are always looking to improve on everything we do.
We have been so blessed thus far to have 10 consecutive top-five finishes at South Boston Speedway, making me the only driver to do so, with three of those results being second efforts. They have not been easily earned top-five finishes, let me tell you. Behind each finish lies a story all its own. With my team at Sellers Racing working hard every single day to make sure the best car is rolled out the trailer on race day, I am obligated as a driver to drive my heart out for them every night, and that’s just what we have been doing thus far.
May 14th was a night of challenge after challenge. With the rear end giving us problems in the first two practice sessions, we thought we had it fixed for qualifying. As I took to the track and came for the green, my car had enough. I pulled into the pits but we were unable to fix the damage to go back out for qualifying.
The guys worked very hard to make the necessary repairs to the rear end so the Butler Built Seats Chevy was race ready for the main event. With no qualifying time, we had to start at the rear of the field. Twenty cars had showed up for that night’s 150-lap event. I was confident pulling out on the track that my car was ready for the hard battle to the front that was ahead of me.
As the green flag dropped, my spotter Justin Snow told me to be very patient as I had 150 laps to make it to the front of the field. With the laps winding down, I found myself picking off car after car. As the yellow flags flew, I took those opportunities to also pass cars on the outside (my fave place to pass)! I was driving my heart out with the bad fast car the Sellers Team and my crew chief Brian had worked so hard on. When the checkered flag waved, I couldn’t believe it - we had driven our way to, at that time, our fifth consecutive top-five finish, with fourth-place!
Since that night, we added five more consecutive top-5 finishes for a total of 10 this season. That streak unfortunately broke with last weekend’s race at South Boston Speedway. With limited funds, we are unable to test as much as we need to so therefore, we have to use race day to try some different changes to the K&N No. 94 Chevy.
We opted to make some pretty significant adjustments based on the tests my teammates had run, and unfortunately, it didn’t play to our advantage. We fought a very loose race car all night. With a 14th place qualifying effort, we knew we had our work cut out for us.
It was a long race, 200 laps, which was the second biggest race of the year at SoBo. I knew I had some time to make some smart passes, but could my car hold on? That was the question racing in my mind during, well, the race!
As the race progressed and the laps winded down, I found myself struggling to keep the car underneath me. It was very loose coming into the corners. At one point, I thought we were not even going to get a top-10.
But I told myself and the guys, “We are not giving up! There is no way.” I made the decision to pit under caution. The team had their work cut out for them, to get me back out before I went a lap down, and that they did.
We tagged the tail end of the 16 cars that were still racing with 50 laps to go. In those 50 laps, we fought hard and with a neck-in-neck finish for fourth, fifth, and sixth I made it three-wide with one last attempt effort to bring home a top-five but came up short, as I ended up sixth.
It was a bittersweet night for me. To salvage a finish like that was great, but to end my top-five streak was hard. The Sellers Team put in countless hours every week to make sure the best cars hit the track every weekend, and I cannot thank them enough for all their hard work, especially my crew chief Brian who has really worked hard to help me on the track!
I am looking forward to the remainder of the year and what it has in store for us! Thanks so everyone for your continued support. I am very blessed to have such a great support team of fans, friends and family! Till next time, catch y’all real soon!
Words by Natalie Sather with Rob Tiongson
South Boston Speedway
Saturday, May 7, 2011
The way that the start of the season shaped out did not give me much hope for the upcoming races. We had a rough start to what would end up becoming the best few races thus far in my career. After this past Saturday night, someone pointed out to me that we have had a string of six consecutive top five finishes - something I thought was going to be impossible just a few weeks ago.
After finally clinching my first top-five finish of the year on April 2nd and continuing that effort with another on April 23rd, things really started to turn around with the Sellers Brothers Racing team. With twin 75 lap features coming up, we were focused on continuing our consistent finishes.
With another top-five finish under our belt, I was looking forward to the two twin 75 lap features for the night. The PASS cars were in town, so the track was going to be a lot different with all the rubber they would lay down.
The night started off better with a seventh-place qualifying effort. We had finally gotten back into the top-ten, which was something I have struggled on and off with throughout the beginning of the season. Strapping in for the first race, my goal was another strong top-five finish. My teammate Peyton Sellers was helping us out for the night. He reminded me before I went out to be sure to not abuse my tires as I still had another 75 lap race to run.
Once the green flag dropped, the action began. The race was pretty much caution free, but with the laps winding down, I worked my way past a few cars and crossed the finish line in fifth. Needless to say, it was not an action packed race. Little did I know what was about to unfold....
As we prepared for the second race of the night, I focused on what my goals were. I jokingly told my crew chief Brian that I was done with this fifth-place stuff and that it was time to break into at least the top four! (laughter)
Starting the race from fifth (where we finished the race prior) was an advantage with it being a 75 lap shootout.
"Green, green," I heard and the race was on for the second twin 75-lapper. I settled into sixth after a rough start and set my sights on the fifth place car. My spotter Justin was on the radio, keeping me calm and helping me work my way up.
The Sellers guys really put a great car together for the second race. I was super comfortable and very fast. Catching cars slowly but surely, I was careful not to spin my tires and conserved them till the last part of the race.
We started to pick off cars one-by-one, eventually finding myself running in second place, and catching Philip Morris – yes, THE Philip Morris.
I was so pumped but yet trying to remain calm all at the same time! (laughs) With 15 laps to go, the yellow flag came out.
YES! This was my chance. The pace car ducked down pit road as it was Philip to the inside and yours truly in the Butler Built Seats No. 94 car to the outside. The race was on....
"No pressure from behind," is what I kept hearing from Justin as Philip and I duked it out for 10 laps. I was holding my own on the outside, even leading a few laps.
He eventually pulled ahead of me just enough and passed me coming off turn two, making contact with my front end. So... coming into turn three I wasn't about to give up.
I gave him a little "love tap" as we can call it in racing, and looked to the inside. Peyton comes on the radio. "Do it again, do it again," in a very excited tone.
Well now, if you give me permission of course, I am going to do it again, not that I wouldn't of anyways! (laughter) Coming into the next turn, I got enough of an advantage on the bottom and was making my pass when the YELLOW came out!
NO! I was so disappointed with just five laps to go, barely enough time to make a final charge for the lead and win.
Going to the outside again on the restart didn't pan out as well, as I had used up all my tires running on the outside for so long. I had to settle into a solid second place finish, which was a bittersweet end to a great race.
Pulling onto the frontstretch, something I have not done so far at South Boston Speedway was so refreshing. I couldn't believe it - second place, finally! I got out of my car to be greeted by a very excited group of guys.
As they started victory lane interviews, the three-time National Champion, came over to me, shook my hand, and bowed to me...
Yes you read that right, bow! (laughs) I was in total shock, and couldn't believe that the guy I watched two years ago on the stage accepting his National Championship trophy was congratulating me. It was a great feeling.
Team Sellers Racing works so very hard at and away from the race track. I was so glad to get them the finish they so deserve, working hard racing for them. It was definitely what we needed to bring up our confidence and show that we can do it – even if second place is the first loser.