When Natalie Decker was 7 years old, she and her father pulled over and watched a go-kart race. As she watched the karts go round and round, she knew what she wanted to do.
“I fell in love with racing,” she says, her face lighting up as she recalls the moment.
Though she has been racing for a decade, her professional career has just recently begun to pick up speed. Decker, now 19, is the youngest woman to become a professional racecar driver. This year, she has four televised races – the next one is on Aug. 27 when she races at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
Since she was 9 years old and her father gave her a purple go-kart, she has been quickly navigating through the sport. After winning multiple championships in a full-size stock car, she now finds herself driving a N-29 Venturini Motorsports Toyota Camry race car.
“They pretty much built the car around me because I’m so little,” says the petite Decker who stands at 5-foot, 1-inch. “I should be able to fall asleep and take a nap in my car. It should be that comfortable.”
But racing is anything but relaxing. Decker works out regularly with yoga and light weight-lifting in an effort to build up her stamina. She must also eat healthy and stay well hydrated.
“I’ll lose eight to 12 lbs. of water weight in a 200-lap race,” she says. Once she started a race weighing 115 lbs. Afterward, she jumped back on the scale and she weighed 105 lbs.
During a race, she wears a fireproof suit with fireproof clothes underneath. It is typically about 30 to 50-degrees hotter inside her car than it is outside. “By your feet,” she says, “that’s where it gets hot!”
As Decker’s career heats up, she remains very aware that she is making her way through a male-dominated sport. She says Danica Patrick has been an inspiring pioneer, and she hopes to do the same for other girls who look up to her.
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“If there’s a boy my age, he’ll get respect instantly. It’ll take me 10 times that long to get the same amount of respect,” she says. “I love racing and I want to show people that I can do what other people thought girls couldn’t do.”
She credits her family’s support for helping her get this far. Her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins have cheered her from the stands. But she has plans to go further.
“All I want to do is win one race and I’ll be happy. I want to go to the top,” she says, pointing out that she wants to win a Monster-sponsored series. “My goal is to make it up there. And as I go up the ladder with each step, [I want to] just prove that girls can run up front and win races.”