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Natalie Decker on camera at Toledo; just one of the "guys" on raceday

May 19, 2017

TOLEDO, Ohio (May 19, 2017) -- Natalie Decker acknowledges that she's trying to work her way up through the stock car ranks in a male-dominated sport, but once she covers up the make-up with her helmet, she's just another driver trying to out-run her competition.

"I've gained a lot of respect over the last few years…and not just from the guy racers…from the girls I've raced against too. Once that helmet goes on, it doesn't matter if you're a girl or a guy."

But once she climbs out and takes the helmet off, she's all girl. In fact, after doing her interviews with the local CBS TV affiliate here at Toledo Speedway Friday morning, the Eagle River, Wisconsin racer asked the female reporter where she could get her nails done today.

"I'm excited," said Decker. "I'm going to get them done in ARCA red for my ARCA debut. I'm hungry for pizza…let's get some pizza while were out," added Decker.

Those of course will be the same ARCA red nails that will be wrapped tightly around her No. 25 N29 Capital Partners-Venturini Motorsports Toyota for Sunday's Menards 200 presented by Federated Car Care. She tested Wednesday at South Boston (Va.) Speedway in preparation for her series debut. It will also be her first start in a heavier ARCA car, about 700 pounds heavier than the Super Late Models she is used to driving.

"You can definitely tell how heavy it was and how much it would roll over in the corners compared to my Super Late. You can drive a Super Late down in as hard as you want. I learned that you can't drive it in as deep in the ARCA car…only as deep as the car will allow. I've heard about the differences, but you just don't know until you get in one."

Decker will be working with veteran crew chief Dave Leiner at Toledo, and again at Elko Speedway, and for her anticipated superspeedway debut at Pocono in early June.

"Dave and I have been talking a lot. We're both really happy with the test and we're both comfortable with where we're at. Dave told me that I need to concentrate on finishing all 200 laps, run the top-12 in practice, top-12 in qualifying and top-12 in the race. But as a race car driver winning is what you want, but I realize it's going to be my first ARCA race."

Decker is already familiar with Victory Lane having gone there twice in her Super Late Model in 2016.

"Last year I won at State Park Speedway and Golden Sands Speedway."

It's also worth noting that Decker is the highest finishing female (third) in ARCA Midwest Tour history. If she were to win at Toledo Sunday, she would become the first female ARCA Racing Series national tour winner in history, 64 years and counting. Decker knows she will be in a car capable of getting her there.

"I really like the 25 team…really enjoy working with them. I can already tell it's a good fit. I've spent a lot of time in the shop. Dave (Leiner) is very good and patient with new drivers…I really like working with him. He's good at coaching me."

Decker is also getting a good bit of advice from a 10-time ARCA national champion.

"Frank Kimmel has been so helpful…answering all my questions. Everything and anything from marketing to how to get around the track. We first started talking with Frank at the PRI show. He's been helping me out ever since."

Decker is used to pressure-packed situations and competing against boys. Growing up in Wisconsin, she learned how to play hockey and eventually became a starter for her high school team.

"I was varsity…first line, left wing. I played with the boys till I was in the 6th grade. I still skate." Sunday, Decker will be skating around the lightning-fast Toledo half-mile in a 3,400-lb ARCA car. Sounds like she's ready. "I get nervous, but I'm excited. It's a combination of nerves and excitement all together. As soon as you come to the green flag, all the nerves go away…but sitting in the car, lined up and waiting to go…that's when the nerves come in." Decker, like so many of her competitors, has big goals. "My goal is Cup, and the next step from Super Lates is ARCA." The Menards 200 presented by Federated Car Care marks the third among the 11 races that make up the Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge.