By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
After competing in the first three NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series events, Natalie Decker will face a new challenge. At the end of March, the 21-year-old will travel to Spain to participate in a four-day test for the W Series, a new women-only open wheel racing series.
Decker was one of 54 drivers that took part in the initial selection process. She was the only stockcar racer chosen to participate in the four-day test of the W Series Tatuus F318 Formula 3 car. The test session will be the first time that the Eagle River, WI native in the cockpit of an open wheel car. To prepare for the test, she will spend time in a simulator.
“I was in Austria for the first round,” Decker explained. “There were 54 girls that went there, and they picked 28 to go to Spain. We tested in normal street cars, it was all car control, smooth driving, all sorts of different things that you’ll need to do well in a car. Now we’re going to go to Spain and test in an F3 car, that’s what we’ll be racing in the W Series.
“They (the W Series organizers) will be taking 18 drivers to make the series out of the 28. Then they’ll take a few reserves just in case anything happens, someone gets sick. I’m really excited to go to Spain. This is a great opportunity what they’re doing for the racing world. They’re paying for everything, so it’s a free ride. That doesn’t happen in the racing world, normally you have to find money to race.”
The W Series has a total prize fund of $1.5 Million. With the champion earning $500,000, the other $1 Million will be divided amongst the other 17 competitors. The tests are free, giving every driver from different walks of life a chance to compete on equal footing.
“So, for a free ride, and you win money at the end of the season if you make it, from the championship all the way down, even if you finish last,” Decker continued. “It’s just a wonderful experience, all of the different tracks we’re going to, the different people we’re going to meet, it’s going to make all of us girls better racecar drivers.”
Decker’s Truck Series schedule was adjusted by her DGR – Crosley team to accommodate her participation in the W Series. She originally was scheduled to compete at Martinsville Speedway on March 23 and at Texas Motor Speedway on March 29. One of those races was replaced with Atlanta Motor Speedway while the other replacement will be determined later.
“We had to adjust a little bit, but there are two Martinsville races on the schedule,” Decker admitted. “Martinsville is definitely a track I want to go to, so I was a little bummed about that. There’s another race at Martinsville that I can go to, but this test in Spain is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
The first official race for the W Series is Saturday May 4 at the historic Hockenheimring in Germany. The series will also have events at Circuit Zolder in Belgium, Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli in Italy, Norisring in Germany, TT Circuit Assen in the Netherlands, with the finale at Brands Hatch Circuit in the United Kingdom. The W Series will run in support of DTM at each track.
“It’s going to prepare us for the next step in our career, whatever it is,” Decker said. “If someone wants to go F1 racing, maybe even Formula E, whatever they want. I want to go NASCAR racing. It’s whatever these females want to do in their racing career.
“It’s going to give them free track time, experience, experience that they wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else. We’re going to be traveling all over the world, to six different racetracks, working with new teams, drivers. I think that these girls are going to learn so much, take it so far, and do really well.”
In the initial selection process, Decker was one of seven women from the United States, including her 2018 ARCA Menard Series teammate, Toni Breidinger. Sabre Cook, Courtney Crone, Cassie Gannis, Shea Holbrook, and Hanna Zellers were the other Americans that took part. Joining Decker in Spain will be both Cook and Holbrook. After becoming teammates, Breidinger and Decker often hang out away from the track.
Decker leaned on Breidinger as the duo attempted to qualify for the W Series.
“There were a few Americans that went to Austria, I think there were nine there, but one was a teammate of mine last year, Toni. We were in the same group and we really leaned on each other for advice and just to be there for each other because we didn’t know what to expect, and just to have a friend while we were going through that process it was so wonderful. To have her, know her, have her there with me meant a lot. She helped me so much.”
Decker was placed in ‘Team Monaco’ during the selection process. Although everyone on the team were competing for a qualifying spot, they supported each other in the exercises. Decker and her teammates pushed each other to perform better, and ultimately have a better chance at being selected to participate in the four-day test.
Despite the support from former competitors such as Lyn St. James, that has existed since the W Series was announced in 2018, there are still many against the format. Detractors of the series have made claims of segregation and sexism.
Decker was adamant that the W Series is not segregating the drivers.
“They (the detractors) don’t know everything about it. If they were to listen to Lyn St. James who was there. She gave so many inspirational speeches. The CEO of the company was there, and her exact words were that she wants, ‘to train us, prepare us to be the best we can so we can go out there and kick the guys ass.’
“What they’re doing isn’t separating us full-time. Yes, it’s a series just for women, but they’re only separating us to give only us the opportunity, to train us and make us the best we can be. And then to go out there and race against the guys. They’re doing that by giving this to us for free. That is the hardest thing to find in racing, sponsors.
“To have this is wonderful, and I think everyone should support it because they are helping us and giving us the chance to be the best we can, which we may not have had because of money.”
After the four-day test in Spain, Decker’s next scheduled NASCAR event is in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 6 with DGR – Crosley Group.