By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
Natalie Decker has signed a full-time deal with Venturini Motorsports and will pilot the team’s No. 25 Toyota for the 2018 ARCA Racing Series season. The deal was officially announced on Friday afternoon at Kansas Speedway prior to the series’ 20th and final race of the 2017 season.
“I’m so excited,” Decker told Motorsports Tribune. “I’ve known for so long, so I’m just so pumped to finally tell everyone and be able to talk about it in my interviews.
“I’ve known for like five months and I’m so excited be able to talk about it. Since we decided to do the full season, we planned to announce it at Kansas since it was the last race of the season.”
The deal comes as a result of Decker’s performance in six races with the team this year, where the 20-year-old driver recorded two top-10 results and more importantly brought the car home with nary a scratch.
“Growing up, ever since I started racing, that’s been the thing, bring the car home in one piece and keep it clean. That’s been one of the goals other than getting a top-10.”
Decker will be paired once again with veteran crew chief Dave Leiner, who has worked with the rookie driver for the majority of her 2017 races in the ARCA Series.
“I love him so much. He’s so fun to work with and such a great teacher. I wish I had him teaching me in high school, he’s that good at teaching. I’m really excited to work with him again next year.”
N29 Capital Partners, LLC will continue their support of Decker next season. What started as a three race ARCA schedule for the 2017 season back in March continued to expand as the Eagle River, Wisconsin native experienced success and gained valuable experience as the year progressed.
“We had a meeting with them before the beginning of the race season. We showed them our plan and what we wanted to do and it really just started off with the three races and continued to grow,” Decker said of her relationship with N29.
The pairing between Decker and the Madison, Wisconsin-based company is a perfect match, as both driver and sponsor hail from The Badger State and N29’s business is focused on financially supporting early-stage, Wisconsin-based companies that have created products or services that are disruptive in their industry.
“It’s definitely really awesome to not have to work on a full-time deal during the off-season because usually that’s all race car drivers do in the off-season. I’m happy that I don’t have to worry about that, but I’m still going to be working really hard for other sponsors. It never ends,” Decker said with a laugh.
Decker’s 2017 ARCA schedule concludes with her seventh race in Friday night’s season-finale at Kansas Speedway and has included a variety of tracks from the 2.5-mile Pocono Speedway, to the scenic Road America, to the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway.
“I’m really pumped that I’ve done Kentucky and that I’m doing Kansas and getting more mile-and-a-half experience,” said Decker, who also spent time in Toyota Racing’s simulator last week to help with preparations.
“That was so amazing. Toyota does an amazing job and I really felt like I already raced Kansas. I did probably 160 to 180 laps and I felt like I was in the car. I actually got tired and it felt so real.
“Kentucky was my first mile-and-a-half and it was definitely really hard. I thought it was a lot harder than my first time at Pocono. I’m excited that I went to Kentucky and experienced a mile-and-a-half before coming to Kansas. I’m glad that my schedule this year was these seven races at these six tracks.”
In 2018, Decker will look to become just the fifth female in modern day ARCA history to compete for the ARCA championship, joining Shawna Robinson (2000), Christi Passmore (2003 and 2004), Milka Duno (2013) and Sarah Cornett-Ching (2015). The highest race result for a female driver is second, set by Robinson in 1999 and tied by Erin Crocker in 2005.
“Being a female, I just see myself as another race car driver when I’m out there. When I first started racing I never even looked at it as a challenge. I just looked at it as a dream and a goal to get to NASCAR.”