Ability, toughness, a driving desire to win and a distaste of losing. If you were writing down the attributes of a successful NASCAR racer those certainly would be near the top of the list.
How about beauty queen, cheerleader or even baker of some pretty awesome cookies?
If those didn’t make the list, you haven’t heard of Natalie Sather yet. But if the 24-year-old from Fargo, N.D., sticks to her plan, it won’t be long before racing fans everywhere know her name.
“My true passion is racing,” said Sather, who is taking part in NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program this summer by competing in the Super Late Model division at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe. “My three-year goal is to make it into the Nationwide Series.”
If anyone can go from racing sprint cars on dirt to competing on national TV in one of NASCAR’s national racing series in the space of a few years, Sather would be a good bet.
She was the first woman to win a major sprint-car points title — the American Sprint Car Series Midwest Championship in 2007, and she also won a national go-kart title.
Despite never having raced in a late-model stock car or on pavement, she was one of 12 — out of more than 200 that applied — to be selected for NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, which gives young minority and female drivers a chance to compete with established race teams.
At Evergreen Speedway, Sather is driving for the Total Velocity Motorsports team, which is owned by veteran late-model racer Jeff Knight. To show the ropes to his young teammate, Knight tapped his friend and long-time racer Roger Habich to serve as Sather’s crew chief and mentor.
Habich, who has been involved in racing at Evergreen since 1986, said he was immediately impressed by Sather’s determination, ability to learn and willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve her dream.
“Natalie’s attitude is awesome … She wants to get to the top level of NASCAR and she’s quite focused on it,” Habich said. “It doesn’t matter what it is, playing Monopoly or sweeping the shop, she’s trying to do it faster or better.”
In just her fourth race in a late model car on asphalt, Sather recorded a top-five finish May 9 at Evergreen Speedway. That caught the attention of veteran driver Tom Hughs, who said he didn’t want to remember how the fourth race in his career went.
“That’s all she’s done since she was 9 is race,” said Tessa Sather, Natalie Sather’s mother. “She doesn’t know anything but this. She really wants to succeed at it.”
In Fargo, there was no mini-sprint class so Natalie Sather made the jump from go-karts directly into a 360 sprint car. In just her fifth sprint-car race, she was put into the outer wall nose-first by a driver who may have taken exception to being passed by a rookie 17-year-old girl.
Another car came around the turn at full speed and T-boned her car, leaving Sather with three compound fractures in her right leg.
In addition to months of painful surgeries and physical rehab, Sather had to deal with her own fears before deciding — against doctor’s orders — to start racing again four months after the accident.
“It was really, really hard for me to get back in the car. At that point I made the decision that this is something I’ve been working for and my dream, and I’m not going to give up …” said Sather, who paused before continuing with a laugh: “For a minor three breaks, three screws, a rod and seven surgeries.”
One other hurdle Sather faced was dealing with the physical aftermath of the accident. Although she admitted to being self-conscious of the numerous scars on her leg, she didn’t allow them to dictate her life.
Sather bears a passing resemblance to IndyCar driver Danica Patrick, and like Patrick — who has often appeared on Hollywood red carpets — Sather isn’t afraid of showing her feminine side.
After the accident, she continued as captain of her high school cheerleading squad — “I’d be cheering Friday nights, racing Saturdays,” Sather said — and three months later she entered the Miss Teen North Dakota pageant.
“She limped a little bit,” Tessa Sather said of her oldest daughter. “She’s tough and she has a lot of confidence in herself. I don’t know how to explain it; she’s just a different breed of cat.”
Natalie Sather was voted Miss Congeniality at the teen pageant and was later the second runner-up in the Miss North Dakota pageant.
Sather, who calls herself the “girliest tomboy you’ll ever meet,” said: “One of the reasons behind (doing the pageants) was to show women you can be feminine, and still be involved in a male-dominated sport.”
Born in Colorado but raised in Fargo, Sather’s has two younger sisters: Whitney, 22, and Sidney, 19. Sather displayed an interest in racing at an early age — taking diecast race cars to show-and-tell in kindergarten — and parents Brad and Tessa Sather responded by getting her a go-kart to race.
Later on, her parents allowed Natalie Sather to change high schools so that she would be able to take a shop class, and she did her senior-year project on four-time NASCAR Cup series champion Jeff Gordon.
“You can just tell how some kids are made different,” Tessa Sather said. “You could tell from day one she was competitive. You could tell she had a need for speed.”
Natalie Sather also admits to having a love of shopping, dogs, hunting and fishing, and country music. She bakes amazingly good cookies, updates her own Web site (www.nataliesather.com) and has been told by friends that she’s no fun to play games with because she hates to lose.
In other words, Sather’s not just your average, run-of-the-mill future NASCAR star. Instead, she’s poised to rewrite that definition while fulfilling her dream of racing at the highest level.
Don’t bet against it.