Eagle River native Natalie Decker will race in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2019. —Photo Courtesy of ARCA
Eagle River native Natalie Decker will race in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2019. —Photo Courtesy of ARCA
Eagle River’s Natalie Decker announced this week that she’ll be headed to the NASCAR circuit after being invited to join the DGR-Crosley team that has added Decker to their driver development program for the 2019 season.

As part of the development program, Decker will run a select number of NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series races as well as a combination of NASCAR K&N Pro Series and ARCA Racing Series events.

The 21-year-old will make the transition to the Truck Series after competing in the ARCA Racing Series for the past two years. Decker, coming off a career-best season, finished seventh in the 2018 ARCA Driver Point Standings after scoring two top-five and nine top-10 finishes throughout the 20-race season.

“I’m really excited to be making the step up to trucks, especially with DGR-Crosley,” said Decker. “They bring fast Toyotas to the track every weekend, whether it be in the K&N Series or Truck Series.”

Decker, whose goal in racing she says is to reach the pinnacle as a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competitor, said the selection into the next series is hopefully another step in achieving that goal.

“Making the transition to trucks is going to help me progress my career and build my skill set,” said Decker. “Being able to race in all three series will be beneficial because I can run an ARCA or K&N race that will help me prepare for the truck race.”

Decker’s longtime partner N29 Technologies LLC will come on board as she enters her rookie season at DGR-Crosley. By keeping the familiar faces around her, Decker said it will make the transition that much easier.

“I think it’s very important that I’ll have the same team around me whichever series I’m running,” she said. “And having David (Gilli­land) there to help coach me and give me advice. Being a driver with a lot of experience and the father to a race car driver, I’m really excited to learn from him.”

As plans continue to come together, DGR-Crosley co-owner David Gilliland is excited for the future as well, especially now that it includes Decker.

“I’m excited to be adding Natalie to our 2019 driver roster at DGR-Crosley,” said Gilliland. “We have really competitive cars and a lot of talented drivers lined up for next year, so I’m excited to see what we can do together.”

Gilliland said he’s been a fan of Decker’s since she rose through the ARCA series, and has been someone that he’s had on his radar as a prospect to move into the next level.

“I’ve watched Natalie develop over the last season in an ARCA car, and it’ll be fun putting her in our equipment and watching her progress to the Truck Series,” he said.

Decker is expected to make her NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut in February at Daytona International Speedway in Florida.

A full schedule for Decker’s 2018-’19 season will be released at a later date.

No stranger

When Decker arrives in Daytona, Fla., this February she’ll do so with some momentum.

After making seven career ARCA Racing Series starts in 2017, Decker competed in the full ARCA schedule in 2018, which started off by Decker posting a career-best finish of fifth at Daytona International Speedway.

The performance also saw her come away with the SCOTT Rookie of the Race award and the General Tire Pole award. It made Decker just the third female driver to earn a pole at Daytona, joining Patty Moise and Erin Crocker.

After racing seven of the 20 stops in 2017, she ended the 2018 ARCA season being one of only seven drivers to start all 20 races on the schedule. She finished in seventh place in overall points and posted nine top-10 finishes, of which two were top-fives.

W Series

With the announcement of her future plans, also revealed this week was a list of 50 worldwide finalists who are looking to be names in the W Series, a racing circuit which “aims to give remarkable female drivers an opportunity in motorsport that simply hasn’t been available to them before now.”

Decker was one of 55 drivers selected from a pool of more than 100 applicants from 30 countries around the world, including the United States, China and India as well as the U.K., Italy, Germany and Scandinavia.

“Talent does not have a gender,” a spokesperson for the W Series said. “We believe anyone with skill, passion and commitment should have a chance to race at the pinnacle of motorsport, and W Series will create those chances, open doors and fuel our future.”

The W Series championship, backed by the likes of former grand prix winner David Coulthard and esteemed F1 tech chief Adrian Newey, was announced in October with a $1.5 million prize fund and no budget requirements from prospective participants.

It is set to be held over six rounds in 2019 and use F3-specification Tatuus T-318 machinery.

“We are thrilled but perhaps not surprised by the response,” series CEO Catherine Bond Muir said. “Even today there is a massive gender imbalance in motorsport and W Series is making the first step to correct that. Drivers from all over the world have stepped forward, so it’s clear that with the right framework we can make the changes this sport desperately needs.”

The list is to be whittled down to a final grid of 18 after a three-day on-and-off-track trial and a subsequent series of track tests with the W Series car.

The selection panel will include Coulthard, series racing director Dave Ryan and former F1 driver Alex Wurz. The debut season kicks off in May 2019.