While he’s been a fixture on the Northern Nevada racing scene for quite awhile, it was his wife that got him involved with the sport.
“I started racing in 1999 through Missy,” he said. “We met through a mutual friend in high school, she lived in Reno, I lived here and we’ve just been together ever since. I used to rodeo before that and knew nothing about stock car racing until I met her.”
Missy’s cousin is the late Wayne Richards, a driver that raced at Rattlesnake Raceway for many years.
“I’ve been going to the races since I was a little girl,” she said. “When I said, ‘let’s go to the races,’ he said, ‘what’s that?’”
Then they both laughed over this shared memory.
Natenstedt began his racing at the Reno-Fernley Raceway in the Mini Mod division driving what was actually a Pure Stock Mini with a modified motor.
Four years later, he moved into Street Stocks, which are known as Pro Stocks now.
“I ran that class for two years and won a championship,” he said. “The following year I drove for Bud Rogers in the Modified and drove my Pro Stock. The next year I bought my own car, a modified, and raced Grandpa’s and mine.”
As both the Mod Minis and Pro Stocks have similar suspensions his transition wasn’t hard despite the difference in horsepower.
“I transitioned really well into the modified due to the fact that I was in the same kind of suspension I had in the pro stock,” he said. “I was able to apply a little bit more knowledge and adjustment to the car. Racing in the pro stock got me trained for the modified.”
After winning the Pro Stock Championship in 2004, he won Rookie of the Year during that first modified season. This was followed by a long dry spell until he won his first modified title.
“In 2004 ran the Pro Stock and in 2005 won the Mod Mini title in Winnemucca and the 318 championship in Fernley. Then I was out of championships until 2009,” he said.
Like most modified drivers, Natenstedt went through the huge learning curve and only won six times over the next four years.
“Then I got into a new car, had some knowledge, went out and won 18 times in 2009,” he said.
This started three years of winning two championships each year with his first pair being at Fernley and Fallon. In 2010 he followed that by winning titles at Lovelock and Fallon. This past year, he won the IMCA championship at Fallon and the NASCAR crown at Fernley.
It took several years to turn his racing fortunes around and Natenstedt’s success has had an effect on several drivers, who stepped up their game and actually beat him a few times during the 2011 season.
“That’s what I did when I was getting my butt kicked,” he said. “Day in and day out finishing second place and I said, ‘know what, I better step up my game here.’ I didn’t bad mouth the guy, was friends with the guy and he wasn’t cheating but he was better than me.”
Natenstedt then used the off-season to do his homework and get better.
“Next year I came out and it’s amazing how much difference the effort you put into your car makes,” he said. “He taught me a lot and I finished second to him for a whole year. Once I started beating him our relationship started getting strained because we’re competitive and I was just there to win.”
Since then that driver stopped racing on dirt and is competing in drifting. But both men remain friends and still talk to each other.
“Yeah, I ruffled feathers along the way with some people but competition always ruffles feathers,” Natenstedt said.
Missy also decided to join in the fun and in 2001 she began to race a Pure Stock Mini car. Now they are a racing couple.
She raced her Pure Stock Mini for two years then in 2003 drove Natenstedt’s truck until he rolled it. So for the 2004 season he built her a new car.
“I raced the pure stocks for two years then moved up into the Mod Minis and in 2005 won the RFR championship. Then I took a couple of years off and I jumped into the Hobby Stock three years ago,” she said.
Both of their daughters, Kayla and Mckenzie, aren’t interested in driving but they enjoy going to the races and rooting for their parents. In fact, Missy said they’re already begun asking when racing is going to start again.
“Racing is just a huge part of our lives but without my family’s support I wouldn’t be where I am now,” he said.
After hearing a year ago that Reno-Fernley would reopen as a NASCAR track, Natenstedt was cool to the idea.
“Our initial reaction was that we didn’t want NASCAR because we’re so embedded into IMCA,” he said. “And finishing in the top 20 in national points the previous two years, winning state the previous two years and two track championships we didn’t want to go that route because we wanted to keep embedded in IMCA. But we gave it a whirl, it’s our hometown, we support our track and our sponsors supported us.”
And an impressive whirl it was.
He won 11 of the 13 races at Fallon and claimed that track’s IMCA title, which put him third for the IMCA state title.
He also drove in some races in Winnemucca and ran last year’s Iron Man Tour, 10 IMCA Modified races on five tracks during a two-week period.
“We ran seven of the 10 nights and got a win at Lovelock, which was probably the biggest of my career,” he said. “We had phenomenal finishes five of the seven nights but we didn’t carry on as we had to come back to Fernley to run for points.”
While he had good results last season at both Rattlesnake Raceway and RFR their respective titles weren’t in the bag until almost the end of the season.
“At Fallon I wasn’t sure until almost the last two races to go,” he said. “I think I finished with 55 points in the lead, it wasn’t extremely close but consistently getting bigger.
Unlike Fallon where a win is worth 40 points, those for NASCAR depend on the car count, two points for each car, and a win counts for 5 points.
Natenstedt won at Fernley by 95 points, but he had to finish well in the final three races to sew up that crown. The state title however went down to the final race where he won by 65 points.
The Nevada title earned the Natenstedts a trip to Charlotte, N.C., the heart of NASCAR country.
“That trip was really fun, Missy and I got to go, we took our sponsors with us and we had a good weekend,” he said. “It was like red carpet treatment, they had our hotel rooms ready for us, we had breakfast, award ceremonies and dinners.”
Reflecting on his state title he said, “It’s important and probably by far the biggest championship I’ve every won just because it’s on a national level. The IMCA is not as well known so when I say we’re a NASCAR champion, it opens their eyes. Since Fernley’s not going to be NASCAR any more I probably will be the only Reno-Fernley NASCAR Whelen All American Series champion ever.”
When he’s at any track Natenstedt admitted he puts a lot of pressure on himself to succeed, especially for his sponsors.
“There’re the ones that are helping me succeed,” he said. “And I’ve got to remember that’s not why they sponsored us, they sponsored us because they want us to have fun, do good and advertise their name. But I want to do good for them to keep them coming back.”
Those sponsors are: The Silverado Casino in Fernley, Silver Strike Casino in Silver Springs, Carson Plains Casino in Dayton, Jakes gas in Fernley, TSM Shocks, New Vision Graphics and Competition which helps us out, Larry Shaw Chassis, New Vision Graphics, and Competition Carburetion. All of which will be with him this year.
He also gave special thanks to his long time crew, Larry Creiglow and Jerry Crowley. And he appreciates the help that Larry Shaw Chassis has given him so much that he became a dealer for that company.
And like any driver he has his favorite and not so favorite aspects of racing.
“The favorite part of racing is having the camaraderie between the fellow racers, having my family there very weekend and just being able to enjoy it with your friends is just by far the best part of it,” he said. “The least is the work it takes to prep the car and to keep the car in tip-top shape, it’s grueling and every week I’m out there non-stop.
As a result, the 2012 season will be one of changes.
“I kind of have mixed feelings about it because we’ve gone so hard the last six years, I mean we’ve raced an average of 45 races a year,” he said. “I’m kind of wanting to wind down a little bit and just pick and choose where I want to race. My family wants to travel and go race other people, new people and new tracks, so I think we’re going to venture out and try that as much as I want to.”
Among other tracks he hopes to race at both Quincy and maybe Susanville are on the list. Missy added they might do one track for points then on the off weekends kind of hit and miss where they want to.
Then they both laughed after she mentioned that for the past few years they’ve agreed not to get caught up in a points race but did anyway
Another change is that his wife will race a new Sport Mod at Fallon as they’ve sold her Hobby Stock.
While these cars look like a modified they use different motors, a simpler suspension and aren’t as expensive to run as a full-blown modified.
“We bought her a 2008 Shaw chassis, which is a very nice car. She’s excited and I’m excited because I’m ready to get out of stock cars as I don’t like working on them,” he said. “I’m hoping she’ll be 10-steps ahead of everybody because I’ll be able to give her something that will work as I know a lot about these cars.”
When they go to Fallon this season, he’ll be her pit guy and probably won’t defend his championship there.
“He’ll help me learn and we want to grow this class over the next two years,” she said.
Looking at his time on the track he said, “ I also enjoy the fans, the people that come watch the races. My pit crew all want me to race and do good, so I want to race, I just don’t know how much I want to race.”
After nine dirt track championships, Natenstedt is preparing for this new season, one of new challenges, new tracks and change.
OTHER RACING NEWS
•If possible Exit 28 will have another two-day practice session this weekend. For more information go to their Web site: www.livfast.com.