Julie Nataas notes that the NHRA Top Alcohol Championship is failing to open the way to the professional ranks

By | April 3, 2024

Champ Nataas finds a blocked path to NHRA Top FuelNHRA/National Dragster

  • Twenty-time NHRA winner is in her final year with Randy Meyer Racing.

  • Nataas ‘definitely deserves a chance’, says Tony Stewart.

  • The Norwegian-born driver says she is looking forward to “going somewhere else and developing as a driver.”

Reigning NHRA Top Alcohol Dragster champion Julie Nataas said she doesn’t feel like she has “yet been passed over” for an opportunity to advance to the professional ranks. “I haven’t looked at it that way yet,” said the Norwegian-born, third-generation drag racer.

However, she admitted: “I don’t think a championship will get you a ride anytime soon. No one really cares. Yes, you had a championship, and I can say you did, and it’s part of who I am today. But it doesn’t really get you anything bigger or bigger just because you won the championship.

“People do notice it,” says Nataas, “but it doesn’t give you anything extra. It’s not like, ‘Oh, you win a championship and now you’re going to race Top Fuel. It’s more about the money than anything else. If you have the talent, that obviously helps enormously.”

The Randy Meyer Racing headliner, with 20 wins for the team that has captured series titles in four of the past five years, is in her sixth and final season with the Kansas-based team. And team owner Meyer said it is to advance the careers of Nataas and her teammate Hunter Green (son of Funny Car racer Chad Green): “Our goal is to help Julie and Hunter “win more races and championships before they switching to the nitro ranks.”

julie natas nrajulie natas nra

Julie Nataas won the 2023 NHRA Top Alcohol championship, edging out runner-up Tony Stewart along the way.NHRA/National Dragster

She said, “He knows I want to drive a Top Fuel car, and he’s totally positive about it. So there are no bad feelings between us. I’ve had a great – more than a few – years here. I mean, I’ve been here since ’17, so it’s about me growing and going somewhere else and developing as a driver and all those good things that we want to do.

Nataas has been expressing her desire for years to follow in the footsteps of father Thomas Nataas and grandfather Albin Nataas. Thomas Nataas raced a Pro Mod, Funny Car and Top Fuel Dragster in the FIA ​​European Championship and in the US in NHRA’s Top Fuel class.

“I’m ready to move up,” she said. “I have been here for a long time and I think it is time for a new challenge, a change. Obviously everyone knows I want to start racing Top Fuel, so I feel like at some point I have to say, ‘Enough is enough, and it’s time to take it a step further.’

Another Scandinavian, current FIA European Top Fuel champion Ida Zetterström of Sweden, is set to make her debut for Joe Maynard’s JCM Racing organization later this season, as teammate to eight-time dragster champion Tony Schumacher. Nataas, who turned 27 in December, and Zetterström, who will turn 30 from May 2, are casual acquaintances from their European racing days. And Nataas said she doesn’t envy the opportunity Zetterström has been given with no American racing experience.

“I don’t know what she brought to that, but I do know she brought some money. Everyone knows that I also have to bring some money,” Nataas said. “She got that driving job for a reason, and I feel like if they wanted me, they would have hired me. And I wasn’t hired there, so I’m not allowed to be there. I know there are greater and greater opportunities ahead of me, and I certainly haven’t given up yet.

“So I’ll enjoy this year and this car, and then I’ll go straight into my race, not knowing where I’ll be next year or what I’ll do or what I’ll drive. she said. “I feel like once you close one door, usually another door opens, and hopefully that’s positive. That’s the way I choose to look at it now. It’s weird to saying I don’t know where I’m going to be next year and I don’t know what I’m going to ride or where I’m going to be but I hope something’s going to happen. And I have a feeling it’s going to be something. I’m not scared yet or afraid that I don’t have a job.”

Tony Stewart – who lost his points lead and thus the championship to Nataas last year thanks to a questionable NHRA technology violation – applauded her skills and said he wouldn’t be surprised if she joins him in the Top Fuel class would end up.

He said: ‘I don’t know what it will take for her to get a chance, but she certainly deserves a chance.

“She’s doing well. With the Alcohol car we had a kind of head start on her reaction time at the beginning of the year. And literally, in the last third of the season, her reaction times got better. I don’t know what adjustments she made, but she made adjustments and her lights turned out really good. So I think it shows her talent. And it’s just an opportunity. I mean, there just aren’t many of these things [Top Fuel dragsters] lying around for people to drive.”

One tool Nataas has used with some success is networking. “That’s what brought me here in the first place, after racing in Europe and coming here. So that’s what I’ve always done, she said, admitting that “maybe” she should be more aggressive about it. But she wondered, “How do you know this is the right thing to do?” Don’t know. I don’t feel like I’m behind, otherwise I would have been in a Top Fuel car sooner. I also said I want to be the best driver ever, and I’m not going to rush things. I want to feel comfortable, and right now I definitely feel comfortable. I just didn’t want to jump into a Top Fuel dragster here at 18 just because I could.”

She said she feels more confident today because “you learn a lot in this racing world. It can be rough here, and it immediately makes you stronger. And it is through experience that you learn to deal with it better.”

On her prospects, Nataas said: “I’m not saying I’m not having conversations, but nothing is planned. Nothing is ready, but there have always been conversations about it [her move to Top Fuel] since 2018, 2019.” Nataas also has a license in Top Alcohol Funny Car.

“In most other sports in general and in motorsport, when you win a championship and do all these great things, there’s always someone knocking on your door or something. Drag racing, it’s not like that.”

If she can uproot herself from her small town of Drøbak, Norway, and cross the Atlantic Ocean to find her home in the heart of America and win races and a championship, she can make sure her opportunity is not passed up. to complete her goal.

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