Need for speed

14-year-old Natasia Dodd can't get enough time at the racetrack and is sweeping up win after win -- even beating seasoned racers

Tiffany TuellSeptember 6, 2012 

Nastasia Dodd, 14, a sophomore at Yosemite High School, didn't know what she was in for when she and grandfather Ray Mayer took a drive on his property until Ray pointed something out to her -- a Toyota Celica.

"What's that," she asked.

It was then that Ray told her that was her very own racecar.

"I was excited and jumped in it right away," Dodd said.

Off she went, never having driven a car before, almost going off the road after hitting a cattle shoot.

Mayer, who has been racing since 1973, said it's in the family's blood. His great uncle raced at the board track in Fresno 1920-27.

"It's a good family sport and a good opportunity for girls to be in auto racing now," Ray said.

On March 24 she was out at Madera Speedway for the first time. Her mother, Rachel Mayer, said race officials asked her, "You do know gas pedals are on right?" Dodd of course knew where the gas pedal was located, but did not know how to properly use a clutch. Her first race consisted of sputtering around the track and getting lapped five times during the 30 lap race.

Things began to change rapidly. She placed third at her second race and six races later, on May 26, she won her first trophy dash at Madera Speedway.

Grandmother LeAnn and Ray said they thought this year Dodd would just "spin circles" and focus more on learning procedures and how to drive the 4 banger -- a car with four cylinders -- but now no one can pass her. "She is a natural," said LeAnn. "She catches on so quick and she listens. He (Ray) tells her to do something and we discuss it as we drive to the track and she'll do it to a T."

One bit of advice Ray gave Nastasia -- to let go of the steering wheel if she ever crashed. She did just that recently but failed to take her foot off the gas and eventually got back on track and steered her car with her knees to a first place finish.

Dodd was driving so well at Madera Speedway no one could pass her. Officials finally stopped the entire race to see if she was cheating by using a blue tooth -- a cell phone ear piece. When there was no blue tooth, they checked the motor and finally realized that Dodd is just really good at blocking out drivers from getting around her.

Rachel, who attends every event but is too afraid to watch the actual race, says the best part is hearing the gasp from the crowd when Dodd takes off and they hear her age.

"The guys out there are all working on their cars and she's doing jumping jacks and singing on the sidelines and then she gets in her and beats them all," Rachel said, laughing.

Dodd says she loves everything about the sport and the only thing she doesn't like is that there aren't enough races -- she only gets to race once a week.

Even after crashes she doesn't have second thoughts about racing -- she just wants her car fixed when needed faster -- so she can jump behind the wheel and get back on the track.

However, after five months in the 4 banger, the 140 horse power car finally went out with a crash. Now Dodd has transitioned over to a 500 horsepower SportMod. In her first SportMod race a couple weeks ago, Dodd won the race.

"If you were to ask me about racing, I'd have no clue. But when I get in the race car, I know what to do," Dodd said.

Ray says it's because his granddaughter is a natural born racer.

"They say if you have to think about it, it's too late, but it's an instinct to her," he said.

Dodd is even learning to be her own mechanic and has helped rebuild a motor alongside her grandfather, and helped him remove her seat and steering system to adapt it to her smaller frame (the car was previously Ray's). Through this work, Ray said Dodd is learning more than just the mechanics of the car.

"It's (racing) not just hopping into a car," Ray said. "It's a lot of weight, percentages ... and a lot of geometry."

Dodd is also taking auto mechanics at Yosemite High School and her dream -- to become a professional race car driver like Dana Kirkpatrick.

When she's not leaving people in the dust at the racetrack, Dodd is either riding quads, practicing with the swim team at YHS, or hanging out with her five-year-old cow Precious -- yet another random Christmas present from Grandfather Ray.

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