“I could drive a racecar before I could drive on the street,” laughed sophomore Natalie Fenaroli. At the age of 14, Fenaroli earned her competition driver’s license.
Fenaroli tucked her light brown hair behind her ears in concentration as she began to recollect the days she started practicing her motor skills off the track. She found a daily commute through residential areas and intersections to be much harder than expected.
“I had these fears that 16-year-olds don’t usually have,” she explained. “When I was on the road, I was so scared of oncoming traffic that I would drive all the way to the right hand edge of the road because when you’re on a racetrack, if you see a car going in the opposite direction something is very wrong.”
Dubbed one of Auto Week’s “Five of the Fastest Women You Will Ever Meet” at the age of twelve, Fenaroli’s progression through grassroots-level racing has been documented by magazines and newspapers all over the country — she was even offered her own reality television show. Everyone wants to spotlight this girl wonder, asking her to share driving tips and to give an insider’s look to her blue Spec Miata racecar.
Fenaroli won her group’s Kid Kart National Championship at the age of seven, a Cadet Championship at the age of 11, and, after obtaining her competition license at 14, she was the highest finishing female in Mazda’s Teen Mazda Challenge — and the only female to win a race in that series’ history.
Her passion started at a very early age. For Fenaroli’s fifth birthday, she was gifted a go-cart from her parents. “My dad wanted me to have these instinctive motor skills that were hard-wired into me,” she said.
Fenaroli’s sharp learning curve was aided by shared knowledge among drivers of her racing community and their families. “I still remember the other drivers when I was really little at the grassroots level. People are helpful — not all [people] but a lot,” she said. “Especially if you’re a rookie, people are typically really willing to help.” She admits it does get less friendly as drivers work their way up to the professional level.
Throughout high school, Fenaroli jumped to full-size cars. Her weekends generally consisted of working out of the back of a pickup truck as she and her family prepared for events. “It was a serious family endeavor,” said Fenaroli, smiling.
She explained that her school-week would end on Thursday, thanks to flexible teachers. She and her family would drive to wherever the next racing venue was in order to have time to practice on Friday, race on Saturday, and drive home on Sunday to make it back in time for school on Monday.
“I grew up really fast,” Fenaroli said. “By the time that I was twelve years old, I had to give elevator pitches to sponsors about myself. So I had to be adult enough to communicate and handle a situation like that.”
Before Fenaroli graduated high school, she was forced to make the decision between driving and studying. “Racing is a full-time commitment,” Fenaroli explained, “especially when you get to a higher level. I took a year off to work an internship going to all of these races. I couldn’t go to school because I was working races. A driver would have meetings in-between. It wouldn’t have been impossible, but it would have been really, really difficult and I probably wouldn’t have been able to give each one of them my full attention.”
In the end, Fenaroli chose to invest in her college career, but the racing scene has stayed a part of her life. Aside from majoring in Business Administration with an emphasis in Marketing, Fenaroli is also a technical official and pit lane technician for Indy Lights.
During competitions, she stands on pit lane in order to keep an eye on teams, acting as a liaison between race controls up in the towers and the race teams. She also makes sure drivers adhere to competition rules. Her job takes her all over the country and even occasionally internationally. “IndyCar will fly me to an event and I’d work for three,or five, or however many days they want me to, and then they fly me home,” she said. Fenaroli will be working at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach this weekend.
“My end goal is to be a Director of Motorsports for a factory,” said Fenaroli. “They have a group of people whose entire job is to deal with the company’s relationship with motor sports in a country. The reason I’m interested in moving to the corporate side is, if you’re the person dealing with how money is spent, it’s amazing what you can do to make the industry better. I want to be the person who helps dictate the moves the company makes. I want to be able to be in a position to make racing more popular again and make it easier for young kids and women to be successful in the industry, whether that be a team owner, an engineer, or as a driver.”