Julie Nataas Finds NHRA Top Alcohol Championship Fails to Open Path To Pro Ranks

julie nataas nhra top alcohol dragster
Champ Nataas Finds Blocked Path to NHRA Top FuelNHRA/National Dragster
  • Twenty-time NHRA winner is in her last year with Randy Meyer Racing.

  • Nataas ‘deserves a shot, for sure,’ Tony Stewart says.

  • Norweigan-born driver says she looks 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 “been passed over yet” for a chance to step up to the professional ranks. “I haven’t looked at it that way,” the Norwegian-born third-generation drag racer said.

However, she conceded that “I don't think a championship will really get you a ride anytime soon. No one really cares. Yes, you had a championship, and I can say that I do and it's part of who I am now. But it doesn't really give you anything bigger or greater just because you won the championship.


“People notice,” Nataas said, “but it doesn't give you anything extra. It’s not like, ‘Oh, you win a championship and now you're going Top Fuel racing. It’s more about the money than anything else. Of course, if you have the talent, it definitely helps a lot.”

The Randy Meyer Racing headliner, with 20 victories for the team that has produced series crowns in four of the past five years, is in her sixth and final season with the Kansas-headquartered outfit. And team owner Meyer said, 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 move on to the nitro ranks.”

julie nataas nhra
Julie Nataas won the 2023 NHRA Top Alcohol championship, topping 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 all positive about it. So there's no bad feelings between us. I've had a great—more than a couple—years here. I mean, I've been here since ’17, so it's just about me growing and going somewhere else and developing as a driver and all that good stuff that we want to do.”

Nataas has been vocal for many years about her desire to follow in dad Thomas Nataas’ and grandfather Albin Nataas’ footsteps. Thomas Nataas raced a Pro Mod, Funny Car, and Top Fuel Dragster in the FIA European Championship and in the U.S. in NHRA’s Top Fuel class.

“I am ready to move up,” she said. “I've been here for a long time, and I think it's time for me for a new challenge, a change. Clearly, everyone knows that I want to go Top Fuel racing, so I feel like at some point I have to say, ‘Enough is enough, and it's time to step up.’”

Another Scandinavian, current FIA European Top Fuel champion Ida Zetterström, of Sweden, is poised to make her debut later this season for Joe Maynard’s JCM Racing organization, as a teammate to eight-time dragster champion Tony Schumacher. Nataas, who turned 27 years old in December, and Zetterström, who’ll be 30 as of May 2, are casual acquaintances from their European racing days. And Nataas said she isn’t jealous of the opportunity Zetterström has received with no U.S. racing experience.

“I don't know what she was bringing into that, but I know she brought some money. Everyone knows that I have some money to bring, too,” Nataas said. “She got that driver job for a reason, and I feel like if they wanted me, they would've hired me. And I didn't get hired there, so I'm not supposed to be there. I know there's a bigger and greater opportunity there for me, and I definitely have not given up yet.

“So I'll enjoy this year and this car, and then I'll be leaving right in my racing, not knowing where I am next year or what I'm going to be doing or what I'm going to be driving,” she said. “I feel like once you close one door, most of the time another door opens, and hopefully that's a positive thing. That's the way I choose to look at it right now. It’s weird saying that I don't know where I'm going to be next year and I don't know what I'm going to drive or where I'm going to be, but I hope there's going to be something. And I have a feeling it's going to be something. I'm not scared yet or afraid of not having a job.”

Tony Stewart – who, thanks to a questionable NHRA tech violation, lost his points lead and consequently the championship last year to Nataas – applauded her skills and indicated he wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up in the Top Fuel class like he has.

He said, “I don't know what it's going to take for her to get a shot, but she deserves a shot, for sure.

“She does a good job. The Alcohol car, at the beginning of the year, we kind of had the advantage on her on reaction time. And literally, the last third of the season, her reaction times got better. I don't know what adjustments she made, but she made adjustments and got her lights really good. So I think it shows her talent. And it's just opportunity. I mean, there's just not a lot of these things [Top Fuel dragsters] laying 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 from racing in Europe and coming over here. So that’s something that I've always done, she said, allowing that she “might have to” be more aggressive at it. But she questioned, “How do you know it's the right thing to do? I don't know. I don't feel like I'm behind or I should have been in a Top Fuel car sooner. I've also said that I want to be the best driver there ever was, and I'm not rushing into things. I want to be comfortable, and I'm definitely comfortable at this point. I just didn't want to jump in a Top Fuel dragster here at 18 just because I could.”

She said she feels more self-assured today because “you learn a lot in this racing world. It can be rough out here, and it toughens you up right away, right off the bat. And just by experience, you'll learn how to deal with it better.”

As for her prospects, Nataas said, “I'm not saying that I don't have conversations, but there's nothing planned. Nothing is ready, but there's always been conversations about [her move to Top Fuel] ever since 2018, 2019.” Nataas also is licensed in Top Alcohol Funny Car.

“Most other sports in general and motorsports, when you do go out there and win a championship and you do all these great things, there's always someone knocking at your door or something. Drag racing, it’s not that way.”

If she can uproot herself from her small city of Drøbak, Norway, and cross the Atlantic Ocean to find her racing home in America’s heartland and win races and a championship, she can make sure she isn’t going to be passed over for her chance to complete her goal.