'I feel like we're going to have a little angel with us'
SLAYTON -- David Stremme never met Natalie Krohn, a 9-year-old girl from Slayton who tragically lost her life last weekend.
But Sunday, on NASCAR's biggest stage, the Sprint Cup driver's car will don a memorial for Krohn on his No. 30 Toyota Camry.
"I kind of feel like I have a little co-partner that's going to be riding along with me this weekend," said Stremme between practice sessions Friday. "The other thing is that it shows the racing community, whether it's dirt, asphalt, short track racing to what we do, of how strong and how much of a family we are. This is something that everybody might be competitors on the track, but we're definitely friends and family off the track."
The Sprint Cup Series is at Talladega (Ala.) Super Speedway this weekend for the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500, which will air live on ESPN at 1 p.m.
"Coming to Talladega, there is a lot of pressure not to get in the big one and to run up front," Stremme said. "I feel like we're going to have a little angel with us, so hopefully she can guide us through. You have to have some luck on your side, and I hope she can help us a little bit, too.
"Mostly, do you know what would be cool? To be up front there and on TV with her face on there and everybody up in Minnesota where she's from to remember her life and also how proud they were of her and what she's done."
Natalie's father, Jason, is a successful driver in the United States Modified Touring Series (USMTS), winning a national championship in 2007.
"She loved the races," Jason said. "She didn't go to the far away ones. She started to, a couple now and then. Anything that was within driving distance of home within three hours, she never missed one. She was a huge race fan."
And on Sunday, the whole world will see the girl who loved racing.
"I never met Natalie, but I have a little niece, so anybody who has children knows how special children are," Stremme said. "It's just a loss. I'm kind of at a loss for words. All the crew guys, as we put the decal on the hood, everybody was touched by it. We're going to go out here and race this weekend and honor her and hopefully have her face up front."
Brandon Davis of Swan Energy Inc. CEO sponsors Stremme's car.
"I am pleased we were able to do something to honor Natalie at Talladega," Davis said in a release. "I am grateful to have the honor and ability to give Natalie and her family one more day to show the world her smile."
It wasn't the first time Davis has helped the Krohn family.
"It started off with our racing last May," Jason said. "My daughter, her absolute love in life was dance. We were trying to start out running for points in the USMTS series, and she had a dance recital on a Friday night. Thursday night we raced in Waco, Texas, and Saturday night we raced at Cowtown, Texas. Brandon Davis also had an answer for that problem. He had his airplane come to Waco, Texas, to fly me home so I could be at Natalie's dance recital Friday night, and then returned me back to Cowtown Saturday morning.
"I didn't realize what a big deal it was at the time. Looking back, that was pretty huge."
Davis also sponsors Rodney Sanders, another USMTS racer. Sanders dates Jason's daughter, Samantha.
"When Brandon came up to us and talked to us and mentioned it to us, I said, 'Heck yea, let's do this thing, I think it's great,'" Stremme said. "A lot has to go out to him and his company for doing this, too. It takes a group of people and like I said, it means a lot. I never got to meet her, but hearing all the stories and how she loved horses and dancing and how her family is into racing and so forth, it's pretty touching and an honor to have her on the hood."
The support for the entire racing community has been overwhelming.
"Words to express, there are absolutely no words that can express; it's unbelievable," Jason said. "You hear people talk about the racing family, if anybody has any doubts about how strong the racing family really is, I don't know what to say."
Once the race is concluded, the hood of the No. 30 will be given to the Krohn family.
"When we're done this weekend, we're going to take the hood and we're going to send it up there to their hometown and let the family have it and they can do whatever they would like with it," Stremme said.
"We just said, 'If it's wrinkled up, not wrinkled up or however it comes back -- and hopefully it comes back straight, and hopefully there is glitter and champagne sprayed on it -- it will come off and go right there. It would be something we'll try to deliver that to them and meet Jason and his family. The biggest thing is they are going through a tough time. If we can raise their spirits and go out and try to represent Natalie, it could mean a lot."
And as the green flag drops on Sunday's race, Jason and his family will be watching.
"The emotion is of how grateful I am to the people who made it happen," Jason said. "How do you ever thank those people enough? There are so many people and we all know that if we can put everything together, as bad as everybody feels and as much as we people want to help, we could bring her back. But that can't happen, this is the next best thing people can do. My emotion? I won't want the race to end."
Through it all, Stremme has been touched by the southwest Minnesota girl he never met.
"I never even got to meet her and I'm kind of touched by it in a pretty deep way, and it's something I think everybody can relate to having kids and she had a lot of life in front of her," Stremme said. "We're going to celebrate the life she had here on Sunday."
Jason doesn't have any special plans on Sunday, except to watch the race.
"I think we'll just sit around and watch it at home," he said. "Any family that's there is going to watch it with us. We are going to be tuned in all day."
And there is no doubt who the Krohn family will be cheering for to take the checkered flag.
"I absolutely will be a David Stremme fan, no question," Jason said.
Daily Globe Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.