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Ray R. Nichels
1922 - 2005
Nichels Engineering

Ray R. Nichels    by Wm. LaDow

In 1938, at the age of 15, Ray Nichels, went on the road as a midget car crew chief, racing at tracks across America. From 1938-1948, the drivers of the Ray Nichels prepared midgets (campaigned by his father Rudy Nichels) were Ted Duncan, Tony Bettenhausen, Johnnie Parsons, Paul Russo, Mike O'Halloran, and Ray Richards (All members of the Midget Racing Hall of Fame.)

Following his time midget racing, Nichels moved on to Indy cars and eventually participated in 12 Indianapolis 500 races, as a chief mechanic and crew chief. In those twelve 500's, Ray Nichels won one Pole (1957 w/Pat O'Connor), garnered two top-five finishes (a 3rd and a 5th w/Paul Goldsmith), and five top-ten finishes. Most notable of his top-ten finishes was the 9th place showing in the 1950 Indianapolis 500 of the Russo-Nichels Special. Paul Russo and Ray Nichels constructed this car in the basement of Russo's Hammond, Indiana home during the winter of 1949-1950. Qualifying in the 7th row, the Russo-Nichels Special captured the imagination of the American racing public by running with the leaders for much of the day, before the rain-shortened race ended at 345 miles. The Russo-Nichels Special soon became affectionately known as “Basement Bessie” as it was campaigned on the AAA Championship Trail during the 1950 season. In December, Nichels with Johnnie Parsons behind the wheel, won the first ever Indy car race at the newly built Darlington Raceway. On the season, Ray Nichels and Paul Russo and their hand-built "basement" creation missed the chance to win the National Championship only after a season-ending injury to Russo in the November AAA Indy car race in Phoenix.

Nichels then toiled as chief mechanic for Johnnie Parsons’ entries in the 1953 and 1954 Indy 500 races. In June of 1954, Ray Nichels joined the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company as its chief mechanic for all race tire testing. In their first test together, he and driver Sam Hanks teamed up to set a new world's closed-course speed record of 182.554 mph at Chrysler Corporation's newly built Chelsea, Michigan proving grounds in a Nichels prepared Chrysler Hemi-powered Kurtis-Kraft roadster. It would be the first of many world speed records that Nichels and his cars would set over the next 20 years.

In 1957, Ray Nichels and Indiana-based Nichels Engineering won the pole (w/Banjo Matthews) and won the race (w/Cotton Owens) at the NASCAR Grand National Beach Race at Daytona. Two months later, Nichels traveled to Monza, Italy on behalf of Firestone, and set a series of world speed records on the world's highest-banked oval with driver Pat O'Connor behind the wheel of the Chrysler Hemi-powered Kurtis-Kraft roadster. Nichels and O'Connor then returned to the United States where they won the Pole position for the world's most important race, the Indianapolis 500. It is believed Ray Nichels remains to be the only mechanic to ever win the pole at both Daytona and Indianapolis in the same year.

With his 1957 Daytona win, Nichels expanded his stock car racing business becoming the "house" racecar builder for Pontiac from 1956-1963. Working directly for Pontiac Gen. Mgr. Semon "Bunkie" Knudsen, Nichels managed Pontiac's involvement in stock car racing from his operations in Highland, Indiana. By 1961, under Nichels’ guidance, Pontiac dominated American stock car racing. Nichels Engineering driver, Paul Goldsmith captured the USAC National Championship with 10 wins, 7 poles and 16 top-five finishes in 19 races. Overall Pontiac performance in USAC was 14 wins, 10 poles and 38 top-five finishes in 22 races. In NASCAR, overall Pontiac performance was 30 wins in 52 races. In 1962, Pontiac's dominance under Nichels became even further evident as Nichels and Goldsmith won their 2nd consecutive USAC National Championship with 8 wins, 6 poles and 15 top-five finishes in 20 races. Overall Pontiac performance in USAC was 10 wins, 10 poles and 34 top-five finishes in 22 races. Four Nichels Engineering drivers (Goldsmith, A.J. Foyt, Rodger Ward, and Len Sutton) finished in the seasons Top Ten. In NASCAR, overall Pontiac performance was 22 wins in 53 races, with Joe Weatherly winning the National Championship driving a Nichels Engineering built, Bud Moore prepped Pontiac.

In 1961, Nichels Engineering prepared and ran two 1962 Pontiac Catalinas, setting one lap, 500 mile and 24 hour world stock car speed and endurance records at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway. The Nichels Engineering driving team consisted of Rodger Ward, Paul Goldsmith, Len Sutton, Fireball Roberts, Joe Weatherly and Marvin Panch. Nichels mechanics for these historic speed and endurance runs were Ray Nichels, Dale “Tiny” Worley, Bud Moore, Cotton Owens and Smokey Yunick.

In 1963, Nichels and driver Paul Goldsmith delivered one of the most lopsided victories in Daytona Speed Weeks history, in the Challenge Cup 250, when Goldsmith piloted the Nichels Engineering #50 Super Duty 421 Pontiac LeMans to victory, beating 2nd place finisher A.J. Foyt by over 5 miles.

Later in 1963, Ray Nichels and Nichels Engineering became the "house" racecar builder for all of Chrysler Corporation. Nichels role with Chrysler was identical to his with Pontiac. Working for Ronney Householder, Nichels was commissioned to build the fastest and safest stock cars in the business, disseminate racing knowledge and design technology to all Chrysler teams in support of their collective racing efforts. Working with legendary stock car racers Cotton Owens, Ray Fox, Harry Hyde, Norm Nelson, and Petty Enterprises, Nichels Engineering did just that. It is no coincidence that the most prolific period in Chrysler stock car racing history was 1964-1970. Nichels Engineering-built stock cars won national stock car championships in USAC, NASCAR, ARCA and IMCA, several years running, setting speed records at tracks across America.

Ray Nichels and Nichels Engineering won three (3) National Stock Car Championships in USAC. Paul Goldsmith and Ray Nichels combined to win titles in 1961 and 1962. Then in 1967, Nichels and all-time winningest USAC Stock car driver Don White teamed-up for the USAC national championship.

In 13 years of NASCAR competition, Nichels Engineering campaigned cars raced 223 times, garnering 89 top-ten finishes, 62 top-five finishes, 12 Poles and 11 victories. Nichels Engineering was a winner at tracks such as Daytona, Bristol, Rockingham, Michigan, and Talladega. Nichels also won NASCAR pole positions at Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte, Rockingham, Darlington, Michigan, and Riverside.

Nichels Engineering was a seven (7) time NASCAR winner at Daytona from 1957-1970. Winning drivers were Cotton Owens, Bobby Isaac, Paul Goldsmith (2), AJ Foyt, Sam McQuagg and Charlie Glotzbach.

The list of drivers who piloted cars built by and/or campaigned by Ray Nichels and Nichels Engineering is synonymous with American racing excellence .... they are Bobby Isaac, A.J. Foyt, David Pearson, Bobby Unser, Al Unser, Roger Penske, Paul Goldsmith, Rodger Ward, Don White, Tony Bettenhausen, Richard Petty, Dan Gurney, Junior Johnson, Buddy Baker, Bobby Allison, Gordon Johncock, Pat O'Connor, Paul Russo, Mario Andretti, LeeRoy Yarbrough, Jim Hurtubise, Fred Lorenzen, Charlie Glotzbach, Glenn “Fireball” Roberts, Joe Weatherly, Marvin Panch, Cotton Owens, Banjo Matthews, Sam McQuagg, Joe Leonard, Len Sutton, Darel Dieringer, Troy Ruttman, Dave Marcis, Richard Brickhouse, Ramo Stott, Ernie Derr, Jimmy Pardue, James Hylton, Butch Hartman, Roger McCluskey, Bobby Johns, Ray Elder, Norm Nelson and Lloyd Ruby


On April 25th, 1996, Ray Nichels was inducted into Mechanics Hall of Fame within the International Motorsports Hall of Fame located in Talladega, Alabama. On the same day, Indiana Governor, Evan Bayh, awarded Ray Nichels the “Sagamore of the Wabash,” the highest distinguished service honor bestowed upon an Indiana citizen by its governor.

Wm. LaDow / LaDow Publishing – www.RayNichels.com

Make sure you check out LaDow Publishing's Ray Nichels Website & Book:   www.RayNichels.com

In 1938, at the age of 15, Ray Nichels went on the road as a midget car crew chief, racing at tracks across America. From 1938-1948, the drivers of the Ray Nichels prepared midgets (campaigned by his father Rudy Nichels) were Ted Duncan, Tony Bettenhausen, Johnnie Parsons, Paul Russo, Mike O'Halloran, and Ray Richards (All members of the Midget Racing Hall of Fame.)

 

Following his time midget racing, Nichels moved on to Indy cars and eventually participated in 12 Indianapolis 500 races, as a chief mechanic and crew chief. In those twelve 500's, Ray Nichels won one Pole (1957 w/Pat O'Connor), garnered two top-five finishes (a 3rd and a 5th w/Paul Goldsmith), and five top-ten finishes. Most notable of his top-ten finishes was the 9th place showing in the 1950 Indianapolis 500 of the Russo-Nichels Special. Paul Russo and Ray Nichels constructed this car in the basement of Russo's Hammond, Indiana home during the winter of 1949-1950. Qualifying in the 7th row, the Russo-Nichels Special captured the imagination of the American racing public by running with the leaders for much of the day, before the rain-shortened race ended at 345 miles. The Russo-Nichels Special soon became affectionately known as “Basement Bessie” as it was campaigned on the AAA Championship Trail during the 1950 season. In December, Nichels with Johnnie Parsons behind the wheel, won the first ever Indy car race at the newly built Darlington Raceway. On the season, Ray Nichels and Paul Russo and their hand-built "basement" creation missed the chance to win the National Championship only after a season-ending injury to Russo in the November AAA Indy car race in Phoenix.

 

Nichels then toiled as chief mechanic for Johnnie Parsons’ entries in the 1953 and 1954 Indy 500 races. In June of 1954, Ray Nichels joined the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company as its chief mechanic for all race tire testing. In their first test together, he and driver Sam Hanks teamed up to set a new world's closed-course speed record of 182.554 mph at Chrysler Corporation's newly built Chelsea, Michigan proving grounds in a Nichels prepared Chrysler Hemi-powered Kurtis-Kraft roadster. It would be the first of many world speed records that Nichels and his cars would set over the next 20 years.

In 1957, Ray Nichels and Indiana-based Nichels Engineering won the pole
Here's Nichels and an assistant testing a Pontiac V-8 on the dyno. Note the reverse-flow cooling system, indicating a pre-'58 V-8 engine. (w/Banjo Matthews) and won the race (w/Cotton Owens) at the NASCAR Grand National Beach Race at Daytona. Two months later, Nichels traveled to Monza, Italy on behalf of Firestone, and set a series of world speed records on the world's highest-banked oval with driver Pat O'Connor behind the wheel of the Chrysler Hemi-powered Kurtis-Kraft roadster. Nichels and O'Connor then returned to the United States where they won the Pole position for the world's most important race, the Indianapolis 500.

It is believed Ray Nichels remains to be the only mechanic to ever win the pole at both Daytona and Indianapolis in the same year.




In addition to their Pontiac activities, Nichels Engineering was also under contract to Firestone for testing and development. The fleet of test cars pictured here includes a '59 Catalina, a Pontiac-powered Kurtis Indy car, and a '58 Chieftain. With his 1957 Daytona win, Nichels expanded his stock car racing business becoming the "house" racecar builder for Pontiac from 1956-1963. Working directly for Pontiac Gen. Mgr. Semon "Bunkie" Knudsen, Nichels managed Pontiac's involvement in stock car racing from his operations in Highland, Indiana. By 1961, under Nichels’ guidance, Pontiac dominated American stock car racing. Nichels Engineering driver, Paul Goldsmith captured the USAC National Championship with 10 wins, 7 poles and 16 top-five finishes in 19 races. Overall Pontiac performance in USAC was 14 wins, 10 poles and 38 top-five finishes in 22 races. In NASCAR, overall PontiacThis is Nichels Engineering's car carrier loaded up with '62 Tempests prepped for that year's Pure Oil Economy Run. Super Duty versions of both four-cylinder and 421 engines were used. performance was 30 wins in 52 races. In 1962, Pontiac's dominance under Nichels became even further evident as Nichels and Goldsmith won their 2nd consecutive USAC National Championship with 8 wins, 6 poles and 15 top-five finishes in 20 races. Overall Pontiac performance in USAC was 10 wins, 10 poles and 34 top-five finishes in 22 races. Four Nichels Engineering drivers (Goldsmith, A.J. Foyt, Rodger Ward, and Len Sutton) finished in the seasons Top Ten. In NASCAR, overall Pontiac performance was 22 wins in 53 races, with Joe Weatherly winning the National Championship driving a Nichels Engineering built, Bud Moore prepped Pontiac.

In 1961, Nichels Engineering prepared and ran two 1962 Pontiac Catalinas, setting one lap, 500 mile and 24 hour world stock car speed and endurance records at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway. The Nichels Engineering driving team consisted of Rodger Ward, Paul Goldsmith, Len Sutton, Fireball Roberts, Joe Weatherly and Marvin Panch. Nichels mechanics for these historic speed and endurance runs were Ray Nichels, Dale “Tiny” Worley, Bud Moore, Cotton Owens and Smokey Yunick.

In 1963, Nichels and driver Paul Goldsmith delivered one of the most lopsided victories in Daytona Speed Weeks history, in the Challenge Cup 250, when Goldsmith piloted the Nichels Engineering #50 Super Duty 421 Pontiac LeMans to victory, beating 2nd place finisher A.J. Foyt by over 5 miles.

Later in 1963, Ray Nichels and Nichels Engineering became the "house" racecar builder for all of Chrysler Corporation. Nichels role with Chrysler was identical to his with Pontiac. Working for Ronney Householder, Nichels was commissioned to build the fastest and safest stock cars in the business, disseminate racing knowledge and design technology to all Chrysler teams in support of their collective racing efforts. Working with legendaryBobbyl Unser # 5 stock car racers Cotton Owens, Ray Fox, Harry Hyde, Norm Nelson, and Petty Enterprises, Nicholls Engineering did just that. It is no coincidence that the most prolific period in Chrysler stock car racing history was 1964-1970. Nichels Engineering-built stock cars won national stock car championships in USAC, NASCAR, ARCA and IMCA, several years running, setting speed records at tracks across America.

Paul Goldsmith and the famous winged 99Ray Nichels and Nichels Engineering won three (3) National Stock Car Championships in USAC. Paul Goldsmith and Ray Nichels combined to win titles in 1961 and 1962. Then in 1967, Nichels and all-time winningest USAC Stock car driver Don White teamed-up for the USAC national championship.

In 13 years of NASCAR competition, Nichels Engineering campaigned cars raced 223 times, garnering 89 top-ten finishes, 62 top-five finishes, 12 Poles and 11 victories. Nichels Engineering was a winner at tracks such as Daytona, Bristol, Rockingham, Michigan, and Talladega. Nichels also won NASCAR pole positions at Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte, Rockingham, Darlington, Michigan, and Riverside.

Nichels Engineering was a seven (7) time NASCAR winner at Daytona from 1957-1970. Winning drivers were Cotton Owens, Bobby Isaac, Paul Goldsmith (2), AJ Foyt, Sam McQuagg and Charlie Glotzbach.

The list of drivers who piloted cars built by and/or campaigned by Ray Nichels and Nichels Engineering is synonymous with American racing excellence .... they are Bobby Isaac, A.J. Foyt, David Pearson, Bobby Unser, Al Unser, Roger Penske, Paul Goldsmith, Rodger Ward, Don White, Tony Bettenhausen, Richard Petty, Dan Gurney, Junior Johnson, Buddy Baker, Bobby Allison, Gordon Johncock, Pat O'Connor, Paul Russo, Mario Andretti, LeeRoy Yarbrough, Jim Hurtubise, Fred Lorenzen, Charlie Glotzbach, Glenn “Fireball” Roberts, Joe Weatherly, Marvin Panch, Cotton Owens, Banjo Matthews, Sam McQuagg, Joe Leonard, Len Sutton, Darel Dieringer, Troy Ruttman, Dave Marcis, Richard Brickhouse, Ramo Stott, Ernie Derr, Jimmy Pardue, James Hylton, Butch Hartman, Roger McCluskey, Bobby Johns, Ray Elder, Norm Nelson and Lloyd Ruby.Ray with AJ Foyt recently


On April 25th, 1996, Ray Nichels was inducted into Mechanics Hall of Fame within the International Motorsports Hall of Fame located in Talladega, Alabama. On the same day, Indiana Governor, Evan Bayh, awarded Ray Nichels the “Sagamore of the Wabash,” the highest distinguished service honor bestowed upon an Indiana citizen by its governor.

Copyright© 2005 -– Wm. LaDow / LaDow Publishing

William LaDowMake sure you check out LaDow Publishing's Ray Nichels Website & Book:   www.RayNichels.com


Exclusive Interview: Ray Nichels

Pontiac's Unsung Hero of Stock Car Racing Speaks Out for the First Time in More Than 30 Years   Pontiac High Performance Website Page

Part I: The Early Days
By Don Keefe , William LaDow
Photography: LaDow Publishing

To many Pontiac fans under the age of 50, the name Ray Nichels may not ring any bells, but were it not for this pioneer of stock car racing, Pontiac's early factory motorsports efforts might not have been anywhere near as successful as they were. Nichels was a key part of General Manager Semon E. "Bunkie" Knudsen's reinvention of the ailing Division. After seeing Nichels in action, Pontiac's chief knew that Ray would be exactly the right man for the job. He also knew that the job wouldn't be easy. Nichels just made it look that way.

Ray Nichels was born on September 8, 1922, in Chicago, the second of four children. His father Rudy came to America from Austria in 1908 at the age of 10 and worked hard to achieve the American Dream.

A born entrepreneur, Rudy purchased a small tire store in Chicago and parlayed the profits from that business into others, including a restaurant in Highland, Indiana, near Griffith, where the Nichels family had moved just before the stock market crash of 1929. The entire family worked hard, with mother Gladys and older sister Grace operating the restaurant.

From there, Rudy opened a filling and service station in Highland, as well as a tavern. More service stations followed and the family's diligence was paying off.

The Nichels' work ethic was also passed on to Ray, who juggled jobs and education from grade school right through high school. He would eat dinner right after coming home from school and then go to bed. He would arise again at 11:00 p.m. and go to work at the garage until it was time for school. He would often repair cars outdoors, even during the bitter Midwestern winters.

With the family businesses being fairly diverse, the elder Nichels decided he needed an advertising plan that could effectively promote all of his businesses. After careful research, he decided that campaigning a midget racer would best fit his needs. He purchased a proven winner from Wally "The Human Cyclone" Zale and, after rebuilding it, put Teddy Duncan behind the wheel. The crewchief and one-man crew was none other than 15-year-old Ray Nichels.

Ray quickly learned the ropes and was put on the road with Duncan, campaigning the green #9 midget. They were very successful and the wins were paying off handsomely. With the racing going so well and his role as crewchief so important, Ray did not return to school for his junior year.

Rudy and Ray built another car after selling the #9 midget. It was an ultra-lightweight machine that was outboard-powered like #9 was. Soon, two more cars and drivers were added to the team and Rudy began focusing his energies on racing exclusively. In 1940, Rudy Nichels sold off his other businesses to concentrate on racing.

The invasion of Pearl Harbor came on December 7, 1941. Since the entrance of the United States into WWII put a ban on all forms of racing, the Nichels racing operation was put on hold. Ray enlisted in the Coast Guard and was awarded a second-grade mechanics license. He was initially stationed near his home, on Lake Michigan, on a fire-fighting tugboat based in East Chicago, which allowed him to come home on weekends. He met his wife Eleanor on one such visit. Later on he was on the East Coast and then Greenland.

When the war was over, the Nichels family jumped back into midget car racing, which was enjoying a huge surge in popularity. Rudy became heavily involved in promoting races and organized the Mid-West Racing Association in 1945.

In the years that followed, Ray Nichels began branching out from midget cars and fielded an entry in the '50 Indianapolis 500. "Basement Bessie," as it became known, was built in a Hammond, Indiana, basement with his lifelong friend Paul Russo. During the mid-'50s, he and drivers Sam Hanks and Pat O'Connor set a series of world speed records with the Firestone Kurtis-Kraft test car at Chrysler's Chelsea proving grounds and the high-banked oval of Monza, Italy. In 1957, he was named Indianapolis 500 Pole Mechanic of the Year.

Also in 1957, Pontiac, looking to strengthen its performance image, was interested in entering the NASCAR Winter Grand Nationals at Daytona. Knudsen asked Ray Nichels to help prepare a Pontiac for Daytona. Though only 35 at the time, Nichels had 20 years of crewchief experience under his belt and had amassed a huge amount of knowledge in that time. Driver Cotton Owens raced the Nichels-prepared Chieftain on Daytona's famed beach course. Much to everyone's surprise, and Pontiac's delight, he won.

It didn't take long before Nichels found himself working nearly full-time on Pontiac's newly created motorsports program. Pontiac was considered an underdog, and when the car won, it gained a new respect within the racing world.

Soon, Pontiac was collecting wins on a regular basis, and its performance image was growing. In the time between the first win with Pontiac and the '63 GM Racing Ban, Ray had built Nichels Engineering into one of the most successful racing operations in the history of all of motorsports. By the time he closed his doors in 1973, Nichels' "Go-Fast Factory" had amassed an unbelievable number of USAC, NASCAR, IMCA, and ARCA national stock car championships in the hands of the greatest drivers of all times.

Now 82, and still living in Indiana with his wife Eleanor, Ray Nichels has broken his silence of more than 30 years and has agreed to an interview in HPP.

HPP: Were you interested in cars and racing before your father got involved with midget cars?
Nichels: No, I was only a little kid! I was born in 1922 and he got involved in racing in 1937.

HPP: It must have been exciting to be involved with all that as a kid.
Nichels: Well--coming through the Depression--just to get something to eat was exciting!

HPP: Pontiac really didn't have much in the way of a performance image like Olds or Chrysler. Did you ever doubt that Pontiacs could be competitive?
Nichels: I was just dumb enough to think that you could make anything go!

HPP: From a racing standpoint, what were the strong and weak points of the Pontiac V-8s?
Nichels: No, it was all bad! (laughs) We started working on them and everything started breaking. It's like working on a chain; every time a link would break, you make it better and eliminate the weak points. Eventually, you have all the links beefed up and you have a good one. You had to work with the stock pistons, stock rods, and all that. You had to sort through everything and pick out the good ones.

HPP: You were certainly able to make them winners though.
Nichels: It was really just a matter of working out the bugs.

HPP: You were already a seasoned veteran by the time Bunkie Knudsen came calling. How did you meet and why do you think he chose your operation to get Pontiac's racing activities underway?
Nichels: I met Bunkie down in Indianapolis. I was working for Bill Ansted [owner of the Ansted Rotary Engineering Special Indy team], and everybody was having oiling problems at the time with the Offy engines. We could run fast, but we couldn't keep enough oil in them. There were about six teams in the same position, so we agreed amongst ourselves that the first guy to find the problem would share it with the others. Bunkie was around there when that was all going on and I was lucky enough to find it first and share it with everybody. And then I didn't see Bunkie. I was under contract to Firestone and I'd run tire tests. Bunkie called me and wanted me to go to Arizona. He said they had Pontiacs out there trying to run high speeds but blowing oil. He thought of me and got a hold of me that way, and I told him, "I can't go out there. I'm under contract." (laughs) Right in the middle of it, he contacted Raymond Firestone who then called me and said, "Did you get a phone call from a guy named Bunkie Knudsen?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "What did he want?" I said, "He wanted me to go to Arizona 'cause they're having trouble with oil." Firestone then asked me, "What did you tell him?" I said, "I told him I couldn't go." He said "What are you doing?" I said, "I'm right in the middle of a tire test." He said, "Shut the test down and go to Arizona!" So that's how I got in with Bunkie.

HPP: You had some top-rate drivers working with you. Paul Goldsmith was amazing and you had greats like David Pearson and A.J. Foyt running in USAC back then. What was it like working with them?
Nichels: They were all great. Let's see, I had Penske driving one, and Rodger Ward, Len Sutton. I always had good chauffeurs.

HPP: Besides Paul Goldsmith, do you keep in touch with any friends from your racing days?
Nichels: All of them. I talk to all of them occasionally. Of course, a lot of them aren't around anymore. They were all good friends. That was the tough part of doing the book with Bill--reliving all of the bad memories.

HPP: Was there a big learning curve developing the Pontiacs into competitive race cars? Did Pontiac provide any engineering support?
Nichels: I worked directly for Bunkie Knudsen, so I had a lot of support. I'd meet with the Engineering Department, though I didn't know all their names. I do remember Russ Gee. I guess he got to be a big wheel there. Real nice.

HPP: We did an interview with him recently. He's retired now, but he made it pretty high up the ladder at GM.
Nichels: He was a kid when I first met him. He was a Project Engineer at the time. Pontiac was very helpful with that sort of thing. We even had access to metallurgists. They were always willing to help improve things.

HPP: Back in the days with Pontiac, stock meant stock, and the cars raced were actual production cars. Other than engine preparation, what sort of work was necessary to make them competitive race cars?
Nichels: Mostly safety-related stuff. We'd put in rollcages and racing belts, that sort of thing. The cars really had to be stock back then.

HPP: I noticed that the injected engine in the vintage ad is the same engine that was featured in the April '60 issue of Sports Cars Illustrated [later known as Car & Driver] and used in your Firestone tire-testing Kurtis Indy car. It put out 475 hp. You had a lot of custom magnesium castings to get the weight down to 580 pounds. Did the Pontiac V-8 make a good sports car engine?
Nichels: This was the Indy car engine your talking about. It was fuel-injected, dry sump, and all of the parts were made out of magnesium.

HPP: It must have been a huge project getting those magnesium parts developed.
Nichels: Well, we didn't think it was that big. It never was a good sports car engine though. It was just too heavy.

HPP: Is the car or engine still in existence?
Nichels: They both are, but I'm not sure where.

HPP: It was suggested that you were prepared to build 25 such engines per year for customers. Did that actually happen?
Nichels: That never came about. We only built the one.

HPP: When Pontiac went to the 421 engine with the 3.25-inch mains, the bearing speeds went up significantly. How were you able to keep those engines together for 500 miles with the larger bearings?
Nichels: That didn't bother anything--not a thing. We didn't even blink an eye on that one.

Author's Note: Please join us for Part II of "Exclusive Interview: Ray Nichels." Conversations with a Winner: The Ray Nichels Story, published by Pitstop Books (info@pitstopbooks.com) is due to be on the shelves by June 2004. The 300-page, 300-photo/illustrated hardcover book is the culmination of four years' work by its author, Wm. LaDow. Utilizing the Nichels Engineering Archives that have been sealed for more than 30 years, this book offers a glimpse into the never before documented life of Racing Hall of Famer Ray Nichels. Containing interviews with such legendary American racing personalities as Cotton Owens, Chris Economaki, A.J. Foyt, David Pearson, Bud Moore, Len Sutton, Bobby Unser, Don White, Ernie Derr, Paul Goldsmith, Shirley Muldowney, and Arnie "The Farmer" Beswick, to name a few, this volume promises to be the most wide-ranging narrative outlining Nichels almost-40-year racing career.

A GTO in a Nascar Race? Yes!

Randy Mitchell (RMitch1171@aol.com) of Bristol, Tennessee writes: "A guy named Chris Vallo offered to put up a million dollars to see a Pontiac GTO win a NASCAR race. Ray Nichols Engineering, a very reputable car owner/builder built the 1971 GTO's that Pearson drove. They were not very successful to start with and Vallo turned out to have some shady dealings and dissapeared for a few years before he got caught doing bad things involving Cuba, I think. Nichols never saw a penny of the money and gave up on the Pontiacs. Anyway, I recently saw a rerun of the 1971 Southern 500 on Speedvision and caught only a glimpse of the GOAT. You will see pictures of the car from the video below. David Pearson was the best NASCAR driver ever. One year he ran only 17 races for the Woods Brothers but won 11 of them!!!! Richard Petty said Pearson was the best. Pearson is second on alltime win list with over 100 wins."





Sme car, different color and number. Nichels car?

 

 

Grand National / Winston Cup Owner Statistics

Year Driver Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn
1957 Banjo Matthews 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 855 58 1.0 41.0
1957 Cotton Owens 16 1 3 5 1 2139 179 12,784 14 8.7 16.8
1961 Darel Dieringer 2 0 1 1 0 230 0 3,150 35 11.0 10.5
1961 Paul Goldsmith 2 0 1 2 0 239 0 6,050 45 12.0 6.0
1962 Paul Goldsmith 1 0 0 1 0 218 0 1,375 51 19.0 6.0
1962 Junior Johnson 1 0 0 0 0 7 648 34,841 20 8.0 31.0
1962 LeeRoy Yarbrough 2 0 0 0 0 420 0 3,485 36 22.5 18.5
1963 A.J. Foyt 3 0 2 2 0 368 8 7,520   6.3 10.7
1963 Paul Goldsmith 6 0 1 1 1 545 22 4,170   7.5 25.0
1963 Jim McGuirk 2 0 0 0 0 70 0 1,200 58 36.5 33.5
1963 David Pearson 1 0 0 0 0 8697 0 24,986 8 34.0 26.0
1963 Pedro Rodriguez 1 0 0 0 0 54 0 400   9.0 25.0
1963 Len Sutton 4 0 0 0 0 274 0 1,175   17.0 34.8
1964 A.J. Foyt 2 1 1 1 0 287 14 13,400   18.5 12.5
1964 Paul Goldsmith 14 0 3 4 1 2281 319 20,835 22 8.4 18.0
1964 Bobby Isaac 13 1 3 5 0 2125 134 26,733 18 9.2 15.4
1964 Troy Ruttman 1 0 0 1 0 177 0 850   17.0 10.0
1965 Bobby Isaac 3 0 0 0 0 400 11 1,860 75 7.0 29.0
1966 Larry Frank 2 0 0 2 0 232 0 1,575 50 14.0 9.5
1966 Paul Goldsmith 18 3 9 9 1 4600 436 54,609 5 6.1 13.6
1966 Sam McQuagg 16 1 4 7 0 3575 175 29,529 15 8.8 17.6
1966 Don White 8 0 3 5 0 1961 8 19,670   9.2 10.6
1967 Paul Goldsmith 21 0 7 8 0 4851 398 38,731 11 8.6 15.3
1967 Don White 6 0 1 3 0 997 0 8,410   15.7 17.7
1968 Paul Goldsmith 14 0 2 4 0 2730 304 24,365 30 9.3 21.1
1968 Don White 2 0 0 1 0 585 0 2,105   18.0 12.5
1969 Richard Brickhouse 2 1 1 1 0 241 33 45,637 25 7.0 17.0
1969 Charlie Glotzbach 4 0 1 2 1 1001 80 37,515 37 6.2 11.8
1969 Paul Goldsmith 10 0 4 5 0 1959 20 22,850 40 7.7 19.0
1969 Don White 1 0 0 0 0 41 0 835   13.0 33.0
1970 Charlie Glotzbach 17 2 7 8 4 3177 427 50,749 28 5.5 16.6
1970 Don White 1 0 0 0 0 16 0 880   14.0 39.0
1971 Fred Lorenzen 14 0 7 9 1 3229 152 45,100 45 7.4 12.7
1971 Dave Marcis 2 0 1 1 0 507 0 37,582 21 7.5 18.5
1971 David Pearson 7 0 0 1 0 495 0 32,010 51 10.7 33.9
1972 Bobby Unser 1 0 0 0 0 8 0 603   28.0 43.0
1972 Don White 1 0 0 0 0 114 0 1,745   21.0 38.0
13 years 222 10 62 89 11 48850 3368 620,169   9.4 17.9
Saturday, November 26, 2005: Press Release: Ray Nichels, one of the preeminent race car mechanics and car builders of the 1950s and 1960s, passed away on Friday, November 26, 2005.  Arrangements are being finalized later today by his wife Eleanor. More information will be available early tomorrow morning.
At present tentative plans are to have Visitation Monday, November 28th,  afternoon and early evening at:
Lincoln Ridge Funeral Home

7607 W. Lincoln Hwy (US Route 30),   Schererville, IN 46375   (219) 322-6616
 
Mr. Nichels funeral is planned for early morning Tuesday, November 29th at:
Our Lady of Consolation Catholic Church
8303 Taft Street, Merrillville, IN  46410   (219) 769-1755
Church web site -- www.olcweb.org
 
Below is an brief outline of Mr. Nichels racing career.


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