Ray R. Nichels, Nichels Engineering (Obituary)051126


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*Ray R. Nichels, Nichels Engineering (Obituary)
  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 (cam-
  paigned 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 participat-
  ed 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 new-
  ly 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 Fire-
  stone, 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 build-
  er 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 High-
  land, 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 evid-
  ent 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 Champ-
  ionship 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 Darling-
  ton 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 Gold-
  smith 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 legend-
  ary 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 Eng-
  ineering 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)