Nicholson making waves on national racing scene
When we think of sports here in the Midwest, we most often think of marquee athletics like football, basketball and baseball. Whether it's the CHS Panthers, or teams on the national collegiate level like the T-Birds, K-State and KU - and even our beloved professional teams like the NFL Chiefs and MLB Royals - we often interpret sports as physical games played by human beings working in unison to do something with an inflated ball.
Rarely do we think of car racing as a sport. But passionate NASCAR and NHRA fans know full well that their pastime is called motorsports for a reason.
Like any other competitive undertaking at an elite level, it takes years of commitment and relentless dedication - and a lot of expense - to achieve greatness in motorsports.
One Concordian is quietly making waves in motorsports on the national scene.
In 2017, Tim Nicholson won his Division and finished 7th in the nation in total points in National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Super Gas racing.
In 2018, he finished fifth in the nation.
His goal for 2019?
"Win it all," he said with a smile, while sitting in the garage of his home in Rolling Hills.
2018 was a breakout year for Nicholson. He won the NHRA Triple-A Insurance Midwest Nationals in St. Louis, Missouri, earning him a coveted photo spread in the NHRA magazine. He regularly competes against - and beats - teams bankrolled with multi-million dollar sponsorship deals. And he's doing it with a car he built in his garage.
Nicholson has been racing the same green beast - a 1967 Camaro with a 400 cubic inch engine that generates 675 horsepower - for 44 years.
The car is the same, but not much on the car is the same as it was when he began racing.
"The only original GM part on that motor is the oil filter adapter," Nicholson said.
Nicholson has gone through too many engines to count, especially in his early years of racing. He had all his engine work done by Brownell Automotive, but does most of the other car maintenance himself.
He usually spends two or three evenings a week working on his car in his garage. During the winter he'll take the whole thing apart and rebuild it.
Nicholson was asked if his girlfriend minded that he spent so much time on his 'hobby'?
"She's got her own horsepower hobby," he replied with a laugh. "But hers has four hooves and a different type of exhaust system."
Nicholson has loved racing since he was a kid. When he was 13 he started working on Norris Anderson's racing crew. Anderson was once the fastest man in the world, having driven his 1948 Studebaker truck over 200 mph.
"I started on his crew when I was young," Nicholson said. "I always hung around the shop. Racing is just very enjoyable to me. The people you meet at the races are just good people to be around. The camaraderie is fantastic."
The fact that Nicholson is now competing - and winning - with a home-built car and a shoestring budget says a lot about his expertise and dedication. His Camaro is the only Super Gas category car with a manual four-speed transmission. Most of the cars he competes against - just the cars themselves - cost upwards of $100,000. Some teams are bankrolled behind millions of dollars in expenses.
Nicholson is a little shy when asked how much he's invested in his racing "hobby", but he has no regrets.
"I'd do it all over again. I just love it. Super Gas racing is extremely competitive, and I just love taking my home-built car and beating the big guys."
Nicholson's racing is not about who goes the fastest. He races against something called an 'Index', which is a little complicated to explain. It involves a 9.90 dial-in ET number, timing off the start line, acceleration, etc.
Nicholson tried his best to explain it to me, but I barely know how to turn on the windshield wipers in my car, so it all went a little over my head.
On average, there are 60-70 Super Gas competitors at each race. In the 2018 season, Nicholson competed against a total of 857 other cars. He went to five National races and nine Division races, stretching from Minnesota to Dallas and Denver to St. Louis.
Nicholson looks to be in good shape and has lightening quick reflexes, but his graying hair was enough evidence that his birthdays were adding up. Did he have any plans on retiring soon?
"I'd like to retire from my real job as soon as I can," he said with a smile. "But I'll never retire from racing. I'm going to keep doing it as long as I can."
As we stood in the driveway with the '67 Camaro, an obvious question popped in to my head. It was the same question I asked Norris Anderson when I sat inside his world record-setting '48 Studebaker.
Can I take it out for a spin around the block?
"Sure," Nicholson said. "If you can afford the gas."
High performance racing fuel costs $12 a gallon.
I asked Nicholson how many miles to the gallon a 675-horsepower car gets, and he suggested I rephrase the question: how many gallons-per-mile.
Tim Nicholson has already achieved more than most in motorsports. 2019 just might be the year he wins it all at the NHRA level.
That would be a remarkable achievement for a kid from Cloud County, Kansas, who just loved to be around race cars.