Archive for May 22, 2016

05222016-TuneIn-500-QualSun-V2

The “Region Racers” Series – Rudy Nichels

By: Wm. LaDow

Rudys Place 1.jpg

In 1908, a 10-year-old boy crossed the Atlantic Ocean. He and his father journeyed from Austria with the intent of settling in America.

Though his last name was Puja when he entered Ellis Island, it was soon changed. It’s unclear whether in his pocket rested a few coins or perhaps he was cared for by a kind immigration worker who gave him some change to get a meal, but from that day forward his last name was Nichels.

After establishing their residency in Chicago, a teenage Rudy could often be found at the corner pool hall, or participating in a local “game of chance.” But a few years later, Nichels settled down in the Calumet Region’s Griffith, Indiana, got married and eventually started a family — a daughter and three sons.

Nichels was a born entrepreneur and quickly sensed that the American automobile was fast becoming more of a necessity than a luxury. He made it a point to get involved in any auto-related businesses he could find.

FTIn time he was able to parlay his savings into the purchase of a small Fisk Tire store on Ewing Avenue in South Chicago. So small was the shop that an automobile couldn’t be completely parked under the roof while having its tires changed. Using the slim profits from this business, Nichels in 1930 purchased a restaurant located at the intersection of Fifth Street and Highway Avenue in Highland.

With his wife, Gladys, doing the restaurant cooking, Nichels turned his efforts toward another business, a gasoline service station, and auto repair shop.

q_in_highland_nichel_471942In 1936, he purchased a second restaurant and tavern just two miles east, on the corner of Ridge Road and Cline Avenue. Soon, he had a service station, an auto repair garage, a restaurant and a tavern all on the northwest corner of that intersection, which he christened “Rudy’s Place.”

With his early investment in restaurants and auto repair shops starting to pay off, he began a search for another moneymaking opportunity and uncovered midget car auto racing.

The more Nichels heard about midget car racing, the more he thought it might be a good fit with his other businesses. On Oct. 10, 1937, Nichels decided to take a look at this potential business venture, and with his oldest son, 14-year-old Ray visited the newly constructed Hammond Raceway located at the junction of Sheffield and Calumet avenues. With another 7,000 fans in attendance, Nichels witnessed his first midget car race. It would not be his last. A few weeks later, Nichels purchased his first race car.

At the Hammond, Indiana Speedway 5/8th’s mile track are two Nichels midgets. The car on the left is the #25 driven by Mike O’Halloran and on the right is Teddy Duncan in the #2. Both drivers would eventually be elected to the National Midget Racing Hall of Fame. Kneeling between the Nichels cars are from left: Dale “Tiny’ Worley, Ray Nichels and Rudy Nichels – Nichels Engineering Archives

At the Hammond, Indiana Speedway 5/8th’s mile track are two Nichels Service midgets. The car on the left is the #25 driven by Mike O’Halloran and on the right is Teddy Duncan in the #2. Both drivers would eventually be elected to the National Midget Racing Hall of Fame. Kneeling between the Nichels cars are from left: Dale “Tiny’ Worley, Ray Nichels and Rudy Nichels – Nichels Engineering Archives

From that day on, Rudy threw himself whole-heartedly into auto racing, owning several cars from 1938 through the late 1940s, giving drivers such as Ted Duncan, Tony Bettenhausen, Johnnie Parsons, Paul Russo, Ray Richards and Mike O’Halloran some of the finest midget race cars in the business. All of these drivers eventually became members of the Midget Racing Hall of Fame after capturing a series of track championships driving for Nichels Service. Johnnie Parsons used his 1948 Midwest Championship driving for Nichels as a springboard toward winning the 1950 Indianapolis 500.

Nichels established “Nichels Service” shop at the corner of Cline and Ridge Road as the cornerstone of Midwest auto racing. Working with racing equipment suppliers from across the country he built a superb reputation for racing expertise. Nationally known drivers such as Ronney Householder anchored their race teams and equipment at Rudy’s Place when barnstorming across America.

Rudy Nichels shop at the corner of Cline Avenue and Ridge Road in Highland, Indiana in 1947. Working on the two Nichels owned midgets in the front of the garage is 24 year old Ray Nichels. In the back on the right in the white tee shirt is Ronney Householder, who at the time was one of the most respected drivers in racing. He went on to manage Chrysler Corporation’s racing operations from 1955 thru 1972 – Nichels Engineering Archives

Rudy Nichels shop at the corner of Cline Avenue and Ridge Road in Highland, Indiana in 1947. Working on the two Nichels owned midgets in the front of the garage is 24-year-old Ray Nichels. In the back on the right in the white tee shirt is Ronney Householder, who at the time was one of the most respected drivers in racing. He went on to manage Chrysler Corporation’s racing operations from 1955 thru 1972 – Nichels Engineering Archives

The racing business was so profitable that Nichels began promoting and sanctioning races at tracks throughout Illinois and Indiana.

It was during this time that his son, Ray, went out on his own and entered IndyCar racing, eventually competing in 15 Indianapolis 500s and building a Hall of Fame career as one of the nation’s finest mechanics and race car builders.

Rudy Nichels died in April of 1955, leaving a lasting legacy of being one of the first in a long line of Region Racers.

Photo credit: Jim Haines/Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Photo credit: Jim Haines/Indianapolis Motor Speedway

By: Jeff Majeske

INDIANAPOLIS – Never mind the contrived formula designed to mitigate a lack of entries, Saturday’s qualifying for the 100th Indianapolis 500 was full of redemption, drama and surprise.

The drivers who advanced to today’s Fast Nine shootout that will determine the pole position for the race on May 29 represent a wide variety of storylines.

Start with Saturday’s fastest qualifier, James Hinchcliffe. The popular Canadian nearly died after a crash in practice before last year’s race. He averaged 230.946 mph on his four-lap run.

Hinchcliffe Head Shot“I can’t thank (my crew) enough. What a difference a year makes,” Hinchcliffe said. “It validates all the effort the guys have put in.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay experienced a bit of redemption as well. The 2014 Indianapolis 500 champion was knocked out of the Fast Nine by Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti in the closing minutes of qualifying.  “That was a pretty hairy few laps there – I was holding my breath the whole way,” Hunter-Reay said.

He bumped his way into the Fast Nine in convincing fashion, opening with a scorching lap of 231.315 mph, and wound up with a four-lap average of 230.805 mph to oust Andretti from pole contention.

Third-fastest was Will Power, who also had a stirring run late in the day to average 230.736 mph to lead Team Penske.

“This is the hardest qualifying I’ve ever done at this place,” said last year’s runner-up, who gets to do it all again today. “It was very hairy on the last lap.”

Teammate and three-time 500 champ Helio Castroneves was fourth quick, followed by Townsend Bell, an Indy-only specialist driving for Andretti Autosport, and Josef Newgarden of Ed Carpenter Racing. Bell had the fastest single lap of the day at 231.582 mph.

The final three spots in the Fast Nine went to Mikhail Aleshin (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports), Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport) and Simon Pagenaud (Team Penske).

Aleshin, who did not compete in the Verizon IndyCar Series last year due to lack of sponsorship, had the last attempt of the day and nudged out rookie Alexander Rossi.

Munoz’ effort means he will start in the first three rows for the third time in four races. Pagenaud, who leads the points and has won the last three races, will go for his first pole in the 500.

The competition between the two engine manufacturers, Honda and Chevrolet, was about as even as possible: Five Hondas and four Chevrolets in the Fast Nine.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that none of Chip Ganassi’s four cars made it into the Fast Nine. Scott Dixon, last year’s pole-sitter, was 13th after Saturday. The best the 2008 500 champ can start is 10th after today’s qualifying.

Teammate Tony Kanaan, who won the pole in 2005 and the race in 2013, was 19th on Saturday.

Juan Pablo Montoya, last year’s race winner, also missed the Fast Nine – the only member of Team Penske to miss the cut.

Morning rains, then stubborn “weepers” pushed the start of practice until 12:37 p.m. Because of the delay, qualifications didn’t start until 2:20 p.m. and were extended until 7 p.m., one hour later than normal.

A total of 30 cars qualified Saturday for the 33-car field. Still to qualify are rookie Max Chilton, who crashed during practice; Pippa Mann, who crashed during her qualifying attempt; and Gabby Chaves, who waved off his attempt late in the day.

Neither Chilton nor Mann were hurt and are expected to qualify today.

Today’s qualifying will set the order of the field. Positions 10-33 will be determined from 2:45-4:45 p.m. The Fast Nine Shootout, which will determine the pole position and the rest of the top nine spots, begins at 5 p.m.

For the results of Saturday’s qualifying … CLICK HERE

Editors Note: Speedway Sightings is grateful for the opportunity to publish Jeff Majeske’s work through special arrangement. To read more of Jeff’s efforts please visit his site by … Clicking Here