Ray Nichels and Paul Goldsmith Honored by the Indiana Racing Memorial Association …

Posted: November 4, 2017 in Uncategorized

Photo Credit: Nichels Engineering Archives

By Stan Kalwasinski

October 28, 2017

Griffith, Ind.—A group of friends, family, and well-wishers gathered at the St. Mary Hildebrandt Hall here Saturday afternoon as the Indiana Racing Memorial Association (IRMA) honored northwest Indiana racing legends Paul Goldsmith and the late Ray Nichels with the unveiling of their historical markers.

The historical marker project to honor the racing legacy of Nichels Engineering and it’s leaders Nichels & Goldsmith was the culmination of an 18-month effort by Wm. LaDow and Bob Gates (who represented IRMA.)

The markers, which will be permanently placed in the weeks to come, were the 29th & 30th completed in the state of Indiana by IRMA, which was organized in 2013. Goldsmith is the first living recipient of the honor.

Paul Goldsmith is congratulated by Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian Donald Davidson after Goldsmith’s IRMA historical marker was unveiled at a luncheon in Griffith, Ind., on October 28. (Stan Kalwasinski Photo)

Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian Donald Davidson was the event’s guest speaker and gave a detailed summary of the racing careers of both Goldsmith and Nichels, who passed away in 2005.  Nichels’ wife, Eleanor, and several family members were on hand for the occasion.

A native of West Virginia, Goldsmith, who became a northwest Indiana resident years ago, is a member of several halls of fame for both his motorcycle and automobile racing exploits – both stock cars and Indianapolis 500 competition. 

Goldsmith started racing motorcycles as a young man and went on to be a factory rider for Harley Davidson, winning a number of  ”national” events including races held at Daytona Beach, Florida, and Langhorne, Pennsylvania.

With Goldsmith trying his hand at stock car racing, one of his earliest victories was in 1958 on the old road/beach course at Daytona Beach, driving for mechanical innovator Smokey Yunick. Goldsmith and Yunick entered the Indianapolis 500 in 1958 – the first of six consecutive appearances by Goldsmith, which included a fifth-place finish in 1959 and a third-place finish in 1960 (both while driving for Nichels Engineering.)

Photo Credit: Nichels Engineering Archives

Joining forces with Ray Nichels, Goldsmith won two United States Auto Club (USAC) national stock car titles (1961 and 1962) and closed out his racing career, wheeling Nichels-prepared stock cars in NASCAR competition, posting three wins in 1966 for a total of nine career NASCAR victories.

Goldsmith was also an integral part of the Nichels Engineering 24 Hour Speed and Endurance Runs at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway.

Legendary A.J. Foyt once called Goldsmith “the most unappreciated (underrated) driver” he ever raced against.  

Today, at the age of 92, Goldsmith is active in the ownership and management of the Merrillville-Griffith Airport in Griffith.

Growing up in the Griffith area, Nichels followed his father Rudy’s footsteps into automobile racing and was a top-notch racing mechanic before his 21st birthday.  Traveling the midget racing circuits of the Midwest beginning at the age of 15, Nichels soon became a mechanic-in-demand at the world’s greatest race venue, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

Eleanor Nichels and the IRMA historical marker honoring the racing legacy of husband Ray – Doug Schellinger‎ Photo

For the 1950 Indianapolis 500, Nichels and his friend, Indy 500 driver Paul Russo built an Indianapolis race car in the basement of Russo’s Van Buren Street, Hammond, Indiana home.  The Nichels/Russo creation finished ninth in the rain-shortened event with the car becoming affectionately known as “Basement Bessie.”  

Nichels was a chief mechanic at the famed speedway for many years, initially with George “Babe” Tuffanelli’s team, then joining Bill Schindler’s team for the 1952 Indy 500. In 1953 and 1954, he was the chief mechanic for Johnnie Parsons and the Belond Equa-Flow Special. From 1954-1958 he managed Pat O’Connor’s entries, first with the Ansted Rotary Special and then Chapman Root’s Sumar Special, before fatally losing O’Connor as part of the ill-started 1958 Indianapolis 500.  Nichels was Goldsmith’s crew chief for the running of the Indianapolis 500 in 1959, 1960 and 1963.

Heading up Firestone’s racing tire test program since 1954, Nichels was signed on by Semon Knudsen to head up Pontiac’s stock car racing program in the autumn of 1956.  Nichels responded by capturing the pole and winning his first stock car race ever, with a record-setting performance at Daytona. Next, he would set a series of world speed records at Monza, Italy, finishing an incredible four-month run by taking the pole for the 1957 Indianapolis 500. 

Nichels Engineering, first located in Highland and then in Griffith, would build winning stock cars for many world-class drivers, with the state-of-the-art Griffith facility becoming known as the “Go-Fast Factory.”  

A multiple racing halls of fame member himself, Nichels first built winning Pontiac race cars and later, Chrysler products. Joining Nichels Engineering in the late summer of 1958, Goldsmith would be part of Nichels’ success in both Pontiac and Chrysler machinery. Their collaboration would result in a series of closed-course world speed records, a handful of national stock car championships and immense respect as the “house” builders for three of the most successful brands in American racing; Pontiac, Plymouth, and Dodge.

Nichels and Goldsmith would go on to be partners in several non-racing business endeavors in both the aircraft and automotive repair industries, with their crowning business achievement being the founding of the Griffith Airport and G & N Aircraft.

Francis “Minnie” Joyce and the late Jerry Govert Sr., who played pivotal roles in Nichels Engineering’s success, were also recognized during the proceedings with Joyce, his wife, Marilyn and their children in attendance, as were three of Jerry Govert Sr.’s sons; Dave, Jeff, and Chris.

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Photo Credit: Nichels Engineering Archives

Photo Credit: Nichels Engineering Archives

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