Posts Tagged ‘Nichels Engineering’

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 along side of the IRMA historical marker honoring the racing legacy of her 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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Car Owner Chapman Root, Chief Mechanic Ray Nichels and Driver Pat O’Connor after capturing the Pole for the 1957 Indianapolis 500. O’Connor would run the same car in 1958 …

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An odds on favorite to win the the Indianapolis 500 in 1958 Pat O’Connor tragically died in the multi-car, first lap crash.

He remains as one of the most popular drivers ever and will be honored with an IRMA historical marker on August 15th, in the North Vernon Indiana, beginning at 10:30am.

A big day is planned by Mayor Campbell of North Vernon, IRMA and the Pat O’Connor family. The event will be hosted by one of the legendary voices of the Speedway, Howdy Bell, with IMS Historian, Donald Davidson the featured speaker.

The event will take place in the North Vernon City Park, 604 N State St, North Vernon, IN 47265. That’s located right along Indiana State Highway 7.

In conjunction with the event, there will be a car show, with proceeds going to disabled veterans. A meal will be available for those interested. Tenderloin with the trimmings for $10.

Steve Perkins will have his Pat O’Connor tribute sprint car there, Dr. Robert Dicks will bring his Parnelli Jones roadster, and Larry Wheat will display his beautiful SUMAR tow car and hauler. A lot to see and do!

Please join us in honoring one of the Indy 500’s finest gentlemen.

For more on the career of Pat O’Connor — please visit this link

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Jennings County Driver to be Memorialized at Ceremony

A memorial to Jennings County racer Pat O’Connor will be unveiled and dedicated in North Vernon’s City Park on Saturday.

Pat O’Connor’s family, representatives from the world of auto racing and others will be present at the public ceremony, which starts at 10:30 a.m. at the north entrance to the park.

Born in North Vernon, O’Connor began his racing career at age 19. His first race was in a roadster in Columbus in 1948, and he drove cheap jalopies at a track in North Vernon called “The Hole.”

He honed his driving skills and scored wins in roadster, sprint and midget races. O’Connor become a well-known Sprint Car driver and was eventually inducted into the Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1995. O’Connor won the first of three Midwest Sprint Car championships in 1953. He also claimed the title in ’54 and ’56.

His racing abilities, charm and good looks brought him national and international recognition.

He became a test driver for the Firestone Co. and a member of Sumar Racing team in Italy.

O’Connor’s success in racing brought him financial profits which he invested in businesses and a home in North Vernon.

His fame grew with his participation in the legendary Indianapolis 500 race.

O’Connor first tried to qualify for the Indy 500 in 1953 but fell short.

He participated in the race in 1954, starting 12th and finishing 21st. O’Connor placed eighth in ’55.

He led 39 laps of the ‘56 race but finished 18th after starting third. O’Connor won the pole for the ’57 race and led seven laps but finished eighth.

O’Connor was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in May of 1958, just days losing his life in that year’s Indy 500. He was one of the favorites, but he lost his life on the first lap.

Two drivers collided and started a 16-car wreck. O’Connor’s roadster flipped and slid down the track, and he was killed instantly.

Local racing enthusiast Ron Clark remembered O’Connor fondly from his days in North Vernon.

“It didn’t matter how famous he got, he was always a good guy. You would see him coming and going around the garages. I was just a kid, and we’d all watch his every move, and he was always a good guy,” Clark said.

“O’Connor’s (second) wife Anne and sons Jeff and Rob stayed in North Vernon. Anne remarried a great guy, and they will all be at the ceremony,” said North Vernon Mayor Harold “Soup” Campbell.

Classic Car Show

Mike and Cindy Corya will present a classic car, truck and motorcycle show in the North Vernon City Park adjacent to the Pat O’Connor Memorial from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. It’s open to the public and food will be available for purchase.

A $15 registration fee is required for cars, trucks and motorcycles participating in the show. Awards will be presented for best vehicles in several categories at 3 p.m. All profits from the car show will be donated to disabled veterans of the VFW Post 2021. Rain date for the car show will be Aug 22.

Assistant Managing Editor Kirk Johannesen contributed to this story.

 

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