Ray Nichels and his two Nichels Engineering Pontiacs are preparing to set a series of Stoc
In the fall of 1956, Pontiac Vice President and General Manager Semon "Bunkie" Knudsen convinced Ray Nichels to accept the challenge of managing the automaker's newly born racing effort. The partnership between these two visionaries resulted in Pontiac's meteoric rise to the top of American stock car racing. Just a few years later, Pontiac's dominance in USAC and NASCAR was stunning. In 1961, Pontiac won 14 of the 22 USAC races run, garnering 10 poles and 38 top-five finishes. The division's overall performance in NASCAR was just as staggering with 30 wins in 52 races.
To bring 1961 to a fitting climax, Nichels Engineering and its founder, Ray Nichels, M.D. (Doctor of Motors) would pursue what Ray would later label, "Pontiac Perfection."
While completing Pontiac research projects and endlessly traveling back and forth to Pontiac, Michigan, he was planning one final effort in 1961. Though his cars and engines clearly set the standard in stock car racing by winning races all over America, Ray wanted to further prove that Nichels Engineering did more than just build race cars and racing engines. He wanted to expand his high-speed automotive testing business to show others how to build better engineered cars that emphasize performance, endurance and safety.
For the 24-Hour Challenge, Ray Nichels selected six of the finest drivers in racing. From
With Goldsmith behind the wheel, Nichels' team of (from left) Smokey Yunick, Ralph Knopf,
Very early in the 24-hour run, Goldsmith cut a tire and hit the wall. The Nichels crew was
Over the previous seven years, Nichels had built up an excellent testing and engineering clientele. His primary customer was Pontiac, and business with the GM entity had never been better. However, the most actively growing of Ray's entities was testing and engineering for companies that supplied the auto industry. Nichels Engineering now counted several other world-class automotive companies as business partners. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Dow Chemical coolants, Prestolite batteries, alternators and voltage regulators, Standard Oil fuels and lubricants, Pedrick piston rings, Raybestos brake linings, Burton springs, Monroe shock absorbers, and Gould-National oil filters were among his partners. In turn, several of these companies became sponsors of Nichels Engineering-affiliated race teams, which allowed Nichels to pass on sponsorship money to his drivers. It was a win-win relationship for everyone.
Setting world records in the rain at Indianapolis.
Two of American Racings' best ... Cotton Owens and Bud Moore grab a late-night meal during
Hot work ensued during a Nichels Engineering 24-Hour Run Indy pit stop.
Nichels now wanted to parlay those business relationships into a quest for history by proving that stock cars built by his company could go faster and run longer than any other that came before. To achieve this goal, he went after the existing 24-Hour Speed and Endurance Records at America's palace of speed, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Since the 1920s, the Stevens Challenge Trophy was awarded to those who successfully attempted to set a 24-hour endurance mark for speed and distance. As part of the Stevens Challenge in 1954, Chrysler Corporation employed drivers Tony Bettenhausen, Pat O'Connor and Bill Taylor, and set the 24-hour record at 2,157.5 miles, with an average speed of 89.89 mph. In addition to the 24-hour record attempt, Ford Motor Company, with drivers Johnny Mantz and Chuck Stevenson, established the 500-mile record at the speedway, running 111.916 mph, as well as the one-lap speed record of 117.832 mph.
It was Nichels' intention to have his company capture all three records and set a new benchmark for stock car speed and endurance. After some negotiation, virtually every one of his parts suppliers joined the project. Nichels solicited a specific dollar figure from each one for the attempt and persuaded them to double their investment if he was successful in setting new marks in all three categories.