The fertile soil of the nation’s heartland is known for two cash crops: corn and dirt tracks. The ovals rise from fields and fairgrounds, providing homegrown entertainment nearly every night of the week in the region’s fleeting summers. In 2016, IMCA Stock Car driver Mike Nichols added to his legend, collecting an unheard of four track championships en route to his sixth IMCA national title.
“This year [was] the kind of season I would say that even Hollywood couldn’t draw up,” Nichols says of his 2016 campaign, which concluded with 62 feature wins in 77 nights of racing. “I used up a career’s worth of good luck in one season.”
A native of Harlan, Iowa, Nichols first began going to the track with his dad as a young child. Being the youngest of four siblings, his mother suggested the two find a bonding activity, as the elder Nichols was often on the road as a traveling salesman. Nichols began racing a go-kart in his early teens, which led into his driving a full-bodied car. He began campaigning an IMCA Stock Car in 1998 and competed in the IMCA Modified class for a couple of years in the early 2000s.
He and his team found it more economical to run a Stock Car and moved into that division again full-time in 2002. Nichols won his first national championship that year and has collected a total of more than 500 feature wins and close to 30 track titles.
This season, he took on a new challenge and raced on four consecutive nights, Thursday through Sunday, each week. His race week usually started at U.S. 30 Speedway in Nebraska on Thursday, before racing at a trio of Iowa tracks – Crawford County Speedway, Shelby County Speedway and Dawson County Raceway – to round out four straight days of racing. He also found time to add a few more dates to his schedule in Nebraska, Kansas and Minnesota, in all competing at 13 different tracks in four states. He won local features and big races, including his fifth career Tiny Lund Memorial at Shelby County Speedway in Harlan. Lund, the 1963 Daytona 500 winner, was also a native of the Iowa town.
Nichols is involved in agriculture machinery sales by trade, a vocation that puts him on the road a lot. He has met countless people during his career, but still offers the highest of praise to those involved in racing.
“There is nothing like the racing community; I have met some of the best people I know through racing,” Nichols says. “There are so many good families and so many good people that I’ve seen over the years. I’ve seen different generations come in here and race and see some life lessons being taught to different generations.”
Nichols’ own family plays a special role in his life. His brother, Steve, was diagnosed with ALS (or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 2011 and is at the end of his fight. Still, Nichols and wife Anita work to raise money to help find a cure for those who may be afflicted in the future. They have donated all proceeds from t-shirt sales to the Iowa ALS Association since 2012, and have also auctioned body panels.
“Seeing someone that’s so close to you affected by that, you definitely want to do all that you can,” Nichols says. “My wife and I both are people that have a strong belief in trying to give back as much as we can because we’ve had a lot of opportunities that some people aren’t presented.”
Nichols has also worked with a variety of companies on his fundraising efforts, including the staff at COMP Cams.
“Some companies you work with or you’re around, you see some turnover and you don’t see that at COMP,” Nichols says. “That gives me a little bit more confidence in the products that I’m buying and using, as well. Because, obviously, it’s a good company to work for, and it says a lot about the stability of the company through and through.”
Inside Nichols’ engine are a variety of COMP Cams valve train components, including a camshaft, rocker arms, lifters, valves, valve springs, locks, retainers and pushrods.
That engine and his talent on the track have powered him to an unheard of number of wins and championships. But for all his success, Nichols just wants to drive Stock Cars.
“Basically, you don’t know who’s going to win, people for the most part are very respectful three, four wide, and everybody is just so close together that it just promotes good racing,” he says. “We have fenders, so there can be a little nudging and banging, rubbing is racing. As it compares to the other classes, it’s competitive and it’s just more fun.”