Though it has been many years since Ray Nichels and Paul Goldsmith have been in the racing spotlight, the contributions that the Nichels Engineering team made to stock car racing and Mopar are huge. In addition to building cars for their own in-house teams, the Nichels "Go Fast Factory" in Griffith, Indiana, did R&D for all of Chrysler's teams, built additional cars, inventoried parts for those teams, and even rebuilt their wrecks. In the period between 1963 and 1970, they amassed an impressive win record in NASCAR, USAC, IMCA, and ARCA competition.
The son of an Austrian immigrant, Nichels began his career in 1937 at the age of 15, as the crewchief of his father's midget car team. After serving in the Coast Guard in WWII, he worked his way up to Indy cars and fielded "Basement Bessie," a homebuilt racecar actually built in a Hammond, Indiana, basement with lifelong friend Paul Russo.
During the mid-'50s, he and drivers Sam Hanks and Pat O'Connor set a series of world speed records with the Firestone Kurtis-Kraft test car at Chrysler's Chelsea proving grounds and the high-banked oval of Monza, Italy. In 1957, he was named The Indianapolis 500 Pole Mechanic of the Year.
Nichels' introduction to stock car racing came after a chance encounter in the Indy garages with Pontiac General Manager Semon E. "Bunkie" Knudsen, who was looking to spice up the ailing division's persona. He called upon Ray to build a pair of Pontiac Chieftains for Daytona Speed Weeks. They went on to win the pole with Banjo Matthews and the checkered flag with Cotton Owens driving. This went a long way to establish Pontiac's new performance oriented image. It was also through Knudsen that Ray met Paul Goldsmith.
Goldsmith began his racing career with motorcycles and worked his way into stock car racing, first with Fords and later hooking up with Smokey Yunick, driving Chevys. Upon Knudsen's urging, the pair teamed up in 1959 to build and race Pontiac stock cars.
The partnership with Pontiac was very successful, netting several big wins, including back-to-back USAC stock car championships in 1961 and 1962, as well a dominating victory in the '63 Daytona 250 Challenge Cup. But with GM's withdrawal from all racing activities in January of 1963, Nichels Engineering quickly found itself without factory backing. Well aware of their record, Chrysler Race Director Ronney Householder saw a great opportunity with Nichels and jumped in to fill the void left by the Wide Track Division. With their new assignment in hand, Nichels Engineering quickly opened up new avenues of racing excellence for Chrysler.
The learning curve was not too difficult with a team like Nichels Engineering, and the transition to Mopar power and chassis setups went smoother than many expected.
The race operations were shut down in 1973, though Nichels Engineering stayed in business, developing a line of oil and fuel treatments still available today. Ray can still be found working at the same building, looking for new ways that'll keep racers going faster.
Goldsmith moved on to the aircraft industry, opening an airport, flight school, aircraft engine rebuilding facility and crew staffing business. Now 78, Goldsmith still remains quite active and flies his own planes regularly.
In 1996, Ray Nichels was inducted into the Auto Mechanics Hall of Fame within the International Motorsports Hall of Fame at Talladega, Alabama. On that same day, the governor of Indiana, Evan Bayh, awarded Ray Nichels the "Sagamore of the Wabash," the highest distinguished service honor that an Indiana governor can bestow on a citizen of that state.
Paul Goldsmith's career has also been cited for excellence, as he was inducted in the American Motorcyclist Association's Hall of Fame in 1999. It came as much of a surprise to him, as he had last raced a motorcycle in 1956.