Back home from Korea with the Arias-Toros coupe at El Mirage in 1956 with driver Mike Schm
Drive-in restaurants, hot rods, and street racing went together like a burger, fries, and chocolate malt when Nick was going to school. “At night we’d challenge the different drive-ins where the fast cars were and go street race. Simon’s Drive-In, in downtown L.A. on Washington and Flower, is where we used to hang out and also Stan’s Drive-In, in L.A. We went to the different drive-ins out of the area like the Piccadilly. In fact, that’s how the sport started the [speed equipment] industry, it was street racing originally. We raced at night on Sepulveda Boulevard, South Broadway, and Main Street in L.A.”
(No matter where you lived, you eventually went to the Piccadilly Drive-In in Culver City. The Piccadilly was where everyone hung out to go street racing, from custom car heavyweight George Barris, Indy 500 competitor Jack McGrath, to the builder of the first dragster, Dick Kraft.)
First Place Carrell Speedway
Nick’s little Model A bucket, as he called it, would turn heads for 100 laps in a big league race that made history: “In 1948 we ran the car at Carrell Speedway and had Dempsey Wilson (future Indy 500 competitor with four Top 10 finishes) drive it. Tony Gonzales, Walt Mahoney, and I were partners in the car. Back then, we couldn’t do anything by ourselves because we didn’t have enough money. We won the first 500-mile race they had at Carrell in 1948 on dirt. The place was packed. All the heavy hitters were there, like Troy Ruttman. We teamed up with Howard Johansen (of Howard’s Cams). We ran his engine and rearend in our car. We qualified Wednesday for Saturday’s race. Howard was at Carrell with his driver Pat Flaherty (future 1956 Indy 500 winner) who was hot lapping when he hit the fence and bent the car up. We were hanging out at Howard’s shop, so we cut a deal with Howard to pull all of his components out of his car and put them in ours.” (Walt Mahoney went on to become a racing photojournalist, plus he designed and built Ascot Park in Gardena.)
Nick and David Sanchez between classes at Poly High School in 1947. You’re probably thinki
That was a really big day for Nick and the boys. The press clipping read: “Dempsey Wilson won the 500-mile race before 15,000 spectators. He received $2,000, the largest payoff purse in local hot rod racing history. Only 15 of the 33 starters finished.”
Nick went into the Army and to Korea in 1951 with his school friend Bob Toros. Nick was a mechanic in the Motor Pool. “We were lucky because we would have probably gotten killed. But while we were in Korea, Kenny Bigelow was killed at El Mirage.
“Bob Toros and I sent money home from Korea to Mike Schmader, who was in the Photons, to buy what was left of Kenny’s ’37 Chevy coupe from Kenny’s mom. When Bob and I got home from Korea we scrapped the car out but kept the GMC engine. (Kenny was known as “Mr. GMC.”) We started building a race car out of another ’37 Chevy. Our goal was to set a record in 1937 in Kenny’s memory. We put a rollbar in it, a Halibrand quick-change–equipped Ford rearend, and a tube axle under it.”
Nick on leave from the Army just after his dad, Nick Sr., picked up his brand-new Fleetlin
In the process of chasing parts to update the engine, Nick went to Wayne Manufacturing, which had switched from manufacturing Chevy 12-port heads to manufacturing the 12-port heads for GMC after Wayne Horning left. That’s where Nick met Harry Warner. Warner had purchased the company from Horning in 1950, which included the drawings, the patterns, as well as the jigs, plus the company name. Horning, however, continued to manufacture the 12-port heads for the Chevy engine under his company name of Wayne F. Horning. Confusing as it reads, it was befuddling to the racers as well. Horning finally sold the business in 1952.
After spending some time with Nick, Mr. Warner was sufficiently impressed with Nick’s background that he offered him a job. Nick was already employed by Al Sharp machining heads for the Flathead Ford. Sharp, a pattern maker, formed Sharp Speed and Power.