There’s a saying in the heads-up racing world when it comes to crashing: it’s not if, but when. Virtually every racer who has let go of the button with a fast car has either had a close call or had a car delivered back to their pit area on a rollback, including “The Godfather” Barry Nicholson. Over the years Nicholson may have had some big crashes, but that hasn’t shut the book on his racing career — if anything, it pushed him to forge on and enjoy his time at the track.
Overall 2017 had been a fairly good year for Nicholson as he was able to get a lot of racing in both on the street and the track behind the wheel of his sinister black Camaro. Everything changed though in September when Nicholson was involved in a horrific crash that destroyed his familiar car and left him to re-evaluate his racing program.
On the night of the crash, Nicholson was picking up wins and his Camaro was doing everything it was supposed to like it had on countless other occasions. Much of what happened that night had to be told to Nicholson after the fact as he endured a serious concussion that caused him to not remember the days surrounding the crash.
“The car left good and was trucking right along like it has so many times before, and then things went South. About 400 feet out the car wiggled a bit, got into some bumps and the rest is history. The car got sideways and shot toward the right with zero warning. The car hit on the passenger side and the chassis actually caught the eight-inch tall concrete curb and caused the car to start barrel-rolling. The car was actually passenger side down, driver side up in the trees when it stopped. I was unconscious for a while and got myself out of the car when I came to,” Nicholson says.
Emergency crews originally thought Nicholson fractured his leg in the crash, but he had actually fractured his pelvis when he hit the side of his racing seat. “I knew my wife’s name and kid’s name, but nothing else they asked me. After they realized how beat up I was it was time to take a ride to the hospital to really get checked out. It was a rough few days after the crash … I was really out of it,” Nicholson explains.
For several weeks Nicholson was confined to his recliner and was unable to put any weight on his injured hip. That downtime allowed him to contemplate what he wanted to do next, and it was looking like The Godfather was about to hang up his racing gloves for good.
“I told my wife I was done racing after this crash. I’ve had a few accidents before, racing on the street, but my kids wanted me to keep going. We all agreed the street hadn’t been good to me and it was time to switch to track-only racing. I was able to save the motor and some electronics, but everything else was trashed and now I was out over $60,000 with this car being wrecked. The risk just isn’t worth the reward for me to race on the street anymore,” Nicholson says.
With the blessing of his family in-hand it was time for Nicholson to roll up his sleeves and get to work on building a new car. This was a journey he wouldn’t have to make alone — at his side would be his father, a person that has been there for Nicholson during all of his racing ventures.
“My father is a huge supporter of everything I do and was behind me getting back into racing. He told me to find a chassis that I could work with, and when I was able to get on my feet we would look at building a car to go No Prep racing,” Nicholson explains
Since the other car was a total loss, Nicholson stripped it down and took anything that was salvageable for the next car before he began his search for a new ride. Eventually, a 1968 Camaro rolling chassis was located in North Carolina that would serve as the base for Nicholson’s new racing machine. This, however, wouldn’t be a quick process; even though the Camaro was a solid starting point, it would need some work to truly be Nicholson’s.
“Overall the new car was what I needed chassis and body-wise, but everything else wasn’t my brand. It took us a few months to get the car done since I rewired it, put new plumbing in it, new wheels, new wing, windows, and other parts. My sponsors all stepped up to help and have stood behind me and that means a lot,” Nicholson says.
The chassis was originally built by Gibbons Race Cars and soon found Nicholson’s big Morgan & Son Racing Engines bullet between its fenders with a fresh set of Wolf Aircraft Products headers. On top of the motor would remain the Williams Carburetors and Nitrous Outlet nitrous system that Nicholson uses. Behind the motor was a built BTE transmission, coupled with a torque converter from Neal Chance Racing Converters. A new Moser Engineering rearend, axles, and gears were added to help put the power down. Finally, the Camaro got a full set of Optic Armor windows to remove excess weight.
With the new car ready to go Nicholson was prepared to hit the Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings event at San Antonio Raceway after some testing along the way. During testing Nicholson was able to get the Camaro to make passes on a cold track with some help from fellow racer Scott Taylor, tuning expert Jody Hadley, and the nitrous gurus at Nitrous Outlet.
After arriving at San Antonio, Nicholson wanted to get a handle on the track, so he made a test pass where it went straight without any issues. In the first round, Nicholson drew Petey Smallblock and was able to make another clean A-to-B pass without any issues to pick up the win. At this point, his confidence was high that he was back to his old form and ready to start winning again.
During the second round of racing, though, Nicholson was reliving his nightmare all over again.
“I left off the line and I never saw the other guy at all. I stayed in the throttle and about 500 feet out the lexan hood scoop came off and that’s when things went bad. The car just literally turned without warning. It was going straight, and then ‘bam’, it went dead right. There was no turning out of it at that point because it just happened so quickly. The car got up on two wheels and the only thing that kept it from flipping over was the bullhorn, I could see the track through the driver’s side window. The Racequip safety gear did its job and kept me from getting hurt badly,” Nicholson says.
Nicholson may be broken-hearted about this second crash, but he’s not about to let it keep him down. “I’m still technically in the race since they never ran the next round after my crash due to weather. I drew Dillon Wells and we’re going to try and get the car fixed for the next race in South Carolina,” Nicholson says.
Barry Nicholson’s ups and downs in racing may seem extreme and probably would have caused most racers to just pack it in, but that’s not how he operates. The repair process has already begun on Nicholson’s Camaro so he can keep on racing. Don’t be surprised when you see Nicholson standing in the winner’s circle again soon, because he’s ready to show the world why you don’t pick a fight with The Godfather on race day.