Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
Region native Ray Nichels adds Hall of Fame honor

Region native Ray Nichels adds Hall of Fame honor

“Basement Bessie”

Ray Nichels, third from the left, poses next to “Basement Bessie” with driver Paul Russo and the rest of the crew at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1950.

Ray Nichels started as a midget race car crew chief when he was 15, and his nearly 40-year career in auto racing has led to another honor.

The United States Auto Club recently announced its eight inductees for the class of 2021 for induction into the USAC Hall of Fame, including the late Nichels, of Northwest Indiana.

The list also includes car owner/mechanic Doug Caruthers; driver Jay Drake; car owner/mechanic Galen Fox; driver Jeff Gordon; driver/car owner/builder/innovator Dan Gurney; car owner/official/promoter Johnny Vance; and track owner/promoter Joe Shaheen.

No single person won more often in USAC’s stock car division than crew chief/mechanic and team owner Nichels, who gathered up 70 series victories as entrant between 1961 and 1972.

Ray Nichels to be Inducted into Motorsports Hall of Fame

The stout Nichels Engineering ride saw its drivers race to USAC stock car championships on three occasions, first with Pontiac-driving Paul Goldsmith going back-to-back in 1961 and 1962. Once more, the Nichels team found the brass ring with Iowa’s Don White in a Dodge capturing the series title in 1967.

Whether competing in USAC or NASCAR, Nichels-prepared race cars were potent. They were dominant. And they attracted many of the highest profile names of the day to race, including the legendary A.J. Foyt, winning in his cars.

White won 36 of his series record 53 victories as a driver for Nichels while Goldsmith, who still lives in the Region, was the victor 22 times for the Highland and, later, Griffith-based team.

Nichels’ racing experience was not limited to only stock cars. In 1950, Nichels and driver Paul Russo constructed their own race car in the basement of Russo’s Hammond home. The innovative lightweight car, nicknamed “Basement Bessie,” was promptly disassembled then reconstructed once outside the home and then transported to compete in that year’s Indianapolis 500 with Russo finishing ninth in his Nichels-prepped No. 7.

As the head wrench for driver Pat O’Connor in 1957, the O’Connor/Nichels duo won the pole position for the Indianapolis 500 in May of 1957, and less than a month later set a new track record during the Race of Two Worlds in Monza, Italy.

Following his dad Rudy’s footsteps into the world of automobile racing, a teenage Ray Nichels was tending to his dad’s midget race cars before World War II. Nichels, who born in Chicago and raised in the Highland area, died in 2005 at the age of 83 while living in Merrillville.

The eight honorees will officially be inducted during a ceremony on a date yet to be determined.


Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News


Entertainment & Dining

Latest News

Local Sports

NWI Prep Sport News

Weather Alerts