Racing a Big Bond for Nichols Family
The racing career for the Nichols brothers of Watertown started with a conversation in a garage. Lannie Nichols was building a sprint car with Steve Swenson, the crew chief for World of Outlaws Sprint Star, Donny Schatz in his garage when his son Mike approached him.
“We were sitting out in the garage one night, and I told my old man, ‘I’ll quit every sport I’m in right now just to have a chance at racing,’” Mike Nichols said. “It was about a month later and we had go-karts sitting in the garage and away we went.”
It started in the go-karts for the Nichols brothers – Mike, 25, and Tommy, 20 – and eventually graduated to a full-fledged race car. Both race in the Wissota Midwest Modified class, running at their home track of Casino Speedway in Watertown but also traveling to several other tracks, including I-94 EMR Speedway in Fergus Falls, where Mike is the point leader by a large margin.
Racing is truly about family for the Nichols family.
“It’s awesome,” Tommy said. “We look forward to it. We’ve made a lot of close friends. It’s pretty nice.”
“It’s fun. It’s hard for me to race when he races because I pay more attention to him than I do myself some nights,” Mike said. “We have a lot of fun doing it. It’s turned into a big family operation now.”
Mike started in 2008 in the go-karts, and the Nichols family – which includes Lannie, his wife, Gina and Mike and Tommy, were on their way in racing. The go-karting saw Mike have some big-time success, winning huge national races down in Austin, Texas, and it took the family all over the country.
“From here to Texas,” Mike said. “I would say we traveled more racing go-karts than we have in anything else. We were pretty good in the go-karts after we got them figured out.”
Mike, who works for Reilly Repair, started in the Midwest modifieds in 2016, driving for long-time Watertown veteran Scott Ward. He has developed into a top runner in the class. He has 69 career feature wins and has won three track championships at Casino Speedway.
“The reason I like the Midwest mod class so much is that it’s so competitive,” Mike said. “Any given night, there is 10 to 15 drivers that can win. I think over time and getting laps has helped me adapt to it. A lot of nights racing these things is like go-kart racing. The smoother you can be, the better you are.”
Tommy, who works for a welder, joined the Midwest modified ranks in 2019, driving his uncle, Terry Reilly’s car. Each year he has gotten better and has three wins this season. And, he has closed the gap on his older brother, who has taken notice.
“The last four years, I’ve been getting my ass kicked,” Tommy said. “Now I’m there, and we’ve been able to have a lot of close races and battle for the lead 5-6 times.”
“It used to be fun,” Mike said with a laugh about racing his brother. “Now it’s a headache.”
Mike Nichols leads the points at I-94 and is having a good year with six wins in 19 starts. That includes a win at Madison last Saturday in the ALS Race for the Cure Timmy Ims event, which paid $1,258 to win.
“It has been good for the amount we’ve raced. We have not raced a whole lot. Every night we have raced we’ve been up front and in contention to win,” Mike said. “To do that in this class, you can’t say you’re having a bad year by any means.”
Tommy Nichols has three wins and eight top fives in 24 starts, and has a big point lead at Casino Speedway.
“We have had our highs and lows but it definitely has been the best season for me,” Tommy said. “I am looking forward to the special season.”
Both brothers are in the exact same cars this year – JMRs by Dave Cain Racing. And Tommy says that has boosted him.
“It’s a lot easier to be in the same car as Mike now,” Tommy said.
Mike has some big wins – he won the Rebel Tour Final at Sheyenne Speedway in Lisbon in 2022, which was worth $3,000. He’s also won the Big Buck Nationals in Aberdeen and the King of the Dirt at I-94. There is a race he has in his sights, and that is the Wissota 100 at I-94 in September. Last year, he rolled his #67 machine one night, and came back to win the qualifying feature the next.
“I’d like to win that race,” Mike said. “We had a good showing last year after we rolled. I want to have a chance at that race.”
Tommy qualified for his first Wissota 100 last year.
“It was through a qualifying night and not a B main,” Tommy said. “That was pretty cool.”
With invitational season not far away, both are looking for strong finishes to the season.
“Stay consistent and have some fun and win a couple of races here and there,” Mike said.
“I’d like to get at least five wins,” Tommy said. “Just being up front more in the big races and trying to get a couple of end-of-the year special wins. That’s the main goal right now.”
Wissota Midwest Modified #67
Residence: Watertown, S.D.
Sponsors: The Pit Stop – Kirby Voltz, Fiberglass Specialities, Dave Cain Racing, Speedwerx, Dynamic Drivelines, Reilly Repair, Fastlane Car Wash (Fargo), K1 RaceGear, QuickCar, Clites Electric Construction, Swift Springs, Roadside Gas and Mint Casino, Max Papis Innovations, Laura Sonnenberg – Independent Consultant, JMR, Scott Sonnenburg Construction, I’m a Pyrohaulic Fireworks (Todd Voss), Automatic Transmission and Gear, Michael Vandykhorst, Troy and Trent Daly Construction, Trenton Van Roekel
Wissota Midwest Modified #28
Residence: Watertown, S.D.
Sponsors: Dynamic Drivelines, QuickCar, Swift Springs, K1 RaceGear, Reilly Repair, Fastlane Car Wash (Fargo), Fiberglass Specialities, Inc., Scott Sonnenberg Construction, Troy and Trent Daly Construction, The Pit Stop – Kirby Voltz, Olsen Custom Farms, 4 Bar Transport, Inc., Bodie’s by Michael Vandykhorst, Roadside Gas, Ridgeline Contracting, Bargain Barn Tire Center, Automatic Transmission and Gear, Rick Prentice Farms