#15 ALL TIME MOUNTAIN MOTOR PRO STOCK DRIVER – “DYNO DON” NICHOLSON
SPARTANBURG, SC – "Dyno Don" Nicholson might be fifteenth on our "Top 20" Mountain Motor Pro Stock list, but that's only because he ran the big engines for a relatively short time during a celebrated career that spanned five decades. In the annals of drag racing history, and in the hearts of drag-racing fans around the world, no matter what he drove, “Dyno” was at the top of the mountain, pun absolutely intended.
Nicholson’s drag racing roots extended back to the colorful, no-holds-barred days of Super Stock and Factory Experimental competition of the 1960s and 1970s. At that time there were very few national events of the calendar, so most of the top guns of the day made their reputations, and livings, on the match-racing circuit.
In 1961, Nicholson won the Stock title at the first running of the Winternationals at Pomona, California. That began a string of victories that soon led to Nicholson becoming a staple on the lucrative match-racing trail.
When Chevrolet dropped their factory backing in 1963, Nicholson jumped to an A/Factory Experimental Mercury Comet for 1964. As the A/FX class morphed into Funny Car, Nicholson kept pace, converting his Comet into a Funny Car by altering the wheelbase and adding fuel injection and nitromethane fuel.
Eventually Nicholson became concerned with the danger of blower explosions and engine fires in the nitro-fueled monsters, however, and after the 1968 season he teamed with Sox & Martin, Bill Jenkins, and Dick Landy to form a match race circuit with carbureted, four-speed-equipped heads-up Super Stock cars. In time the sanctioning bodies picked up these “Outlaw Super Stock” cars, and Pro Stock was born.
Nicholson perfected the SOHC 427 Ford Hemi combination and became Ford's first Pro Stock winner with his victory at the 1971 Summernationals. He switched to a 351 Cleveland small block-powered Ford Pinto in 1972, and he drove the little car to victory at the AHRA Winternationals, NHRA Winternationals, and NHRA Gatornationals to open the 1973 season.
He was runner-up at the 1974 U.S. Nationals and 1976 Summernationals, and in 1977 he won the Gatornationals, Springnationals, and U.S. Nationals in five final-round appearances to claim the NHRA championship.
Nicholson’s crew chief during that successful 1977 campaign was engine builder Jon Kaase, and he recalled the events that led to Nicholson’s first excursion into the world of mountain motors.
“From 1975 to 1977 Don ran a lot of match races with big engines, but they were small blocks,” Kaase said. “They were 390 to 400-inch small block Cleveland engines. When I worked for him in 1977 we ran Bill Jenkins all the time, and he had a 496-inch big block and we had a 392-inch aluminum small block.
“We went to the big engines at the beginning of 1978 when we ran a 516-inch combination in the same Mustang that we had won the championship with. In June of that year, at a match race at Englishtown, New Jersey, he ran the first seven-second doorslammer pass. It was a 7.99 at 175 mph, if I recall correctly. The only things faster than us at that time were Funny Cars. It was the first doorslammer of any kind to run in the sevens. It was a huge deal at the time.
“Don made most of his money running match races, but he also went to a couple of IHRA events every year,” Kaase said. “He won two of those races - the Northern Nationals at Milan, Michigan, in 1980, and the Pro Am Nationals at Rockingham, North Carolina in 1981.
“When Don started running big engines, the typical mountain motor was 500-cubic-inches or so,” Kaase said. “The biggest one he ever ran was a 589, based on an aluminum Ford Can-Am block.”
Aftermarket aluminum Ford components started to show up after 1982, but the lightweight block and heads utilized in the Nicholson engines were considered very exotic in their day, a fact confirmed by friend and fellow Pro Stock racer Vernon Summer.
”Don ran the first seven-second pass with a Mustang II which had a 516-cubic-inch Ford wedge in it,” Summer said. “It was built on an aluminum Ford block and had some really rare aluminum heads on it. It was a one-of-a-kind piece, because aluminum Ford components were just real scarce back then. The first mountain motors were 500-cubic-inches or so, but they just kept getting bigger and bigger – 580 then 600, and so on. In those days every time I talked to Jon Kaase he was building something bigger.”
“Don made most of his money match racing, and in fact the big Mountain Motor Pro Stock deal they have at Budds Creek, Maryland was one of the first and biggest,” Summer said. “He always did well there.”
Nicholson continued to campaign with his Ford entries through the 1980 season. He made a comeback effort in 1984 with an Oldsmobile before retiring from Pro Stock at age 57. In 1988, however, he returned to drag racing with a nostalgia version of his 7.5-second, 152-mph Chevy Bel Air, and he made a brief attempt in Pro Stock Truck competition in 1998 and 1999.
No matter what he drove, however, Don Nicholson was a pioneer, an innovator, a leader, and a champion. His contribution to the sport will never be forgotten.
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Torco Racing Fuel's Competition Plus.com - Drag Racing's Internet Magazine - Torco's CP.com Pro Stock
The Top 20 IHRA Mountain Motor Pro Stock drivers of-all-time is an ongoing feature sponsored by Torco’s CompetitionPlus.com in observance of the 30th year of Mountain Motor Pro Stock racing. In the weeks leading up to the $20,000-to-win Torco’s CompetitionPlus Pro Stock Showdown, September 29 in Budds Creek, Md., each inclusion will be announced. The #1 driver will be announced prior to the final round of the prestigious event.
These articles are complimentary for the various media outlets that cover drag racing.
The Top 20 IHRA Mountain Motor Pro Stock Drivers of-all-time panel of judges included Torco's CompetitionPlus.com publisher Bobby Bennett, veteran drag racing journalist Jon Asher, former Drag Review editor David McGee, former IHRA Vice President Ted Jones, Current IHRA President Aaron Polburn and engine builder and former mountain motor Pro Stock racer Sonny Leonard.