Skip Nichols is staring down the barrel at history.
Needing just one victory to become Thursday Thunder's all-time wins leader, Nichols will enter Atlanta Motor Speedway's fourth week of short-track racing knowing he is on the cusp of history.
But Nichols never expected to match the mark of 27 wins by friend Doug Stevens, who now oversees preparation on Nichols' Legends car and Thunder Roadster. After a lifetime of racing that included working with NASCAR legends like Tiny Lund and Tom Pistone, the Albany native decided to hang up his firesuit and retire. But his cohorts wouldn't have it.
"I tried to get out of racing a few years ago, but my competitors and the people at the tracks would not allow me to get out of racing," said Nichols. "I sold everything I had and as soon as I sold everything, I started to get phone calls from drivers and car owners who said, 'We don't want you to go away. We want you to stay here with us and you can drive our car.' And I've never been one to drive others' stuff, so I bought me another car and got back in it."
Since returning to the track full-time in 2006, Nichols has posted 11 wins and claimed a Masters division championship, the fourth of his career.
Nichols has raced a Legends car since 1998, but failed to finish in the top-five in his first year. But with a background in speed founded in Super Late Model racing in the 60s, 70s and 80s, Nichols quickly improved and won two races his next season. Nichols was hooked on Legends racing.
"The Legends concept came around and it was they type of racing I wanted to do. The few races I went to at first, it seemed like a family affair and that's what sold me – the comradery at the track, the family atmosphere – and that's something I wanted to do," said Nichols, who turned down an opportunity in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in the 1980s to focus on his family. "That's something we didn't have with Super Late Models - your family seldom went on the road and I didn't like that.
"But even the few times I've had to go to the track by myself, my competitors are family and I have more help than I can use. I've acquired a lot of good friends Legends racing," added Nichols.
And as his Legends racing continued, so did his success. Nichols has posted two-or-more wins in a season 10 times in his 12-year career and has steadily ascended the record books. And after posting wins in each week of the 2010 season to date, Nichols appears ready to ascend into first place with 28-career wins.
"It's a real honor," said Nichols, who has been associated with Stevens since he began assisting Nichols three years ago. "I'm just glad to be considered the same caliber of driver as Doug Stevens. He is a real good driver in Legends and Late Models and it's a real honor to have a shot as his record. He's a super guy."
And with only one win needed to separate Nichols from his friend and take the all-time record, Nichols knows claiming the record is far from a foregone conclusion.
"I'm just going to let the chips fall where they might."