Interview: NHRA Racer Nicole Lyons
Nicole Lyons is fueled by the same horsepower that ignites the cars she races, although Lyons is only 5’6”, her exotic beauty, spirited personality and kinetic intensity make her seem larger than life. However, those that learn about this multi-faceted athlete are amazed, while she carves a niche for herself as one of the world’s premier female professional racecar drivers.
As Lyons continues to fulfill her dreams, she has already created history, as the first African-American female to race in the coveted classes of NHRA Top Sportsman & Comp as well as ADRL Top Sportsman.
She sat down with BSO to talk about her career as well as minorities and women in racing.
You don’t see a lot of minorities in racing, a female minority is extremely rare, so how did you get involved?
I got involved in racing thru my father Jack Davis who was a famed Los Angeles street racer, high performance engine builder and muscle car restoration expert. I was an only child and grew up wrenching, building engines, and racing. My father passed away a week before my season opener in the NHRA in 2005 and I know he is looking down extremely proud of me for never giving up on my racing and turning our muscle car restoration shop Cole Muscle Cars into one of the premier shops in Los Angeles. However, never would I imagined that in today’s day in age I would be the 1st woman and African American woman to race NHRA Top Sportsman D7 and the 1st woman and African American woman currently racing NHRA D2. This 2012 race season I am currently ranked in the Top 10 for NHRA Top Sportsman D2, which says a bunch for our race team especially with the fact we had to miss 2 events due to a major engine malfunction. We have our new Steve Schmidt racing engine and in just one NHRA event in Norwalk Ohio we moved right into the Top 10. We are headed for a championship NHRA D2 season.
Growing up would you consider yourself a tomboy? Did you always have that competitive fire in your to play sports?
Growing up I would consider myself a tomboy as I played almost every sport from basketball to soccer. Many don’t know I am a black belt in kickboxing and when I was competing was ranked #1 in Southern California. I have always been extremely competitive and that carries with me today. I do believe though I am a girly tomboy meaning I still like to wear my heels etc but can do a burnout in my heels as well if you get my drift.
When you think of someone like Dianca Patrick, some say she is just opportunities because of her looks, you are an attractive young woman, do you feel that is an advantage or disadvantage in a sports that are dominant by male fans and drivers.
I think Danica has done a pretty good job in the marketing department and with her merchandising sales exceeding veteran drivers at the track it speaks volumes. There is nothing wrong with her playing on the fact that she is an attractive woman and it seems her sponsors love the fact she is as well. I am a model myself as well as a race car driver and I think it is just a benefit to add to the portfolio and it gives us women a little edge that most men can’t capitalize on.
But at the end of the day regardless of how I look, I put it down on the track and that is what matters. At the end of the day me being ranked in the Top 10 is what matters, wins matter. The way you look does not produce wins so it is not something I focus on nor do I think it is something Danica focuses on.
Tell us a bit about the NASCAR Diversity program you are in?
I am not exactly in the NASCAR Diversity program per se. I am working on my own with Max Siegel who runs the Diversity program and Brett Bodine who is Head of NASCAR Competition on a specific plan to have a successful transition from professional drag racing to NASCAR. Max Siegel, Brett Bodine and I have a plan that once executed will allow me to run some NASCAR K&N races this year and next year while also running my professional drag racing races as well. We are not going to go to the media with just a I am licensed campaign as being licensed does not mean anything actually racing races is what means something in racing and to potential sponsors as well. We will run with a PR campaign in regards to our debut in NASCAR once we know what our first professional NASCAR race will be and Max Siegel, myself and Brett Bodine will be in charge of exactly when that campaign needs to present itself. I am excited to be learning and testing and I am excited to be able to lean on Brett Bodine for advice and working with Max Siegel who has made a huge impact in K&N racing with the Revolution Racing team. Everything really lies on me and just like my outstanding professional drag racing career in which my first NHRA race out in 2005 I beat the #3 ranked guy, I refuse to just come out in NASCAR until I know 1st race out I have all the capabilities to come in 1st. Real racers understand the importance of having a debut that leaves your team, sponsors, fans and reporters with the WOW factor!
Have you experience any sexism or racism during your times racing and if so how have you handle it?
I would be lying to say I have never experienced any sexism or racism in racing but I handle it by taking the high road. There is no way I am going to resort to arguing with a individual who is that ignorant. I reply to those ignorant people the same way I reply to those who are not ignorant by showing and proving on the track. Showing and proving yourself on the track is where it’s at and it speaks volumes. Being knowledgeable is also something no one can take from you and it also speaks volumes. So I address the negativity with stats and knowledge.
Another female driver Tia Norfleet has been getting a lot of publicity lately, but questions have arose about her credentials as a driver. what is your opinion on her and what possible damage she is doing by not portraying herself in an accurate light?
As a veteran professional race car driver I can say when it comes to me, or any other race car driver, or anyone claiming to be a race car driver I think it is extremely important for any media outlet, any corporation who thinking about sponsoring, or any fan to truly do your research and due diligence. If you have actually raced or are currently racing you can go online and research verifiable stats and verifiable racing footage and prior to committing to do a news story or feature if you can’t find these stats online you should call and ask for the online link to these verifiable stats from whatever sanctioning body is in question from NASCAR, NHRA, ADRL, ARCA etc. Stats in racing never expire you can find stats from the 1960’s online still and you can also find stats from minor series of racing from karting to jr. dragsters. I will say it is key to make sure your bio is accurate and that you always are putting correct information to the media as putting out any wrong information just to try and collect sponsorship may gain you a bunch of attention initially but will come back to harm you in the long run. I can say sponsors present themselves once you have presented yourself as a proven winner on the track. Your stats typically equate to dollars and most corporations are not going to give up millions until you have invested in yourself by showing up to races and winning.
Describe your driving style and does it reflect your personality off the track?
I am a finesse driver and a calculated driver. I drive hard and have earned the nickname of Nicole “The Lyoness” Lyons because when I get in that car I go into hunt mode for that win. I think it does reflect my personality off the track and I think it is what helped me become a successful team owner, driver and business owner. I like the fact that I build these cars as well and I do not show up just to drive. A great driver to me knows the complete in’s and out’s of these cars and can help a crew chief and team tremendously by knowing exactly what’s going on with the car.
You have an upcoming race in Atlanta this weekend, what can we expect from you?
We are racing our NHRA D2 race this weekend at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, GA. Our team is on a path this season to go after the NHRA D2 Top Sportsman Championship and we are currently ranked in the NHRA D2 Top Sportsman Top 10 and are looking to move into the Top 5 after this Atlanta race. So come out this weekend if you are in the Atlanta area and see why they call me Nicole “The Lyoness” Lyons. I would like to thank our sponsors Royal Purple, Goodyear Tire, Steve Schmidt Racing Engines, Cole Muscle Cars, SG Inc.