June 24, 2024
overcast clouds Clouds 64 °F

In Hot Pursuit

Binghamton alum thrives on thrill of race-car competition

Honeybee (yellow) is an MGA (a particular model of MG). Note the Binghamton “B” on each headlight. Honeybee (yellow) is an MGA (a particular model of MG). Note the Binghamton “B” on each headlight.
Honeybee (yellow) is an MGA (a particular model of MG). Note the Binghamton “B” on each headlight.

Dave Nicholas ’77 has always had a passion for racing. First, he was into cars, which he fell in love with as a teen. When his driving career stalled, he changed gears to another form of racing — this one involving triathlon. Then, having built a sports brand known around the world, he went back to his car-racing roots.

Nicholas travels the country with his wife, Rosemary, and his bright-yellow 1960 MGA, named Honeybee. Last fall, the Binghamton native had a homecoming of sorts as he and Honeybee hit the track at Watkins Glen International and won the Collier Cup, a race exclusive to MGs.

“That was quite a thrill,” Nicholas says. “I’d been trying to win [the Collier Cup] for five years. I had come close several times, but the car had always broken down, many times while I was in the lead. That weekend was also the 60th anniversary of the club my teenage friends and I founded — the Binghamton Automobile Racing Club.”

In his early 20s, with an associate degree in hand from Broome Tech (now SUNY Broome Community College), he had two choices: go into Navy flight school or pursue car racing. To the consternation of his father, Nicholas chose to race.

He was making a living behind the wheel until the 1970s gas crisis brought all of that to a screeching halt. In 1975, he decided to finish his college education and enrolled in Harpur College as a studio art major.

“Binghamton always had a fabulous reputation,” he says. “I was always skilled in metal fabrication and building things. It was something that our dad instilled in us very young, as he had a machine shop in Binghamton, and I started working there very young, in the 1950s.”

Nicholas describes his artistic skills as technically very good, but not visually as strong as a fine artist’s should be. Years later, the art background proved handy after a business venture in Hawaii failed.

“[My partner and I] went back to things we know,” Nicholas says. “That was sports for me, and it was hospitality for my partner. We had done swimming, biking and running events, and said, ‘Why don’t we put these together and do Ironman for mountain bikes?’ And that’s how the Xterra triathlon series started [in 1996]. My art degree helped me design the look and feel of the entire event.”

Nicholas wanted events that looked great both in person and on television. For example, Xterra was one of the first races to have a finish line arch — now standard in the industry. The big break came when Nissan created a small SUV and called it Xterra.

“It was a match made in heaven. We got a sponsorship from Nissan and it really took off. Today, we have more than 200 races, and we’re in 35 different countries, so the hometown boys have done good!”

He eventually sold Xterra and found his way back to auto racing in 2012 when he bought Honeybee. The body and engine are the same as the MGA he had in 1963, but the car delivers so much more today.

“The stock car had 78 horsepower, and if we could modify it [back then] to give us 90 or 95, we were in the hunt. Today, we can make 140.”

With that much power, each time you can walk away from the race — win or lose — it’s something to feel good about.

“In my years of racing, the worst that’s happened to me is cracked ribs. We pull the safety harness as tight as we can, but the forces are extremely strong when you’re going fast and come to an immediate stop. Many times in a race, I’ve had the car unexpectedly slide on me. You’re going into a corner thinking everything’s OK, but there’s oil on the track or somebody has kicked dirt or sand and you have to be super-quick to catch the slide. That’s part of the game. You have to be ready for the unexpected.”

Posted in: In the World, Harpur