Auto Racing

Blairstown's Drew Nickell even more helpful after auto racing title

He wants to see others grow into competitors

Drew Nickell rounds corner three during the hornets heat race in 2017. Nickell wants to help other drivers improve. (Reb
Drew Nickell rounds corner three during the hornets heat race in 2017. Nickell wants to help other drivers improve. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — You can talk or you can take action.

Blairstown native and local racecar driver Drew Nickell chooses the latter when it comes to building the sport he loves.

“I got that from Dallas Chandler when I first started,” Nickell said. “He always helped me out even though he didn’t have to because I was a competitor.”

Nickell said that’s the same philosophy he’s taken.

“I’d rather help somebody, them get better and succeed and have someone to race against, rather than watching them struggle and just leave and not race anymore," Nickell said. "That’s how I’ve always looked at it.”

The main way the 2009 Benton Community grad “helps” other drivers is by selling them cars once he gets them up to speed.

“Sadly I’ve had about 15-16 cars,” Nickell said. “I seem to build them, at least one a year, and then I sell them and build a whole new car the next year.”

Nickell believes about half of the cars at Hawkeye Downs in the weekly races are one of his old cars.

“It’s nice to help build the car count out here and it gives me something to tinker with. Half of the fun is figuring out the setup so I can get them as fast as I can get them. Once I hit that point, I kind of lose interest and move on to the next.”

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That doesn’t mean he’s leaving new drivers with a boring car. It’s quite the opposite.

“Once I get them fast and can’t make any more adjustments to pick up time, then someone new who is just beginning can jump in the car,” Nickell said. “Obviously, they won’t be able to drive it as fast as it can go. They are going to have a learning curve themselves.”

Nickell said he doesn’t change a thing before he sells the cars — the cars are exactly how he ran them.

“Then I know they have something nice to begin and learn with. I see a lot of guys build something and try to do it all themselves and they struggle,” Nickell said. “They can’t figure out the setup and it turns a lot of drivers away right off the bat. If I can get them into something that was running good before, once they figure it out it won’t be as frustrating.”

Although you can find Nickell at Hawkeye Downs on Friday nights and Benton County Speedway most Sundays, the married father of three has taken a bit of a back seat this season after winning the points title last year at Hawkeye Downs; not only did he collect his first championship, he did so as the first person in Hornet class history at Hawkeye Downs to do it with an automatic transmission in his 2004 Chevy Cavalier.

“I proved last year what I wanted to do for myself,” Nickell said. “This year, I have been helping more people just because I completed what I wanted to do. I’d never done that before.”

“I honestly felt that the car was faster than my manuals, just due to the gear ratio,” Nickell said. “After I won the championship, I parked it in the tech barn and sold it.”

Now Nickell and his wife of seven years, Taylor, whom he met at their mutual high school jobs at Happy Joe’s on 16th Street, are enjoying more quality time with their three kids — Kinnick, Karlee and Kahne.

But that doesn’t mean Nickell doesn’t have a project car.

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“I’ve been slowly working on a Sport Mod,” Nickell said. “I hope to premiere it in two weeks and then run it weekly next year at Hawkeye Downs and select races at Vinton.”

That’s assuming he doesn’t sell it before next season.

Comments: justin.webster@thegazette.com

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