Dan and Kathy Nikolai field the legendary #33 car for driver M K Kanke: The Spears took a moment to shoot a few questions their way and they were kind enough to answer.
"The atmosphere is much more intimate than it used to be with NASCAR...and it seems like most everyone in the pits feels that the SRL is a family oriented series."
SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour : How did you get your start in racing?
Dan Nikolai: These first two questions need to be rolled into one since my physical involvement in racing began with M.K. However, I got hooked on the sport back in the early 80’s as a spectator at Saugus Speedway. That’s when the modified division was really taking off and the stands were always packed. It was very exciting to spend a Saturday night watching some good old fashioned short track racing up there, and I guess it left an indelible impression on me.
SRL: How did your long-time relationship with MK begin?
DK: Well I basically got a foot in the door with MK because I’ve known his wife Christine for a long time; we went to the same grade & high schools together and were separated by just one year. Right after my wife and I were married, we joined a bowling league and ended up being teammates with Christine’s Mother and Step Father. At the time I don’t think I realized she was married to M.K., but once I found out I prodded my bowling teammates to put in a good word for me and that’s how my friendship with him began; went to my first tour race as a crew member for him in June of 1991 at Mesa Marin, where he finished 3rd that night.
SRL: In owning a race team, what is priority #1 for you?
DK: Priority #1 is to always feel like our team is 100% prepared before leaving the shop for a weekend of racing. I always want to feel like we have as good a shot as any of our competitors to bring a trophy back home with us, and you have to prepare to win before you can win, right? Of course, I don’t know if anyone can really be 100% prepared for what might happen at the race track, but that kind of scenario would have to be covered under priority #2.
I also try to remember that we’re really doing this for fun (?), and well I hope everyone on my team is having fun no matter what the circumstance is. So seeing my team having fun together is perhaps the true priority #1.
SRL: What has been your most memorable moment in racing as a team owner?
DK: I’ve had my fair share of memorable moments as a team owner. Every time we win it’s memorable for me one way or another, because you just never know when you will get that next win. That’s a compliment to the competition we race with in the SRL; there are plenty of teams with a lot of depth, experience and desire, which obviously makes it more challenging to win races. If I had to pick a “most” memorable moment though, it would have to be winning the championship in 2009.
SRL: Do you have plans for your son Danny to drive a Tour car?
DK: Only if he shows an interest in wanting to do so; it needs to be his dream, not mine. He is currently putting together a Legend car but high school takes a lot of his free time right now, so it has been a slow process for him. I do believe that he and several of his racing friends show a lot of promise and they need to gain valuable experience and seat time in the Legend division right now. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting some real standout families during the past couple of years while racing with Danny, and it’s my hope to see these up and comers remain friends and at the same time become the next generation of local racing heroes.
SRL: What kind of emotions do you have during the races?
DK: Well I suppose that’s always going to depend on what’s happening on the racetrack at any given moment. The start of a race is always exciting and I usually get the butterflies, then it’s down to business and trying to watch as much of the racing action as possible. I always work on being cool headed in the event a fast decision needs to be made. However, I suppose I’ve been known to throw out a choice word or two if something goes wrong, then will proceed to get on with whatever needs to be done afterwards. Racing is always supposed to be fun, right?
SRL: What do you enjoy most about competing in the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series?
DK: The atmosphere is much more intimate than it used to be with NASCAR. The circle of people is tighter; it’s more of a “mom and pop” organization as opposed to being too big and thus difficult to manage, and it seems like most everyone in the pits feels that the SRL is a family oriented series.
SRL: Most memorable moment of the 2012 season for you so far?
DK: Watching M.K. make a nice comeback at Madera in April and taking the checkered flag. That win was sentimental in many ways but mainly because he dedicated it to his Mother-In-Law and my Father-In-Law, both of whom lost their battles with health problems early this year.
SRL: If you could put any Cup driver in one of your cars, who would you choose and why?
DK: I’d have to go with Tony Stewart, even though he’s the subject of controversy at the moment after the Bristol race. I think he’s done very well with staying connected to his roots in racing and he’s able to drive the wheels off of just about any type of car he ecides to hop into. I’ve always gotten a kick out of his “speak what’s on your mind” approach as well, which to me makes him a throwback to the way more Cup drivers used to be.
SRL: What is the best part about being a team owner? What is the worst part of being a team owner?
DK: I don’t think I’ve stumbled across what the worst part of being a team owner is as of this time, so I have no answer for that one. Being a team owner has given me the freedom to gain experience and knowledge in so many different aspects of racing in general, that it would be difficult to describe them all here in a few short words. While it has put me into more of a managerial type of position, I prefer to be thought of as one of the crew members on our team and still enjoy having some of the hands on responsibilities I had before becoming an owner. I may have felt a bit overwhelmed by things at first after making the decision to do this, but now that I have a better handle on what it takes I wouldn’t have it any other way.