Mike Nish: Why We Go Fast 

click to enlarge DENNIS MILLARD
  • Dennis Millard

Mike Nish, a member of the "World's Fastest Family," raced Indy cars in the '80s. Over the years, Mike, his dad, Terry, and brothers Jeff and T.J. have set more 30 national and world records. The Nish family is known for its land-speed racing on the Bonneville Salt Flats at speeds over 400 mph (the family's Royal Purple #998 Streamliner is pictured). Nish discusses the recent IndyCar race in Las Vegas that took the life of Dan Wheldon.

Many have weighed in on the recent Las Vegas Motor Speedway crash, arguing it is madness to race open wheel/open cockpit cars at speeds of 250 mph on banked oval tracks that force cars to bunch up. What do you think?
The accident that took the life of Dan Wheldon was one of those situations that rarely occurs. It took several situations to occur at that moment to cause such a horrific accident. Obviously, not all the drivers made the right decisions to avoid the accident. The perfect storm was created by pure coincidence and was unavoidable.

With 15 cars involved in the crash and a fatality, racers were likely distracted. Should the race have been halted?
The drivers and team owners made a decision to discontinue the race, and I'm sure they made the correct decision. Emotions and the well being of the drivers and teams needed to be considered for this decision to discontinue the race. I'm sure some of the cars that were not involved in the crash could have been damaged. The teams needed to be able to look at the cars for unseen damage that may have occurred from flying debris and so forth.

What goes through racers' minds when accidents occur?
To drive competitively, a driver needs to be aggressive. It's a fine line where fear and self confidence can ruin a driver's edge over competition. Some fear is good when making that instinctive split-second decision in traffic that helps you move forward a position or results in a loss of position or crashing. When fear overrides the instinctive decision-making process of championship drivers, careers could be jeopardized and it may be time to step down.

Is there any way to make the open wheel/open cockpit cars safer?
I'm sure some good will come out of Dan Wheldon's death. IndyCar will not take the tragedy lightly and will try to improve the cars for driver safety. The death of Dale Earnhardt led to some fantastic improvements in head and neck restraints for all forms of autoracing. I am not an advocate for limiting speeds or number of drivers in an event. However, I trust that IndyCar will make prudent decisions regarding safety and I would support those decisions.

Why has IndyCar lost its popularity over the years to NASCAR racing?
NASCAR is easier to market and has a bigger fan base because it is simply more identifiable to the fans and easier to sell sponsorships. American fans want to see American drivers and cars. Open-wheel IndyCars will always be more dangerous simply because of the open-wheel aspect. More American drivers, teams and sponsors would help IndyCar become more sellable and increase fan base.

After winning a 2011 Best of Utah award, you said that the Nish Motorsports team would run its 360 cubic-inch small block Chevy at the Bonneville Salt Flats, hoping to set a record with speeds over 425 mph. How did it go?
2011 was a disappointing year for us at Nish Motorsports. All record attempts during 2011 were cut short due to reliability problems with our engines. We will regroup this winter and design an engine program that focuses on reliability first and then horsepower and speed. This will be no small project because several modifications will need to be done to the car to accommodate the different engine packages. I feel our goal of 425 mph is definitely obtainable in 2012.

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Can you speak to the need for speed? Why go fast?
As far as going fast, which is what we do at the Bonneville Salt Flats, we do it simply because we want to be the fastest in the world with whatever engine size for each classification. People identify with an American-made engine running without a turbo charger like their very own car. We at Nish Motorsports have always identified with the hot rodders who think, "My hot rod is better than yours." Our aspirations are still to be the fastest naturally aspirated wheel-driven piston engine car in the world.

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Jerre Wroble

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