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NICOLE LYONS: In Hot Pursuit

Just like her dad Jack Davis, Nicole Lyons has a thing for cars. From perfecting the art of muscle car restoration, to building award-winning engines, to racing, let Nicole tell you how she’s leaving everyone in the dust.

Words: Marjua Estevez
Images: Courtesy of Nicole Lyons

While she may be gorgeous, don’t let Nicole Lyons‘ pretty face fool you. She’s been bred by L.A.’s finest in the street racing game and has been racing since the tender age of seven. A speed demon, she knows no limit and when she gets behind the wheel, she burns rubber till she crosses the finish line. Nicole digs in on all the parts that drive her.

You’re a beautiful, Black woman. Why and how did someone like you get into racing cars?

I was so lucky to be the only child and daughter of Jack Davis, a Los Angeles famed street racer, racecar driver, muscle car builder and race engine builder. So I guess you can say it is in my DNA. I started racing carts at age seven and started racing real racecars at 15. I knew from the age of two I wanted to be a racecar driver.

How would you describe your father, Jack Davis, and his legacy as a drag racer?

My father was the true, legit “Fast and Furious”. He was a Los Angeles racing legend who won a tremendous amount of races both on the track and on the street. He brought the Los Angeles street racing scene to the San Fernando Valley and became a street legend racing in high-dollar stake street races. He was huge for minorities in the game; as a Black man who had major racing/building knowledge and he became the go-to guy for the major players in street racing for engine and racecar work, and made a ton of money both racing and working on street racer cars. One thing my dad always said was they can never take knowledge away from you; it commands respect and he was right. His knowledge commanded respect even when racial tension was high in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s.

When you’re suiting up for a race and strapping yourself into your car, do you carry the weight of having to prove yourself because you’re a woman and/or Black? Do you ever walk in feeling underestimated?

To be honest, I never carry weight of having to prove myself as a woman or a Black woman because in order to truly be good in a racecar, you should have no other thoughts in your mind but winning and doing it in a safe manner. Once you strap in and put your helmet on and get in that car, you are just another competitor lining up to race. Even though I am the only Black woman doing what I do in NHRA/ADRL car drag racing, I am a racecar driver and I prove myself just like every other racer by my accomplishments on the track. I never feel underestimated. I guess because I grew up on my dad’s motto of: “They have no other choice but to respect knowledge”, and he was right. He gave me that confidence to walk in a room and feel like the best there because I am more than just a pretty face or just a driver. I build engines, cars, and feel confident in the decisions I have made to do to my racecar for the race. Now do I want people to recognize a beautiful Black woman just whopped them on the track? Heck yeah, I do! But I don’t have to say anything. When I pull my helmet off, it says it all. When I win races, it says it all.

We know you love racing, but outside of that reason, why else do you do what you’re doing? What’s the ultimate message you want to get across? Is there one?

Yes, I was born to race but I also have a huge drive to do it and do it well because my message is if you stick to something and give it your entire 200 percent effort— because 100 percent is sometimes not enough— you will succeed. Racing is a money-dominated sport besides your talent. And I did not come from a wealthy family; just an average income, average home but wealthy with love and support family. I want kids to fight for their right using knowledge to get ahead and succeed. And I want kids to see me and whether or not they want to be a racecar driver, I hope to influence them to achieve their goals and achieve them knowing you will run into obstacles. But the best part in achieving these goals is learning how to outsmart the obstacles and/or learn from them.

What would you say is the difference between NHRA and NASCAR?

NHRA is do or die, a wild, wild west style of racing. You have one shot to win, which makes things extremely tense and it’s the fastest motorsports racing in the world. NASCAR, you have several laps that can be out of your control—situations that can happen and can cause you to win or lose, like a huge wreck that takes you from let’s say 14th to 2nd. But NASCAR racing is extremely intense because you are going 200 mph, having to maneuver between other racecars and wrecks. I have love for both forms of racing.

Do you plan on pursuing NASCAR? If so, how huge of an aspiration is that?

I do plan on pursuing NASCAR and will this year, to go along with my already crazy drag racing schedule. I plan on being that Dion Sanders of racing, basically having race seasons that have schedules of both drag racing and NASCAR racing. This will be the first year we attempt this and I am truly excited.

You and your dad were best friends, but how did your mother influence you? Was she supportive?

My mother is a great businesswoman and has helped me in so many ways, especially in my business endeavors. At first, my mom was a little scared to have her only child going 240 mph in just a quarter mile, but once she saw just how talented and passionate I was, she’s been extremely supportive. My parents did everything they could to start my career in 2005, even refinanced their home so I could race professionally. My entire family—from my husband to mother-in-law, to my best friend giving up her regular stable job to learn how to become our team’s data specialist— had my back when I started racing NHRA in 2005 and trust me, it was hard, especially losing my father a week before my NHRA debut. But we did it and beat the #3 ranked racer right off the bat. It was a sign from my dad [that] everything was going to be okay.

Okay so you’re married. Do you have kids or want to have some?

Yes, to Damion Lyons, ex-pro football player who co-owns Cole Muscle Cars with me and also works on my race team. No, we have no kids. We do have a dog if that counts and 13 muscle cars, two racecars, but that probably still doesn’t count [Laughs]. But, we want kids. We’re just very focused on my career right now and being still young. I have plenty of time and who knows, we are pro adoption. We [will] have some of our own and adopt as well, when the time is right.

Racing is one thing, the car another. What do you know about cars?

I know how to build cars and have built award-winning engines. I was selected because of my building knowledge and skills to be the lead engine and drive train specialist on the All Star team, on the Speed TV show Car Warriors, where we built cars in literally 72 hours. We did nine episodes in 2011. I also own Cole Muscle Cars with my husband, which is a premier Los Angeles muscle car restoration shop, where we restore rare hot rods and muscle cars for clients.

Do you think guys are intimidated by you? And what about women?

Let’s just say it was hard to get a date when your car, at 15, was better than most men’s cars at 50. Then, you knew how to race and build cars. I definitely intimidated some weak-minded men and still do intimidate some men. I know I have intimidated some women as well. I think a lot of people can be intimidated by determination combined with talent.

Did you go to school?

I did go to school and my college was the Jack Davis School of Racing and Building Cars [Laughs]! …But I do believe in anything relating to education. It’s a key nobody can down play; knowledge is an amazing weapon to have.

Outside of being behind the wheel, what else is Nicole Lyons in “hot pursuit” of? Do you have a quirky talent or a secret desire to become a chef one day?

I really loved being on set and filming for TV. I think I may one day pursue acting, as I believe I could be the main girl in several action movies. I am a black belt and can do my own race stunts. It’s definitely something I may pursue after I win a ton of championships in racing.

If the world knows nothing else, what should we know about you?

I am focused and determined to succeed in anything I do, even if I start something and realize “Ahhhh! Darn this is not for me.” I still complete what I started.

Are women or men better drivers?

I think women are better drivers. We are graceful and have better reaction time. We finesse a wheel instead of manhandling it.

For more information on Nicole Lyons, visit her site HERE

Follow Nicole Lyons on Twitter, @NicoleLyonsNHRA

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