12-year-old Michael Nichols is in a league of his own.
Standing 4 feet and 11 inches tall at just 12 years of age, Michael Nichols is one of the most recognizable members of the NASCAR press corps. He’s known by drivers and media members as the “NASCAR Whiz Kid,” and, with good reason.
The 12-year old Daytona Beach native is one of the sharpest reporters out there, despite being the youngest. He’s even correctly predicted the champions in all three series for the past two seasons’ Championship weekends at Homestead-Miami Speedway, something there is just a 0.02% chance of doing. But, just how did the Whiz Kid get his start doing something that many kids his age (and even adults) dream of?
“I grew up loving cars, basically anything with wheels. Growing up in Daytona, you kind of have to like NASCAR,” Nichols said with a laugh. “My dad used to take me to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR XFINITY Series races at Daytona, so I got into NASCAR full-time in 2015.”
Since becoming a fan, the NASCAR Whiz Kid has visited six tracks and reported from three.
He got his nickname during the Coke Zero 400 weekend at Daytona in July 2016, as he talked with Joe Gibbs Racing President Dave Alpern. Alpern asked Nichols a trivia question, which he correctly answered. The JGR President then stated, “He really is a NASCAR Whiz Kid.” The nickname stuck, as did the branding that came along with it.
Nichols’ traditional outfit when attending events is dress slacks and a white shirt. Sound plain? Think again. It’s a checkered flag bowtie that truly makes him unmistakable. Last year, Nichols was invited to attend the NASCAR Playoffs media day in Chicago.
“I knew it wasn’t appropriate for me to just wear a t-shirt and jeans,” stated Whiz Kid. “We wondered what I could wear and eventually settled on a checkered flag bowtie.”
The bowtie was originally his dad’s idea, while his mother took the creativity a step further and came up with the idea for the checkered flag piece.
“At the track, I was seeing many drivers for a second time, and they didn’t remember me. I knew I needed to wear the bowtie all the time if I wanted to stand out and be remembered.”
As a journalist, Nichols is wise beyond his years and offers a tangible piece of advice for aspiring writers in the way that he conducts his interviews. He’s detail-oriented and makes sure to pre-plan his questions and find a question that not many people would think to ask.
“I tried to ask my questions on the spot at first,” he said. “It didn’t go very well, but I learned as I went. I try to find a unique question that others in the room might not think to ask the drivers.”
The approach has worked well for the young journalist, who has interviewed the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Danica Patrick and others. Additionally, he landed a gig as a Sports Illustrated for Kids Reporter, with his first story being a piece on Chase Elliott, driver of the №9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet this upcoming season. Elliott uses the same car number that his Hall of Fame father Bill piloted years ago. (Elliott previously drove the №24 made famous by Jeff Gordon).
“Being an SI for Kids Reporter has helped me a lot,” Nichols said. “It’s something that I’d tell every kid my age to do if they have the chance.”
To become an SI for Kids Reporter, aspiring journalists ages 10 to 14 had write two separate articles. The first article was a 400-word piece centered around an athlete or sports team doing good in the community. The article had to include at least two quotes from individuals the prospective reporter interviewed for the story. The second piece had to be just 200 words in length and answer the question, “Why do you want to be an SI for Kids Reporter?”
Nichols’ sport of choice was obviously NASCAR.
“I was one of 14 journalists selected. I wrote about NASCAR and told my story,” he said. “It made perfect sense for me to write a NASCAR article, and I had the chance to interview Chip Wile, President of Daytona International Speedway, and individuals from both the NASCAR Foundation and International Speedway Corporation.”
His journalism career has taken off since then.
He’s done reporting at Daytona, Homestead and Charlotte. One of the coolest stories comes from his father Mike, however, and shows that even as a professional, it’s still okay to be a fan.
As Mike told it: “We were on the way home from visiting family and rerouted to stop by Darlington to pick up some track literature for Michael to read. Before we knew it, Tony Sizemore, (Darlington’s Sr. Manager of Consumer Marketing) was taking Michael for laps around the track in his SUV. At that point, he wasn’t the NASCAR Whiz Kid, he was simply a fan, getting an exclusive tour of one of the most iconic tracks on the circuit. While they didn’t know him as Whiz Kid then, they have gotten to since. ”
The Whiz Kid won’t forget his tour of the track they call “Too Tough to Tame.” He says it’s his favorite race track, noting that he loves the throwback atmosphere, from the cars on the pit road to the uniforms that the crew members wear.
As for Nichols’ future aspirations? While for now he’s a journalist reporting on the sport he loves, he has big dreams. Among them, being the President of NASCAR.
“I’ve said before that I want to be President (of the sport). I’ve even told Mr. (Brent) Dewar (President of NASCAR) that I want his job,” he said. “Hopefully in 10 years I’ll be in college and working my way up through the business side of NASCAR. I think I could change some rules on the competition side and make some things better, but with the young guns like Daniel Suarez and Elliott coming up through the ranks, I think they could do something really special.”
We’ve all been told to dream big. For now, catch the NASCAR Whiz Kid at a track near you, and stay tuned as he covers the sport he loves while following his ultimate dream of one day leading NASCAR.
This piece has been presented to you by SMU’s Master of Science in Sport Management.
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