Michael Nichols isn't old enough to even have his learner's permit, but he's become a recognized face around the Daytona International Speedway.
No matter the NASCAR event 12-year-old Michael Nichols II attends, one thing is certain: he will be sporting a black and white checkered bow tie and matching Vans shoes.
“It’s what everyone remembers me by,” he said.
The Ormond Beach resident is known around raceways and on Twitter by his over 1,150 followers as “The NASCAR Whiz Kid.” Michael launched his Twitter in July 2017 after being chosen as a Sports Illustrated Kids reporter in April 2017 for the 2017-18 year.
The job was a perfect fit for this bigtime NASCAR fan. As a young child, Michael would only read about NASCAR — its history, its races, its drivers. His bedroom walls are covered with memorabilia, boxed car models and autographed hats, while his red race car bed completes the look.
“None of us have been NASCAR fans, but he was always into cars growing up, so it kind of felt like the dad thing to do: your kid is into cars, so take him to the races,” Michael’s father, Mike Nichols, said.
As a Sports Illustrated Kids reporter for the last year, Michael has gotten to interview many athletes, such as Drew Brees at the NFL ProBowl and NASCAR drivers Martin Truex Jr., Danica Patrick and Denny Hamlin. Interviews with these professionals appeared in three issues of Sports Illustrated Kids’ print magazine.
His favorite interview to-date was with NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“To have the access to these NASCAR drivers, which is his passion, is super cool,” Mike Nichols said. “And I think, for me, the most important part is sort of the life skills he’s learning along the way at age 12 about how to shake people in the hand, look them in the eye, greet people, the importance of networking and trying to get to know everybody in the garage.”
“Dream big. ... Look where I am now. A couple years ago, I was just a fan, and now I’m much more than a fan.”
- Michael Nichols, previous Sports Illustrated Kids reporter and current NASCAR Acceleration online video creator
While Michael was a kid reporter for one year, he simultaneously worked for NASCAR Acceleration Nation, which focuses on getting kids involved in the sport. He said he’s excited to continue working for them.
“I’m asking questions to certain drivers, but mainly my job is to show what kids can do at the race track, like here are the drivers, here are the cars,” Michael said of his online video creator position with Acceleration Nation.
Michael describes his father as “my driver, my cameraman, my script man, my PR helper.”
At a race at Daytona International Speedway in July 2016, Michael was introduced to a man named Dave, who asked Michael a question: In the year Dale Earnhardt Sr. won the Daytona 500 (1998), who came in second?
“He said ‘Bobby Labonte’ and the guy was just blown away,” Mike Nichols said. “Nobody would know that. … This happened in ‘98, but (Michael) watches all the old races and stuff. Then that guy said, ‘Boy, this guy really is a whiz kid,’ so that’s kind of where the name originally came from. And that person, Dave, it turns out is Dave Alpern, who is the president of Joe Gibbs Racing.”
A connection was formed, and Michael was later invited to Chase Media Day in September 2016.
“When I went there, one of the drivers was walking by and he just stopped and started talking to me, and my dad was like ‘Ask him a question,’ so I asked him a question from before I was born, and he was like, ‘Holy cow, this kid knows a lot about (NASCAR) trivia,’” Michael said.
Now, several years into his life at races, Michael is getting ready to make behind-the-scenes videos for Acceleration Nation at the upcoming TOYOTA/SAVE MART 350 race in Sonoma, California.
After his summer adventures come to a close, Michael will start seventh grade at David C. Hinson Middle School.
His words of advice to other kids?
“Dream big,” he said. “Look where I am now. A couple years ago, I was just a fan, and now I’m much more than a fan.”
Michael said he hopes to work in the business side of NASCAR one day.
“I’ve talked to the president of NASCAR about this, but I’m coming for his job,” Michael said. “He said he’ll need a good replacement.”