Nicole Lyons set to be household name

You can tell a lot about a woman by the junk in her trunk.

A battery charger, some automotive parts, a change of clothes and stiletto high heels are in her car’s trunk.

And if you ask what her idea of a perfect day would be, she’ll tell you, "Shopping three hours at my favorite stores, spa, a massage, some great food, and great wine." Oh, and going to the track and watching a great race. Or driving in it.

She’s half girly-girl and half tomboy. She cannot live without chocolate-covered strawberries in her life and someday hopes to own a Porsche Carrera GT, with one caveat — she’d modify the engine of that $450,000 machine.

Twenty-nine-year-old Nicole Lyons might be well known for many things — she built the highest-horsepower (1100) 565 single-carb engine ever documented (at that time), she’s an NHRA driver, and she’s drop-dead gorgeous — but she’s embarking on a new project that should make her a household name starting Feb. 23.

Lyons is one of the eight All-Star team members of SPEED Channel’s newest show, "Car Warriors." Its premise is simple: Pit eight garage gurus from local shops against the All-Stars and give them 72 nonstop hours to turn a clunker into a magnificent street car. If the challengers beat the All-Stars, they get to keep both cars. Judging the competition will be legendary Hollywood car builder George Barris (best known for creating Batman’s Batmobile and The Munsters’ Munster Koach), famed hot rod builder Jimmy Shine and car customization specialist "Mad Mike" Martin.

Lyons is the engine builder, but that’s not her sole job. All of the team members must agree on every decision they make as they design and build the car, down to the rims and paint color. And after several days of nonstop work and little-to-no rest, it can get testy.

"The biggest challenge is definitely the time (constraints) and getting to understand your other team members," Lyons said. "A lot of guys on our team have very diva personalities. The women, you would think we would be the divas, (but) these guys are the damn divas. They are aggressive."

Of course, Lyons is no stranger to maintaining calm amid a crisis. This is the same woman who still remembers the first time she was pulled over by a patrolman while taking a casual drive with her father.

"I was driving home from elementary school," she starts to explain, before getting interrupted by my jaw hitting the ground.

She explains matter-of-factly that she learned to drive at age 7 — not in some rural backwoods town, mind you, but in Sylmar, Calif., a bedroom community just north of Los Angeles. Her father, legendary street racer Jack Davis, taped wood to her feet so she could reach the pedals of the Chevy two-toned dually truck.

We were "only one exit away" from getting off the freeway, Lyons said, smiling.

A 7-year-old driving home from school on the 405 freeway? The cop told us to "Go, just go," Lyons said, laughing, because "I had my blinker on and pulled over right away."

Twenty-two years later, Lyons suffered the most embarrassing moment of her racing career.

"I had been doing eighth-mile testing," Lyons says, "where I have to pull the chutes at the eighth. And here I go to this big NHRA event, quarter-mile, I know it’s a quarter-mile, I’ve been doing quarter-miles my whole life."

"So I pull the chutes at the eighth, and this car goes zooming past me. It was a quarter-mile race and I pull the chutes at the eighth. Here is my debut in the South, first time at that track, and I pull the chutes at the eighth, in front of all my fans."

Embarrassing as that was, Lyons shrugs it off. A true competitor never dwells on failure but, instead, uses it as a reference point. And Lyons wants to succeed in whatever she does to pay back her family for all they’ve given her. She is driven. And passionate.

So why sign on to "Car Warriors"? It all comes down to embracing a challenge, better branding herself and Cole Muscle Cars (the muscle car shop she owns) and showing the world another side to her.

Lyons says NASCAR fans will love this show.

"You’re seeing fighting going on, you’re seeing the drama, you’re seeing the build, and you’re not seeing it in that same old automotive format," Lyons said excitedly. "It’s so raw. NASCAR fans are raw-action fans. They love the drama — that is what surrounds NASCAR."

Nicole Lyons is testing for NASCAR this season, and that surprising tidbit of information gave me the perfect opportunity to play "word association" with her, NASCAR style.

Women Drivers: "Underrated."

Good Ol’ Boys Network: "Keeps me motivated."

Danica Patrick: "Too much hype, not enough talent."

Victoria’s Secret: "Have it on right now."


You can follow Nicole Lyons on Twitter.