HAMPTON — It was the way Skip Nichols wanted it to end.
And from all indications, it was the right way for Nichols to close out a championship racing career at Thursday Thunder.
The Albany native had won 53 times before at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and on the evening he was retiring, another win would be appropriate.
It was the way it was suppose to end.
Nichols started on the pole. Had the fastest lap in the race. And led all but one lap to take the checkered flag.
The win gave Nichols his seventh career Masters division championship, and eighth overall division points standing title. He won the old Roadster division.
Each week during the summer, Nichols would make the trek to Atlanta Motor Speedway to race. And he was very successful at it.
Now, he is hoping to pass his wisdom and knowledge of racing on to his grandson, Wilder Etheredge, a young, aspiring driver. Etheredge competed this season in the Beginner Bandalero division. He picked up a win and runner-up spot this season.
With his racing career behind him, Nichols will have more time to spend in the garage and watch Etheredge race.
But Thursday belonged to Nichols as he took his final lap around the track. He would end up in a familiar spot — victory lane.
Like much of the races this season, Nichols had to earn his fifth win this summer. A crowded field of Scott Moseley, Tina Johnson and Bill Plemons Jr., were trying to play spoiler.
Nichols began the feature race with a seven-point advantage over Moseley after he posted the top qualifying time in the division to start from the pole. An early lead from the start, Nichols remained at the top until a spin by McDonough’s Robbie Woodall in turn two on lap 16 brought out a caution.
On the restart, Moseley got side-by-side with Nichols on the backstretch and momentarily slipped into first. Moseley’s lead lasted less than half a lap before Nichols regained the top spot in turn four. Nobody would challenge Nichols over the final three laps as he raced to victory lane.
“It has been a great ride for my 55-plus year racing career,” Nichols said. “To win 54 times at a track like this is amazing. Now, I have to get Wilder up to speed.”
Years ago, Nichols had to make another decision about racing and family. And family won out back then.
Nichols had a chance to pursue a professional career, but choose to stay closer to home to be around his children Trena and Chris lives with his wife, Lavon. They are a close-knit group that sits together in the garage on race-day.
Now, they will sit and watch as young Wilder Etheredge pursues a passion that Granddaddy mastered.
Nichols has not only set a good example for Wilder on the track, but in life. The soft-spoken family leader has a passion for his family.
He was gracious in winning, and also in the rare times that he didn’t take the checkered flag.
Nichols’ competitors are quick to point out that they are going to miss chasing his No. 9 red and white Legends car during the hot summer months.
He left some big shoes to fill, but he will be there every step of the way helping Etheredge grow into them.
Derrick Mahone is the sports editor of the Clayton News Daily newspaper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.