In the early seventies, John Nicholson formed Nicholson McLaren Engines and was the engine builder for McLaren Cosworth. His engines were in the cars that powered Emerson Fittipladi to the World title in 1974 and James Hunt in 1976. Besides his engine business Nicholson was a keen racer, racing the Lyncar. Most of the car's outings were confined to classic British non-title events such as the International Trophy and the Race of Champions. In the two years Nicholson ran in those, he had a strike rate of three out of four finishes. John was the 1973 and '74 Formula Atlantic Champion. In 1975 he took part in the British Grand Prix.
The information in the following piece was supplied by John Nicholson - 12th September 2012.
John’s motor racing career included taking part in the 1974 24 hours of Le-Mans and the 1975 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. But with the increased demand for his F1 engine servicing it was not possible to devote sufficient time to competitive motor sport so it had to go. So what to do next?
A friend invited John to Bristol Docks in 1977 and from what he saw he realised it would be possible to find the time for circuit powerboat racing as it could be a two day only British based sport. He was lent a couple of boats for early races while his new Hodges OE was being built (he also had a new Cougar due). They were both very different to drive – this was the start of John’s power boat learning curve.
Thinking ahead he bought the ex Jackie Wilson ON Hodges and Chris Hodges converted it back to Outboard power. Some in the sport were sceptical about John entering ON with so little experience. However, this was soon dispelled when he was shown to be safe and competitive. One of his first races was in Holland (Dutch GP). John was coming into the first corner in the middle of the pack but the boat was light and didn’t want to turn. He was lucky and missed everyone, going on to win the race - another learning curve which he never encountered again.
Then came Bristol Docks, which John won comfortably. At some point after this John heard Bob Spalding say to Chris Hodges "You've got a good one there." A venture to Spain with the Hodges sprint boat for an endurance race, added another experience to John’s race craft. The sprint boat ran very flat with little feeling but he won the race for ON and completed more laps than any other boat but they didn't give him the prize. At Chasewater he blew the boat over while chasing Wilf Gregory. John recalls ‘Chris asked if I'd felt it going. No was the reply.’ This meant a short stay in Hospital with two cracked vertebrae.
For 1980 John bought a new Hodges, which he didn't enjoy driving. During that year’s Embassy Grand Prix, John submarined his boat at the Pits Turn. Clive Hook was next to reach the turn and not seeing John’s boat, ran straight over the top of it. John was seriously hurt with eighteen breaks in the left rib cage and one through the lung. His son Simon was born two weeks later. John’s comment, ‘How to loose browny points.’
John was racing again within 8 weeks, well strapped up but in pain. Unfortunately his Hodges failed to finish at Holme Pierrepont, with a fractured fuel tank and so went the Championship.
John and Fiona Brothers entered this boat in the Paris six hours (John recalls they finished 5 th but he’s not totally sure). He also drove with Roger Jenkins in the Paris six hour with a second place (not sure of year).
At this point John decided it was time for a new Seebold, which he tested in the USA and couldn't believe how good it was. Fast, predictable, safe and easy to drive. John says ‘Thank you Billy.’ In this boat John won three more British Championships and two British Grands Prix. Unfortunately the Seebold came to a sad end at Holme Pierrepont. John takes up the story. ‘I was lapping Steve Kerton into the start finish buoy when he must have forgotten how to stop his boat…and crash. That was the end of a very winning Seebold. John finished the season off driving a Peter Inward Seebold to take the title. But it was time to say good bye to power boating forever.
‘Good bye to power boating forever but not the water.’ John at 70 still enjoys hooning about on his supercharged Jet Ski at Lagoona Park near Reading (see signed photo below).
It is said that John had won or led all British ON races he entered for 3 years but we’re not sure of this fact.
John lives near Reading, out in the country away from all the noise and vehicles etc. He is always at the end of a phone or email to answer questions from the younger staff regarding the race car engines of the 1970s which are still used today in Historic F1 racing. Now semi-retired his time in the UK is for the summer only and then back to his home country of New Zealand for another summer where he lives at Clarks Beach. Golf, fishing and more Jet Ski.
John Being Presented with a trophy by BBC commentator,