He was out of his comfort zone with his own shop, tools and methodology, working under the giant J&L Fabricating process on the track at the Rolex Monterey Reunion. It was a rare free weekend for Nick Slade, who is struggling to say “no” to a friend in need.
In this case, J&L Fabricating founder Louie Shefchik, with several immaculately prepared Formula 1 cars for presentation at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, was the friend in need.
New Zealander Slade did not have time to recover before a test session with the Arrow McLaren SP IndyCar team, with whom he will be working the following weekend at the Laguna Seca final, and will host a relaxing pre-race evening in his race shop.
Meanwhile, several of the project’s current cars were calling his name from his nearby Slade / Advanced Vehicle Systems department store, waiting for his attention.
In a sport increasingly focused on specialization, Slade is something of a throwback – his wide range of abilities and focus on “doing it right” has led him for more than 30 years to a clean workshop a few miles from Laguna Seca Raceway, and a roster of happy clients And a handful of race team owners who have his number.
The shop, crowded with cars and gadgets, is kept clean – more like a museum than a crowded shop for settings.
“I opened with Shadow’s Don Nichols in 2014, and I look forward to helping him set up and assemble all of the Can-Am and Formula 1 cars and parts,” explains Slade. “When Don died, he left me everything — all the trophies, all the pictures, the driver’s helmets, all of that. I have it all in a section of the store — everything is really well displayed.”
In the meantime, the walls boast a massive art collection by the famous artist and motor-racing enthusiast Thierry Thompson. Slade, a huge fan of Thompson’s work, rebuilt the Swift DB-1 Formula Ford.
Then there is the compact car group.
“I’ve been fortunate in a lot of the cars I’ve worked on to find actual models of them,” he says. “So if I work on IndyCar, whatever, I’d love to try to find a 1:18 or 1:12 scale model.
“I’ve worked on a lot of cars, especially IndyCars, so I have a pretty big collection now…”
Teen Slade started working on Subarus for Kiwi racing and the ace rally, Trevor Crowe whose father Bob built the racing engines for him. In the early 1980s, Bob moved to America to build race engines, leaving Nick behind to finish school and serve an extended apprenticeship. He followed his father to Southern California when he was 21 after a summer visit at 17.
“I worked with my dad for a few years when I first came,” Slade recalls. “One of his first clients, Tom Malloy of Trench Shoring, had a large collection of cars, and I helped take care of them, and I made him a whole bunch of cars.”
In 1999, team manager John Anderson hired him to work with Bruce McCaw’s PacWest IndyCar team. Among the highlights of that early experience? Slade was on hand when teammate Kiwi Scott Dixon—23 years later a six-time champion! On his first IndyCar course.
Slade spent the next decade working as a full-time IndyCar mechanic, first with PacWest, then after short stints at Patrick Racing and the budding PKV team, and settling for several years at Forsythe.
Shadow’s Don Nichols was contacted through his father who was in charge of Kraco’s race engine division for a while before moving north, moving Slade Engines in Salinas.
“My dad was working on a Can-Am for Don Nichols when I first came here, and Dave Lockett, one of Don’s former Formula 1 mechanics, was working on the car at Don’s shop. So I met Dave and Don when I was in my early twenties, and from 2000 to 2010, I met them from time to time.
Nick continues: “In 2010, Don asked us to run a DN4 Can-Am and put it up for auction, which led to the conversation, ‘Hey, can you run all the projects I’m doing?'” “
In 2014, Nichols and Slade started the shop together, the latter helping distribute bodywork and auto parts, finding buyers for all Shadow hardware in Nichols’ warehouse and collecting several complete cars.
After Nichols’ death, with the able front office help of his 25-year-old wife Ardele, Slade carefully acquired a massive amount of sophisticated equipment. Combined with his IndyCar experience and a select group of friends, as well as his father (whose shop is across the street), Slade/AVS has been able to take on a variety of restoration and track projects.
But he says the most fun thing is managing a team. His primary customer at the moment is Bruce Leeson, owner of The Ginger People, who runs select vintage races with a McLaren F5000 as well as a limited schedule in the GT Celebration Series with his gorgeous Audi – a series that Slade hopes to fully realize – one day.
“I know where Bruce’s Audi’s sister car is, and I’d like nothing more than to get it, get a bigger trailer, and take part in the full GT Celebration series,” he says. “It’s a great spot for the outdated but still very competitive GT3 and GT4 cars. I really enjoyed it.”
“I’d like to have a real racing budget with someone who really wants to do it right,” he explained. “Make it manageable, but also do everything to the top level, you know. I have high-end equipment here in the shop – a lot of it is made to order. Everything I own is up to par with the best sports cars and Formula One teams. I’ve spent a fortune on that stuff, But that’s what’s important to me.”
Weekends with Leeson and the McLaren IndyCar team pulled him away this summer from several of his rebuilding projects—”I don’t care about the word ‘restoration’.” In addition to the Subaru Legacy trick, he has three other builds including a Corvette 62 (“that was out to paint a long time ago I forgot about it!”) and a ’79 Shadow F1 and ’83 Ferrari 308—”And that’s a lot of work, you know?” he adds with a laugh.
Stories, Slade has stories! But soon he’s back in business – a prominent “wrench” in the old motor racing epicenter of Northern California.
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