Never Slow Down: AHRMA Racer Norbert Nickel
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Norbert Nickel spent nine months in a wheelchair, but eventually, with his crushed ankle fused together (he carries an X-ray photocopy showing the two plates and five screws holding his ankle together so he can make it through airport security) and his beloved BMW’s shift linkage modified to suit, he went back out on the track. Accidents apparently don’t slow Norbert down, because he continued his winning ways. Between 1999 and 2009, Norbert won 11 National Championships in pre-1940 and Class C racing, and won the Oscar Liebmann/Hugo Wolters BMW Roadracer award so many times it was retired to his home, a place already packed with trophies.
Norbert’s friends and fellow racers assumed he would race the BMW R51 forever, but last year he surprised them all, and perhaps even himself, when he decided to sell the BMW.
Acknowledging his non-collector instincts, and perhaps secretly admitting that his best competitive days aboard the R51 might be over, Norbert decided it was time to part with the R51. But he knew the R51 should be out on the track, not sitting in someone’s garage. “I wanted to sell it to somebody who would race it, not put it in a glass cage,” Norbert says.
That somebody was rookie vintage racer Craig Schmidt, proprietor of BoxerCafe.com and a diehard BMW fan who wanted the real deal; a vintage BMW racer with provenance. They don’t come much more real than Norbert’s R51.
Norbert raced the BMW R51 one last time in 2011, in the Saturday races at the 6th Annual Bonneville Vintage GP at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah, predictably winning his class. The next day, with the simple shake of a hand, he passed the BMW and its years of AHRMA race-winning history to Craig, who had taken the AHRMA racing school and secured his racing license just the day before.
That simple exchange marked the end of an era, 13 years of vintage racing punctuated by the sight of Norbert working his way around a track on his BMW R51.
Yet even though he won’t be racing the R51, Norbert Nickel hasn’t lost his racing fervor. He’s currently prepping a pair of BMW R50/5s, and while he might tone down his racing schedule just a bit, he’ll be back out on the track. “If I can stay competitive, there’s no sense for me to go out [of racing],” Norbert says. Although age might be slowing him down, he doesn’t see it as a reason to quit. Quite the opposite; he considers motorcycling central to life. “A motorcycle doesn’t kill you,” Norbert says, “it keeps you young.” MC
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