Family love of racing brings Nicole Behar to ARCA debut
When Nicole Behar asked for a horse on her eighth birthday, her dad bought her "six."
"I always wanted a horse," said Behar. "Instead I got a go-kart for my eighth birthday. My dad said, 'Instead of buying you a horse, I bought you six.'"...six horsepower, that is ... the six horsepower that powered the kart that Behar fell in love with.
From that moment on Behar, now 18, wanted to be a race car driver. The Spokane, Wash., driver still does. Consequently, the next chapter in Behar's dream book will write itself in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards this weekend at Madison International Speedway. Venturini Motorsports has filed an entry on her behalf to drive the team's No. 55 Toyota Camry in the Montgomery Ward Father's Day 200 on the half-mile Madison paved oval in Madison,Wis. Her crew chief will be none other than Billy Venturini.
Behar is currently tied with Kenzie Ruston as the highest finishing female drivers in NASCAR K&N East and West competition. Ruston finished second in the K&N East tour while Behar finished second at Irwindale (Calif.) in a K&N West Series show. She's also a member of the NASCAR Next Class of 2015.
Behar grew up in Washington watching her father race.
"Actually, I'm the fifth-generation of racers on my dad's side ... I believe the fourth on my mom's side. My parents met go-kart racing. I grew up watching my dad race."
After getting her training in the go-kart ranks, Behar moved into Baby Grands and Fever Ford Racing when she was 12.
"When I was 14 I got into a limited late model and a modified...ran my first super late model race the following year. I actually went with our limited late model to our first super late model race. We ended up breaking the track record, sat on the pole and got crashed out before the green flag."
At 16, in addition to a full super late model season at Columbia Motor Speedway Park in Hermiston, Ore., Behar added three K&N West races in 2014. In 2015, Behar ran the full K&N West schedule, finishing 10th in points with her own No. 33 family-owned Nicole Behar Racing Toyota team. But it was her second-place finish at Irwindale that ultimately got the attention of Toyota.
"Actually, after finishing second at Irwindale, I had some contact with Toyota, and they wanted to help me make the right connections, and they helped me get hooked up with Venturini Motorsports."
Behar moved to Mooresville, N.C., in January (2016) and put her college aspirations temporarily on hold. No matter, Behar is already one year ahead of most of her university counterparts.
"I graduated from high school early...as a junior and with a year of college already. I actually went on campus at East Washington University for my last year of high school. It was a program called "Running Start." Running Start programs in Washington and Hawaii allow juniors and seniors to attend college courses numbered 100 or above, while completing high school.
When Behar elects to go back to college, her field of study will be pediatric nursing. But for now, there's that racing dream thing waving in front of her.
"This is what I've wanted to do most of my life. Since I was eight, I've had a dream of making it to NASCAR. I hope that one day I really can."
The next logical step in Behar's quest starts with Venturini Motorsports at Madison. At this time, it's a one-race deal.
"ARCA is the next logical step for sure. Venturini Motorsports is a great team that has the knowledge and experience to help me get where I want to be. Hopefully, we can come out this weekend with a good finish. It's only one race so far."
Behar is very much in-tune with Venturini's success in the ARCA ranks.
"I know that Venturini has won three of the last four there (at Madison). It'd be great to win, but if we could come out with a top 10 that'd be great. Everyone wants to win but we all know it's not that simple."
It will not only be Behar's career-first ARCA start, it will be her first attempt at live pit stops.
"I'm hoping to get some pit stop practice in before the race. I've never pitted before. My dad's dragging our K&N car in a Toterhome to Madison so I can hopefully practice with a heavy stock car on that track...kick off some pit stops and learn everything I can."
Outside of racing, Behar's hobby is staying healthy.
"Mostly working out and eating healthy... staying fit so I can do the best I can in a race car. Outside of that, I love to hang out with family and friends."
Above: Story and photos courtesy ARCA Racing