Engineer, father of 3, Canadian?...Nicolopoulos "livin' the dream"

Engineer, father of 3, Canadian?...Nicolopoulos "livin' the dream"

TOLEDO, Ohio (Nov. 28, 2017) -- For two consecutive years,  Con Nicolopoulos has finished just outside the top-10 ARCA national championship driver standings, coming home 11th in 2016 and '17. Not bad for a full-time mechanical/electrical engineer who does the racing gig as a hobby on the weekends.

"Looking back I still can't believe I'm doing this," said Nicolopoulos. "I remember the first time I pulled into Pocono with Brad (Smith). I can't believe I'm here. This year, I got the opportunity to race at Daytona and Talladega. I couldn't believe I was actually on the track…it was like a dream."

In his earlier days, Nicolopoulos did a good bit of drag racing and subbed in the IMSA Firehawk tour from time to time. But never did the father of three figure he'd be racing in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards, until he met longtime driver Brad Smith. Both Nicolopoulos and Smith were engineers at Chrysler.

"I met Brad Smith in 2011. We were working on a project for Fiat. He was a cost engineer…we worked on the Fiat 500 for about three weeks. He showed up with a no. 26 Brad Smith Motorsports shirt on. I asked him if he raced and he said that he raced in the ARCA Series. Then I put two and two together and realized that I had seen him on TV all the time. I knew he had a race coming up at Talladega. I told him if he needed any help that I'd come down. I actually ended up spotting for him, which was another new experience."

After the Talladega trip, Nicolopoulos's phone rang.

"When I got back I got a call from Brad and he told me he'd like me to drive his second car. I said, 'yeah, right.' He said, 'no, I'm not kidding.' I did an open test at Toledo which got me the green light to move forward. Then I did a few start and parks for Brad. I was off for about a year and a half and he told me to give Wayne Peterson a call. He (Peterson) had another car and he was looking for a driver. I think Madison was our first race…been with Wayne ever since."

And from those moments forward, Nicolopoulos has been introduced in ARCA line-ups as the driver from Columbus, Michigan; but there's more to the story. He's not really from Columbus, nor is he from America.

"I was actually born in Montreal. I moved to Michigan when I was about 9 years old…Allen Park. My dad got a job over at Stroh's Brewery. I'm still a Canadian citizen…I have a Green Card. I still do all those things Americans do…pay taxes, all that. The only thing I can't do is vote (in America). Been here since 1969."

Eventually Nicolopoulos graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan with a degree in mechanical engineering and went straight to work for American Motors on the engine development side. Without ever really leaving the same company he started with, today, he's an electrical engineer for Fiat Chrysler in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

"I never really left Chrysler. Chrysler bought American Motors…then Daimler bought Chrysler. Then Fiat came in. I'm an electrical engineer in Production Execution, responsible for all new vehicle launches. We electrically test all the cars before they're shipped. We work with the other engineers to fix problems so when a vehicle goes out the door, it's good."

Nicolopoulos's career carries him all over the world.

"I have engineers all over the world -- China, India, Brazil, so we're testing at all those plants. It's difficult when I'm racing…it's definitely a challenge and trying on a family. Our engineering group is pretty well established now so I find myself traveling less. Either way, I really like what I do.

"It's been really interesting experiencing all the different countries. A lot of the assembly plants we go to are remotely located so you get to experience the traditions and different cultures."

There are of course days when he punches out at work and steers straight for the highway, off to the race track for the weekend.

"Running the full season…it took a lot out of me. I got a little burned out. But I have to admit…being out for a few weeks, I'm itching to get back in the car. It's also nice being home with the family."

Nicolopoulos has been married to his wife Monica for 23 years. They have three children: Haley, almost 21, Lauren, 18, and Dominic, 16.

"I knew my wife four weeks and asked her to marry me. I knew it right away. I didn't get married till I was 34 and I just knew it."

He also knows he wants to race more next year.

"I plan on being there next year. I don't know if it'll be the full season or not, but I definitely want to race. I've been talking to Wayne. We're trying to put a composite car together for Daytona and Talladega; but it's tough. There just isn't very many used ones out there. I just know I want to run as many as I can. Sure love to run Charlotte."

Whether he does or he doesn't, Nicolopoulos knows he's a lucky guy.

"I'm very grateful for every moment of it. It's tough being away from your family so much, but I have a very understanding wife. She doesn't want me to live my life with regrets. She doesn't want to be the reason I'm not chasing my dreams…that's pretty special and I recognize that.

"Honestly, just getting to know all the ARCA guys…it's been such a pleasure. It really is like a family. It's just so cool being at the track. I'm very thankful for Brad and Wayne who gave me these opportunities. I look back every day and can't believe I'm doing this. I don't look at it as though I deserve it. I consider it a privilege, and I'm very thankful."

Nicolopoulos's next ARCA appearance will be on stage at the ARCA Racing Series national championship awards banquet in Indianapolis Saturday night, December 9.

Don Radebaugh
dradebaugh@arcaracing.com

Comments
Mike  D.

Many times i love ARCA more than cup and xfinity but i always like the good talent in smaller teams than bigger teams they give alot and hidden talent or so. I see him alot as i  watched arca and i admit i really like his name its very unique and unique is how i describe myself to me is really awesome. I see him race and always hope and pray he keeps out there all race and even pray for his name to be in the top 15 or  top 10 :) I think hes cool love the team spirit as other teams i like too taht are low funded but wanted to say i route for him and wayne peterson i hope they keep the #0 i always find that number cute or cool. And for the great person in CON and the spirit in that organization it hopefully deserves to be #0 or #06 with him in it for many years. Now that i know hes a really great guy too that speaks alot as well great job Con on everything many may not reconize you or route for you much but there is always fans t hat see underrated or teams / drives like him that we pull for even if there is others i like Con and always like the wayne peterson who helps get great drivers and great hidden talent and personality for a guy like me each year keep up the great luck to him and his family and everyone at Peterson racing :) Merry Christmas!

Tommy P.

Love Con! Always fun.

Kevin H.

Definitely! I have a couple races I'm planning on running as well as testing at Daytona in January

Alex J. Clubb

Awesome story Con is always fun to talk to at the track and an all around great guy!

Kevin H.

Great story Con!! Always great to see you and hang out with you at the track when I'm there. 

Con N.

Thanks Kevin. Good to hang out with you as well. Hope to see you this coming year