Life in the 130 mph fast lane


COSTA MESA — Les Nimmo’s other car is a race car. To be exact, it’s a vintage 1967 Ford Mustang, one that’s scarred and scuffed from 20 years of road racing.

“It’s not a trailer queen — people can see that it’s actually been raced,” Nimmo said of the white-and-blue pony car.

The black spatter pattern along the bottom and the bumper — caused by burnt rubber and loose asphalt — are proud battle scars.


The Mustang has been in countless races — including Nimmo’s first race in 1990 — and is one of the many odd projects that come though his Costa Mesa machine shop on Newton Way, Nimmo Machine. It’s where he makes and fixes parts for everything from office chairs to race cars.

Nimmo, 66, said he’s been building things out of scrap metal and parts for as long as he can remember with his father, a welder.

It was about the greatest thing a boy growing up on a farm in Missouri could to do for entertainment.

“I built my first gas-motor car when I was 11 from a lawn mower,” Nimmo said. “Of course, I had to put the motor back into the lawn mower to mow the lawn. That was my job because I was the youngest.”

It wasn’t until decades later, when he saw his first race where Mustangs “moved through the turns like they were strung together with eight feet of rope between each one,” that he knew he had to get behind the wheel of one.

His supportive wife, Janice, whom he married in 1964, paid for his first racing lessons. A few years back, she bought him a dozen new tires for Christmas.

Nimmo now participates in a Vintage Auto Racing Assn. Ford/Chevy race at the Willow Springs racetrack in Rosamond, Calif., each year and is an instructor through the Orange County Cobra Owners Club.

He’ll also do whatever other racing events and shows he can fit in — often doing the Great Labor Day Cruise, an annual charity for terminally ill children that will take place Sept. 3-5 at the Orange County Fairgrounds, although he is unable to participate this year.

In racing the costs can quickly add up: about $8 a gallon for gas, and depending on the track, Nimmo can go through a set of new tires in a day.

Although he wouldn’t reveal how much he spends on racing, there’s no doubt in his mind that the money’s well spent.

“All I have to do is hit the second gear on the track and when those tires spin — yep, it’s pretty much worth it,” Nimmo said.

Those tires, turned by a 302 cubic inch, five-liter Ford engine, have flown down a racetrack at speeds of up to 164 miles an hour.

“But I’m not a speed king,” Nimmo said.

His usually remains at around 130 miles per hour, he said.

“I’m not a big fan of going that fast,” he said of racers who push the limits. “I wouldn’t mind being in the 200 club, though.”

It’s the turns in a racetrack that really thrill him.

The first turn on a racetrack is often the most dangerous as all the cars rush toward it when given the green light, he said.

“There’s something about going into a turn — breaking and turning and coming out of it as good as I can,” Nimmo said.

Nimmo said he’s hardly seen or been in any accidents. He takes all the necessary safety precautions.

And he doesn’t see any reason to ever stop racing.

He referred to a fellow racer who had died peacefully, if somewhat mysteriously. The driver’s body was found behind the wheel of his race car as it slowly coasted along a highway — which Nimmo claims is an ideal way to go.

Nimmo said, “Hopefully I’ll die in it … what more could you ask for?”

The 28th annual Great Labor Day Cruise is Sept. 3 through 5, at the Orange County Fairgrounds. The event is organized by the Orange County Cruising Association to benefit Kristie’s Place, a foundation for the care of terminally ill children. For more information, visit