Heavy Metal Affliction - 2017 Porsche Macan S
The world of motorsport is big place, full of never-ending passages to moments in history. Few of us get to catch a glimpse of the rarities and wonders of the car world. In this edition of Heavy Metal Affliction, we’ll meet a woman who started her love affair with all things automotive at a young age and has turned that into a career that many would love to experience for just one day.
“I got my first set of tools when I was three, and never looked back,” Nicole Carlson tells me. Her first memories are of being pulled around in a little red wagon at swap meets looking for parts for pre-war Ford cars, her father’s obsession. He was a busy lawyer and restoring cars in the garage was and is his escape and relaxation time.
Carlson learned early that if she wanted time with her dad, it had to be in the garage. “I learned to love it quickly,” she said. She didn’t just get in the way or hold the light as many children might have considered “helping.” Together she and her dad built a bead blaster. One of her early tasks was removing rust from parts, prepping them for paint or install. She had to stand on a stool to get the job done.
At around age eight, those small hands came in handy to get into tight spots with a tool, and the wrench turning began in earnest. Among the other projects they have worked on together – including the 1946 Ford in these photos – they have been restoring a 1935 Ford Phaeton for almost 30 years. “We joke that we’ll never finish it, but of course we will,” Carlson said.
The father and daughter have a very special bond from spending so much time together. Even though he is a huge car enthusiast, he is a humble and private person so it may not come across. With his daughter he jokes “I don’t know how you got so into cars!” Like some great builds out there he is a sleeper that you would never figure out without getting to know him.
Starting at age 14, Carlson began learning to race those pre-war Fords and Bugattis. “That’s where it all started,” she said. Being small and strong she was perfect for the role of driver, and she understood the vehicles both historically and mechanically. Later opportunities to track some modern cars gave her confidence to feel comfortable behind the wheel of anything.
Through high school the father-daughter team worked on a 1967 Ford Mustang Fastback which was the first car her dad ever bought new. Then, as a teenager, Carlson drove it to school. After she graduated, they donated the car to the police department where it was used to help educate kids.
About an hour and a half from the family home in Atherton, CA lies Carmel Valley. It is known for its beauty and for the prestigious automotive events that are part of Monterey Classic Car Week. The Quail Motorsports Gathering, often referred to as the crown jewel of car week, is held here. At the Monterey Jet Center nearby, Gordon McCall’s Motorworks Revival is known to kick off of the week. The epic Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and the fabled Laguna Seca Raceway are both less than 30 minutes away.
Having been in attendance at many events with her father over the years, Carlson knew many of the core participants. When the time came for Carlson to find a job, a family friend called up and said The Quail was hiring, so she applied. The position was as an administrative assistant but her role quickly grew into being an integral part of the team. “Connecting with people has always been my favorite part of motorsports,” Carlson said.
She worked in the Concours world full-time first with the Quail and then for Motorworks Revival for about six years in total, sourcing cars and coordinating event planning. Monterey Car Week was and still is her launching pad. After leaving Motorworks Revival she decided she want to go out on her own.
All of a sudden the phone started ringing. People wanted her opinion, people wanted her to find cars for them to buy. Events and private parties needed cars and they were calling her to source them. “I was off to the races so to speak,” Carlson said.
Much of the time is spent travelling, but when she lands, it’s often to babysit an owner’s favorite car for the south of France in the springtime, or shakedown a potential new favorite at a test track. Many car collectors have holes in their collections they want to fill but they don’t have the time to track down the cars and make the deals. This is where Carlson thrives by both finding the cars that make her customers happy and doing the time-consuming legwork to make a deal.
At driving events her skills allow her to set a pace that enthusiasts can enjoy while keeping less-experienced drivers in their comfort zone. For private clients who keep her on retainer, those skills come into play so she can properly express how any given car will drive under the conditions the prospective owner may want to drive it, whether that is on the street or the track. She can also make recommendations on fine tuning a car to suit her buyers taste.
At a recent Michelin Tire event, where Turn 10 met Carlson, she had sourced about 30 privately owned rare sports and hyper cars and she drove them in demonstration runs. For that event she also drove her personal ride, a 2017 Porsche Macan S, as the chase vehicle for the driving events. Blasting through the canyons at over 100 mph had one of her passengers exclaim, “This girl is faster than anyone I know!”
“You know instantly if someone is passionate about motorsports,” Carlson said. “There are observers, and true enthusiasts. I am in this business for the enthusiasts,” Carlson said. Those enthusiasts have given her the opportunity to utilize her own passion for cars and to a certain degree follow in her father’s footsteps but ,he has no idea where she got it from.