Interview by Mary Lendzion
Photos by NMCA Staff
It seems that Nicole Liberty-Cach was destined to be a racer.
Her father, Craig Liberty, was racing the very day she was born to her mother, Joelanne Liberty, and then she spent her formative years focusing on everything her father did at his shop, Liberty’s Gears in Michigan.
She wanted to know what he was building, but more than that, she wanted to know how he was building it so that she could build it one day, too.
Before long, Liberty-Cach was racing in the Junior Dragster, Young Gun and Open Comp categories at Milan Dragway in Michigan, and then she took on Run What Ya Brung and Outlaw 632 categories.
She was steadily successful, and ready for a new challenge, she came to NMCA ARP Nitrous Pro Street in 2020 along with her Firebird featuring a naturally aspirated big-block Chevrolet engine built by her uncle, Vince Khoury, and a clutchless five-speed built at Liberty’s Gears, where she works as a design engineer.
It’s a fine fit, as she earned a win with a 4.51 at the NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street-Legal Drag Racing presented by HPJ Performance last May at World Wide Technology Raceway in Illinois, and a semifinal finish at the Inaugural Arrington Performance NMRA/NMCA Power Festival presented by Force Engineering last July at U.S. 131 Motorsports Park in Michigan.
In addition to her parents and her uncle, Liberty-Cach, who performs most of the work on her car and car parts herself, has support from her cousin Vince Khoury, who also races in ARP Nitrous Pro Street, her cousin, Rocko Khoury, who races in Dart NA 10.5, and her husband, Nic Cach.
Read on for more about Liberty-Cach, who earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, with a minor in business management, at University of Michigan-Dearborn and also races snowmobiles across lakes on a competitive level in northern Michigan.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR EARLIEST MEMORIES OF SPENDING TIME AT LIBERTY’S GEARS?
My grandfather, Joe Liberty, started Liberty’s Gears, in Taylor, Michigan, and my father, Craig, started working there when he was a teenager, and he eventually took it over when I was about seven or eight years old. It’s now in Harrison Township, Michigan. On days when my mom, Joelanne, couldn’t watch me, I would go to the shop with my dad, and I would go into the old phone booth there and pretend that a speed wrench was a telephone. When I would visit my father at work, I always wanted to help wherever I could. We dip all of our parts in oil so that they don’t rust, and my father would have me do that. Most of my really happy memories involve spending time at the shop when I was little.
DID YOU KNOW EARLY ON THAT YOU WANTED TO WORK THERE?
Yes. I have always been interested in pursuing a career at our family business, and I was never really interested in a different career path. My dad wanted me to go to college so that I would have something to fall back on. I started working at Liberty’s Gears when I was fifteen and a student at Allen Park High School. I would help prep parts and I worked on the computers in the front office and did general labor. I really enjoyed being around all of that.
WHAT OR WHO INSPIRED YOU TO START RACING?
In addition to my dad racing, my uncle, Vince Khoury Sr., raced in Pro Stock at various tracks, and then his sons, my cousins, Rocko and Vince Khoury, raced at Milan Dragway in Michigan when I was younger. Knowing that my dad had raced, and seeing my uncle and cousins race, really made me want to race, too. On top of that, I would go with my parents and my sister, Julie, to the NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indiana every year, and I would go spend time in Angelle Sampey’s pit with her crew chief’s daughter. She was about my age.
HOW DID IT COME TO BE THAT YOU WOULD RACE A JUNIOR DRAGSTER?
I finally convinced my dad to buy me a junior dragster when I was thirteen. I think he was a little worried, but we started racing in the bracket class at Milan Dragway and then in the Outlaw 330 class in the Midwest Junior Super Series. That took us to different tracks in Ohio, Illinois and Indiana, and we did that for two years. We were pretty competitive. I liked doing longer burnouts, and my dad would hold the cage so that I could do them. After that, we went back to bracket racing the junior dragster at Milan Dragway, and I did that until I was eighteen.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST DOOR CAR YOU RACED?
I raced my parents’ 1998 Corvette in the Young Guns and High School categories at Milan Dragway when I was fifteen. The car had a throttle stop, and would run 14.00 flat. It was definitely different than the junior dragster, and it was exciting. I remember that my dad was in the passenger’s seat the first time I went down track in the car, and I got so excited at the eighth-mile because I thought it was the finish line, like it was when I raced a junior dragster, but it wasn’t. I was supposed to go all the way to the quarter-mile before I got excited.
THAT’S FUNNY YET COMPLETELY UNDERSTANDABLE. WHAT CAME AFTER THE CORVETTE?
At my high school graduation party, my uncle Vince surprised me by telling me that I could drive his 1968 Camaro. He actually brought it to the party at our home, and Rocko pulled up in it. I was in shock. I didn’t even know what to think. I drove it all through college, and I raced it in Open Comp at Milan Dragway. It had a big-block Chevrolet that my uncle Vince built, and it ran 10.40s. I learned a lot about working on the car and about the mechanics behind the car.
WHO HELPED YOU GET TO KNOW THAT CAMARO?
My dad, my uncle Vince and my cousins, Vince and Rocko, were there when I was learning how to drive the car. I completely trust them and their opinions, and they helped me to not be nervous. For my first pass, Rocko was in the car with me, telling me how to do a burnout and how it was going to feel. They help me stay calm, and they listen to me and trust me if I tell them something isn’t right.
WHEN DID YOU MOVE TO THE FIREBIRD THAT YOU RACE NOW?
We saw it about four and a half years ago, and my dad asked me if I wanted to start racing heads-up. I told him that of course I wanted to. We bought it locally, but it used to be one of Greg Anderson’s old Pro Stock cars. It took us a year to get the car finished up. Skinny Kid Race Cars was a huge help with the chassis. We had to do some updates and set it up to be a clutch car. Steve Summers wired the car for me, and he was also a huge help, and Dan and Donny Ostgen played a really big part in all of the oddball stuff. My uncle Vince built the naturally aspirated 632 cubic-inch Chevrolet engine for it.
WHERE DID YOU INTEND TO RACE IT?
The plan was to run NMCA ARP Nitrous Pro Street and Outlaw 632 at various tracks. When the car was ready a year later, we went to Milan Dragway, where I practiced burnouts, launched the car and made passes to the 330. The first class that I raced in was Run What Ya Brung at Milan Dragway. Then I raced in Outlaw 632 at Milan Dragway. It went well, and I earned a win and a couple runners-up.
WE WERE GLAD THAT YOU ENTERED NMCA ARP NITROUS PRO STREET FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 2020.
My first race in the category was at U.S. 131 Motorsports Park in Martin, Michigan last year. My uncle Vince, and cousins, Vince and Rocko, had been running in the NMCA and talked me into coming out when they felt I could handle it. At that point, we had a new naturally aspirated 632 cubic-inch engine with a billet block that my uncle Vince had built, and a Liberty’s Gears clutchless five-speed. It was a little intimidating because I was used to the cars and the people I was racing at Milan Dragway, but everyone in Nitrous Pro Street was really nice, and I had a lot of fun. I got to pit with Vince and Rocko, which meant I could run over to their trailer if I needed help, and I got past first round, which was good. Brian Robbins was helping, too.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS FROM YOUR FIRST WIN IN ARP NITROUS PRO STREET IN MAY OF THIS YEAR?
When I crossed the finish line, I could hear my dad on my headset tell me that I had just won. I said ‘Can you say that again?’ Then he and my mom picked me up on the return road. My dad was smiling and my mom was crying. Kyle Salminen, who I had raced, congratulated me. We had changed to an upgraded naturally aspirated 632 cubic-inch Chevrolet built by my uncle Vince over winter, and that was our first time racing with it, so it was a huge learning curve for us, and it was intense, so the win was that much better for us.
WHAT MAKES YOU CHOOSE A NATURALLY ASPIRATED COMBINATION IN ARP NITROUS PRO STREET?
I think that a lot of it is the challenge, and my dad and I agree that this combination has potential.
WHAT ARE YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES AT LIBERTY’S GEARS?
I’m responsible for a lot of the design work for any custom job we get, including modifications for transmissions, and if someone wants to take their transmission from a three-speed to a four-speed. I also work in the back of the shop, so I know how to run some of the manual machines and help our transmission techs when they need help.
WE HOPE YOUR PLANS FOR 2021 INCLUDE COMPETING AT ALL SIX NMCA EVENTS.
My goal actually is to make all six NMCA races next year. A championship is on my radar, but we’ll take it one step at a time.
(Interview from the November 2021 issue of Fastest Street Car)