DI Interview: Nicole Liberty Talks NMCA Win, Outlaw 632 and Family Transmission Business
Nicole Liberty rolled into the NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street-Legal Drag Racing at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis merely hoping to have a fun weekend with her team. They tested at U.S. 131 Motorsports Park in Martin, Michigan, ahead of the race after making some changes over the winter, most notably a complete rewiring and some extra horsepower. All the effort paid off, as Liberty scored her first NMCA trophy in Nitrous Pro Street with her Khoury Racing Engines-powered ’99 Firebird.
“I cross the finish line and my dad’s like, ‘You just won the race!’ over the radio and I’m sitting in the car like, ‘Wait, say that again?!’” says Liberty, a design engineer at Liberty’s Gears, the family business. “I couldn’t even register it in my head. It ended up being a much better weekend than we were anticipating.”
[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #168, the Women of Power Issue, in June of 2021.]
Following the NMCA victory, Liberty spoke with Drag Illustrated for an interview with topics ranging from her racing program in Nitrous Pro Street and Outlaw 632 to her work at Liberty’s Gears, where the 26-year-old uses her mechanical engineering degree to design new drivetrain components.
You obviously had a great start to your season with the NMCA win. What are your plans for the rest of the season?
Normally we run a series at our home track, Milan Dragway, but they’re closed for this year. So that kind of forced us to get out and travel. We’ve wanted to travel since we built this car, but it is also hard because the business is our No. 1 priority, the car is No. 2.
We’re going to hit PDRA Norwalk and the rest of the NMCA races. We may go to one more PDRA race depending on how we run at Norwalk. We’ve never had the car near that light. We’ll actually be able to get down to minimum weight but we don’t know how it’s going to act or what we’ll need to do to get it to go from point A to point B.
Your car is set up to run in NMCA Nitrous Pro Street, PDRA Pro Outlaw 632 or Outlaw 632 at a number of other tracks. What’s it like having that kind of flexibility?
I really love it. When we first built this car, I was very new into heads-up racing. I raced Jr. Dragsters and bracket raced since I was 16. Being new in heads-up, I didn’t realize all the different rules and things you have to factor in when building a car. Thankfully, my dad [Craig Liberty] has enough experience with it. He knew what we were doing. It is nice that you can jump from sanction to sanction. For us, it’s just a matter of weight changes. Everything else in the car is legal in every other sanction that is built around the 632 type of class.
Some people see the Outlaw 632 class as a stepping stone to maybe Mountain Motor Pro Stock or Pro Nitrous. Is there another step beyond this class that you’re looking at down the road?
We haven’t really talked about it. We do feel that the 632 class is growing and as long as it continues to grow, we see a benefit in staying in it. The biggest factor in what class we pick to race is it has to do with our business and where it might look best for us to show up, even just for our customers’ sake. We go out to the track and our customers will come over needing help and we’ll go help them at their pit. It’s not just a hobby for us. As along as 632 continues to grow, we’ll be in that class.
I could see us wanting to go to Mountain Motor at some point just because that’s a favorite class for me and my dad because we enjoy it. I could see us hopping over there, but I don’t think it’s going to be anytime within the next year or two.
You’re very involved in different sides of the business at Liberty’s Gears. What are the challenges or the projects you enjoy taking on the most?
I actually really enjoy problem solving. We had a customer who had an issue with getting snap rings in our trans to live, so we designed heavy duty hubs that lock the snap rings in, just to get the transmission to live longer. Any problem solving like that, that’s what I really enjoy. The projects from scratch are fun too, but I like being able to see a result from “This is our problem, how do we fix it?”
As a young person in the industry not only as a racer but also a manufacturer, what excites you about being a part of the next generation that will help carry the industry into the next 15-20 years?
What’s most exciting for me is this is my normal daily life. I don’t look at it as anything special because it’s just what I grew up around. But if you step back and look at the bigger picture, it impacts what could be the future of racing. If we don’t continue to develop better products, you’re not helping the industry grow. That’s the most exciting part. Even though it’s my normal daily life, every little bit of progress that we make impacts the industry.