XTERRA Turns 17, "Kahuna Dave" Turns 70

Jan. 6, 2012

On New Year's Day, January 1, 2012, XTERRA entered into its 17th season.  On the same day XTERRA's very own "Kahuna Dave" Nicholas, the sports chief inventor and managing director since the inaugural race in 1996, turned 70.

Kahuna DaveTo celebrate the momentous occasion Nicholas and dozens of others from his international entourage traveled to Sin City - Las Vegas, Nevada - for a weekend of go-kart racing, desert running, and general mischief.

As Katherine Hepburn once said, "If you survive long enough, you're revered - rather like an old building."  In that spirit and to honor the living legend's longevity, we revisit this classic profile written by XTERRA Hall of Famer Jimmy Riccitello ...

In 20 years I’ve done a lot of races and I remember almost every one.  I only remember a handful of race directors, though.  Dave Nicholas, the race director for the XTERRA World Tour is one of them.

Most Race Directors are relatively anonymous.  They assemble a capable team and delegate well.  Usually the only time you see or hear from the race director is at the pre-race meeting.

Dave Nicholas, however, is anything but anonymous.  For starters, his short, “pudgy” frame stands out amongst the svelte physiques of the athletes who populate his race venues.  It’s hard to miss a guy who, until a couple of years ago, had a cigarette dangling from the lips of his stubbly, and appropriately weathered face.  It’s even harder to miss a guy who is loaded down with so much “race director gear” that he looks like an over-achieving Sherpa.  Items affixed to his work belt, and I’m only slightly exaggerating, include: constantly chattering walkie-talkie (“Dave, do you copy?”), leatherman on steroids, cell phone, laptop computer, work gloves, flashlight, keys, shovel, hula hoe, pick axe, hedge clippers, and weed wacker, among others.

Dave is not your typical Race Director.  He’s out there for all to see.  He might as well walk around with a billboard attached to his forehead that reads: RACE DIRECTOR.

Dave isn’t bothered by the fact that being obvious means that you will hear the specific needs, concerns, and wishes of every competitor.  Every gripe and complaint will be directed toward the guy with the billboard on his forehead.  Dave knows this, and he welcomes the fact.  This is why he’s so good.

It takes confidence to be obvious if you’re a race director, and Dave has plenty of confidence.  Some of Dave’s confidence comes from his years spent driving racecars on the GT Camel Series.  “Racing is in his soul,” says Team Unlimited President, Janet Clark.  This means that it’s more than just a job to Dave Nicholas.  Everyone who has done an XTERRA event knows this is true.  His sincere passion for sport will not allow him to cut corners on the field of play.

For example, once I was talking with Dave after pre-riding one of the XTERRA courses and he noticed some scratches on the side of my face.  “Where’d you get those?” he asked.  “Did your wife get rough with you again?”

I told him that he was going to have to find something else to fantasize about because I got the scratches from some tree branches on the new section of trail that he cut (literally).

Dave nodded nonchalantly and mumbled something about who really wears the pants in my family, as I pedaled off down the trail.

The next morning at the crack of dawn, I’m making one final test run of the course.  As I approach the newly cut section of trail where I was viciously bushwhacked the day before, I see Dave and his tool belt, with a pair of over-sized hedge clippers in hand, lopping the branches off some offending trees.  I have no doubt that was one of many stops Dave and his hedge clippers made that morning.  Dave is one of us: out on the course for a final pre-ride…figuratively speaking of course, as he would have got there in a truck.

He really is one of us, though.  He could have sent someone else to trim the trees, but he wanted it done right.  When we want to race well, we don’t send someone else to pre-ride the course for us and then tell us about it—we do it ourselves.  Every aspect of our racing and training that we can control, we address.  Just like us, Dave leaves no stone unturned.

The work ethic, pride, and attention to detail that he puts into the design and manicure of the course, he puts into the rest of the race (adding charm and humor)—from the pre-race meeting, to the post race clean up.

His charm is infectious, and his sense of humor is infamous.  Both are obvious in the pre-race meeting.  He’s not the most politically correct man, but no one seems to mind because he’s so charming.  Plus he’s an equal opportunity jokester so no one is immune.

While giving his talk at the pre-race meeting, you’d think he was accepting the Academy Award.  He thanks everyone and their brother for helping produce the race, but never draws attention to himself except to say that if you have any problems with the race, to see him.

On race day it seems like he’s everywhere.  I’ll see him four or five times while I’m racing.  I don’t know how he gets where he gets—but he does.

Post race he’s everywhere, too.  I’ll be warming down out on the course and I’ll see him collecting course markings.  When I come back to the transition area, hours later, to collect my stuff, he’s there cleaning up after us.  I suspect he’s there all night…for the second night in a row.

The bottom line is that the multisport world needs more race directors like Dave Nicholas; race directors who sincerely care about our entire race experience and who are intimately involved every step of the way.

So when you do your XTERRA event, make sure you find time to chat with Dave, because he’ll definitely make time for you and I guarantee the conversation will be engaging.  You can’t miss him; he sticks out like a sore thumb.  Be sure to thank him for the wonderful race experience, and if you want you can tell him what I always tell him: Keep up the good work, because, after all, it’s all about us.

Note:  Jimmy Riccitello won the first-ever XTERRA at the 1996 World Championship in Maui, and he and Nicholas have been trading wisecracks ever since.