NASCAR’s Next generation: Nicole Behar

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Nicole Behar had no idea who to thank.

The person who nominated the 18-year-old for inclusion in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” ­- which profiles young, up-and-coming athletes –  failed to reveal their identity to her.

As a result, Behar, a native of Otis Orchards, Wash., and competitor in K&N Pro Series West, was surprised when told she was included in the section, right below a lacrosse player from Florida named Tehoka Nanticoke.

“I thought it was pretty cool,” Behar told NASCAR Talk last week. “I actually didn’t know that until we were in Iowa. Someone there asked, ‘Hey, did you know that you were in Sports Illustrated?’ I was like, ‘No, I didn’t!’ That’s pretty cool to be in there. Everyone that sees it says something and I really liked it.”

It turns out SI’s senior racing writer Drew Lawrence was responsible for submitting her name.

When Behar spoke with NASCAR Talk, she had yet to track down the issue itself, which was published the week of May 18th.

“I actually can’t find the magazine. Which sounds very odd,” Behar said. “I keep finding every single one, besides the one that I’m in. Yesterday, my mom (Sherri Behar) had to go to the high school to get my cap and gown for graduation and my teachers there were like, ‘She’s on page 26 and Ronda Rousey is on the front cover.’ So, ok, now we know which one to look for and what page to go onto.”

When you look at the bio featured next to Behar’s beaming face, it’s clear why Lawrence would submit her name. On May 5, Nicole was introduced as one of 12 members of the 2015-16 NASCAR Next class in a presentation at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.  That honor came a month after she became the highest finishing female driver in the 61-year history of the series, placing second in the King Taco Catering/NAPA Auto Parts 150 at Irwindale Speedway.

Through five races in 2015, Behar has two top-five and four top-10 finishes.

When NASCAR Talk spoke with Behar she was on her way to class at Eastern Washington University where she is pursuing a degree in nursing.

This Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NASCAR Talk: How did you find out you were selected to this year’s NASCAR Next class?

Nicole Behar: When I got the call that I was selected for the class, I was driving to school and they asked if it was a good time to talk. Of course, when (the call) is from NASCAR, it’s a good time to talk.

NT: What’s your earliest memory related to racing?

Behar: I can remember the first time I ever got into a go-kart when I was 8 years old at the work barn and I was racing on cow poop and I mean, at first you didn’t really think I would be at the stage that I am at 8 years old, you just (think) this is the start of a career.

And from being 8 years old, I absolutely loved racing.

NT: Your family has been racing for a long time.

Behar: Yes, I’m a fifth-generation racer. My parents actually met racing go-karts when they were young kids as well.

NT: Fifth generation, how far back does that go?

Behar: I believe that either my great grandpa or my great-great grandpa. I know that my great grandpa on my dad’s side raced a hobby car, I’d say. And my grandpa on my dad’s side raced in Hawaii a lot and he raced old-timers and hobby cars, all that good stuff. He was stationed (there) in the service. It was interesting having both sides of my family come from racing.

NT: If you could put someone’s name on your car who has been an important part of your life and career up until this point, who would it be?

Behar: My dad (Mike Behar). He’s been a huge help for my racing career and it definitely helps that since he was a racer himself, he can guide me in the right steps and help me with anything that I need off and on the track.

(Note: Mike Behar was Nicole’s crew chief until this year, when he chose Travis Sharpe to take over for him.)

NT: How was getting accustomed to a new crew chief, Travis Sharpe?

Behar: It was different at first because I had never heard someone else’s voice beside my dad on the radio. He’s a very good crew chief and a very good driver’s coach. He sees the same things that my dad sees when I’m in the car, so that makes it really helpful to me to know that they’re seeing the same thing. Our second race together, we finished second.

NT: What’s the most scared you’ve ever been outside of a racecar?

Behar: When I was riding with my mom and we were on the freeway and she hit a patch of ice and then we spun around backwards.

NT: What was it like growing up in Otis Orchards?

Behar: It’s part of Spokane (Wash.), I’d say Spokane is pretty big, but I haven’t really been anywhere else. It sucks that there’s not a lot of racing around here. I know back East there’s race tracks everywhere and you go to school with people that you race with. Around here, that’s definitely a rare occasion. I’ve never gone to school with someone that I’ve raced against. There are people that race motorcycles, but it’s kind of a rare thing to go to high school (at East Valley High School) or even college, with someone that races cars.