By T. Scott Boatright
Lincoln Parish native Nick Harrison has always seemed to take a “full-speed ahead, pedal-to-the-metal” approach to life.
The 42-year-old former teacher and Sports Talk 97.7 personality became well known and much beloved throughout north Louisiana for his quick wit and humorous musical lead-in segments for the Ruston-based radio station.
A graduate of Grambling State University’s Department of Visual and Performing Arts who went on to the master’s program in Speech/Theatre at Louisiana Tech also became an internet sensation for his comical TikTok videos.
But Harrison, who now lives in Hammond and is personality/account executive for ESPN 100.3 radio in New Orleans, has now gone nationwide by racing to victory on a recent episode of NBC’s “Hot Wheels Challenge,” a show on which two contestants transform ordinary vehicles into extraordinary Hot Wheels showstoppers, with their designs inspired by personal stories and pop culture touchstones.
Harrison’s design was based on the Chevrolet Monte Carlo his father drove when Harrison was a child.
“That car holds a special place in my heart and is truly a family affair,” Harrison said. “My parents were divorced and my father would come up from his home in Houston and we’d spend time in that car. Sometimes we’d take it back to Houston when I’d spend some time with him down there. And we spent a lot of time in it driving around north Louisiana.
“So that Monte Carlo has a sense of family for me, and ‘Hot Wheels Challenge’ allowed me to take that sense of family even further by carrying it over to the family I’ve created where I’m the father,” Harrison said. “And it’s that family I have now that led to the inspiration I used to create the car design.”
The end result was a tricked-out 1984 Monte Carlo with a Mardi Gras theme he named “Mardi Gras Mania.”
“I wanted a bold, vibrant, and loud car, like one you’d see in a Mardi Gras parade,” Harrison said. “Being from Louisiana, I wanted that to be part of the theme, and what’s more Louisiana than Mardi Gras?”
Harrison, who recently married into a combined family including his son and his wife’s children, said that fact also played a role in his car’s theme.
“Despite being from Louisiana, I grew up in Lincoln Parish,” Harrison said. “I had never been to a real Mardi Gras parade until early spring when my wife and I took our family to parades like Bacchaus in New Orleans. It was one of the first things we did together as a family. And it was amazing. Better than I probably expected, and definitely unforgettable.
“So that was the inspiration behind wanting a Mardi Gras-theme for the car. At first we were going to go with purple, green and gold for the colors. But we ended up just sticking with gold for the car with purple and green lighting from underneath.”
While he was aided by “Hot Wheels” experts, Harrison’s also went “hands on” in helping create his car.
“That was something new to me, but I jumped right in there and it was fun,” Harrison said. “I grabbed tools and jumped right in. But the most fun in that part of it for me was probably gluing the Mardi Gras beads onto the steering wheel, because that just felt like it was helping create that theme — that mystique — behind the car I was looking for.”
Harrison said his Hot Wheels journey began early in 2023 when he heard about the competition and applied online. Then came virtual interviews before learning he had been accepted as a contestant.
“It was unreal when I learned I was going to be on the show — unbelievable,” Harrison said. “I’ve always been outgoing and love performing and that kind of thing. But this is on a whole new level. Just unbelievable.”
Those feelings only intensified when Harrison, a big fan of professional wrestling who has also been featured on Fox television’s “WWE Friday Night Smackdown,” learned that pro wrestler Big E was going to be a guest judge on the show.
“That’s when it got super-surreal,” Harrison said. “Being a Michigan guy, he loves cars and I guess he seemed like a natural fit for the show. I had no idea that was going to happen — that he would be part of the show. Getting to meet him and know him a little was special and just another incredible aspect of this amazing journey.”
Harrison’s win not only garnered him $25,000, but also the potential opportunity to become one of three finalists that will be chosen for the show’s final two episodes, which will air on Aug. 1 and Aug. 8.
“No matter what happens, it’s already been an incredible journey and a dream come true,” Harrison said. “I’m just a fortunate guy from north Louisiana who’s been blessed in life. I’m just living the dream and enjoying the ride.”