By Louis Kimery
When your first motorized vehicle is a scooter, one you can’t properly straddle, but still can’t stop riding, then it’s a pretty good indicator you’ve found your passion. Larry Nolan first hopped aboard his Cushman Pacemaker at the tender age of 9 and has been on a juggernaut of a street rod lifestyle ever since.
When you start that young, it’s often on two wheels. Nolan, of Memphis, Tennessee, went through a couple of Cushmans, a Zündapp, a Honda, and a Triumph in his younger days, as well as several Harley-Davidsons through the years. The four-wheel action began with a micro-midget in 1955.
When the magic day of acquiring an authentic driver’s license arrived, he was ready with a ’52 Ford convertible powered by a Flathead, which was promptly enhanced with twin carbs and high-compression heads.
The ragtop Ford gave way to a tri-powered ’56 T-Bird, and after honing his drag racing skills on the streets for a short time, Nolan discovered the allure (and safety) of organized competition.
He acquired a ’57 Chevy hardtop, soon had it equipped it with a Corvette fuel injection unit, and hit the strip. He joined the Memphis Rodders, an NHRA charter member car club, and was promptly immersed into 1960s NHRA competition.
The Chevy soon gave way to race-only machines, like the ’41 Willys
gasser he campaigned with partner Eddie Wilbanks. There was also the Sock-It-To-Me ’32 Bantam A/A roadster that won class at the 1968 NHRA Nationals, along with the best-appearing crew honors.
Nolan spent close to a decade in the ranks of NHRA’s Competition Eliminator, but after witnessing a racing fatality at his local track, he convinced himself to hang up his helmet for the newly developing street rod scene that was gaining momentum nationwide.
He was one of the original six members of the Memphis Street Rods, a club that has been at the forefront of the street rodding movement since its inception and is still going strong today. His first actual street rod was a rat-powered ’23 T-bucket, but he arrived at the first NSRA Street Rod Nationals (held in Peoria, Illinois) in a ’34 Ford sedan.
During the middle part of the1970s, Nolan located a 1927 Ford ‘T’ coupe, and began the process of modernizing the tin Lizzie with a totally new frame, fitted with a Jaguar suspension and a Chevy II four banger.
As the ’70s wound down, the siren call of competition was once again heard, and Nolan returned to racing, along with his brother Dennis. However, this time, it was with open-wheel sprint cars on the clay- and gumbo- surfaced race tracks across the southeastern and Midwestern states. Dennis served as the driver, while Larry kept the wheels turning. Another 10 years were devoted to turning left in the dirt with some of the best names in the sport, before he came back to street rods.
When Nolan returned to the street scene, it was behind the wheel of a ’38 Ford two-door sedan, followed by a righteous ’51 Ford business coupe. After that came a restored Kurtis Kraft midget racer that was towed around with a ’48 Ford F1 pickup, which he rebuilt from the frame up. The F1 received the full “farmer” treatment with a brushed-on paint job, but a Ford 351 V-8 and a five-speed manual transmission reveal the hot rod within.
Nolan is still driving that F1, but his latest effort is currently under construction — a ’57 Chevy 150 sedan with an LS power plant and a six-speed manual trans. It will be notably trick, but still a dedicated street driver.
Nolan has also been instrumental in organizing the Memphis Rodders Reunion, from a small assemblage of the original club members, into an annual gathering of hot rod and motorsports enthusiasts from throughout the Mid-South. The annual event provides a significant charitable contribution to the Shriners Burn Transportation Fund.
Hats off to Larry Nolan for setting an example of how to remain involved in hot rodding throughout one’s life, and yet still find a pathway to pay it forward to those in need.