February 26, 1931 - October 20, 2002
(Note: Much of the following info I acquired from my Bonneville Programs, but some of the dates, etc. are from memory and may be in error. If you should note an error, please notify me so I can correct it.)
I don't really remember when I first had a conversation with Nolan, but I became aware of his presence on the Salt soon after I began attending Speedweek in 1957. Nolan got my attention by his performance in his Modified Sports entry, a highly modified Devin roadster which he converted to a coupe by installing a fiber glass top. His car was powered by a small block Chevrolet with a roller chain driven 4-71 supercharger. Nolan was always a bootstrap racer who designed and made most of his own specialized parts. This, of course presented problems when breakage occurred, but since the word "quit" was not in his vocabulary, he usually managed to make repairs and continue in competition. In later years he did acquire sponsorship that gave him the ability to compete with a higher level of equipment.
There are not many of pictures of Nolan's cars appearing in the racing publications until the later years. He ran two different sports cars at Bonneville, but to date, I have been unable to acquire pictures of either. He always ran hard, but so far as I can tell he never set a record on the Salt until 1963 when he set two records (A/Sports Racing @ 213.402 mph and B/Sports Racing @ 210.474 mph) which gave him membership in the Bonneville 200 MPH Club. In 1964 he raise the A/Sports Racing record to 224.477 mph and set the D/Sports Racing Record @ 200.595 mph. Then, in 1966 he set the E/Sports Racing record @ 184.284 mph.
I believe it was 1966 that he crashed his Devin and received a broken neck in the process. As is evident, however, he continued to chase speed with a vengeance. After the crash, he built a new more slippery Sports Car and continued in this class for a few more years, but was unsuccessful in setting further records. He had stiff competition from Jack Lufkin who dominated the Sports Racing Classes for a number of years. His entry showed up in B/Gas Streamliner in 1978 & '79 as White & Sons. I am not sure what the car was, but I think that it was the same car that he had been campaigning in Sports Racing, , with further modifications.
Nolan was entered in B/Fuel Streamliner in 1980. This entry is the car that he ran for the rest of his racing career. In 1990, at the World of Speed Nolan became the first hot rodder, running a single engine entry, to be timed in excess of 400 mph. Al Teague also ran 400 mph at the meet, but Nolan preceded Al. I think it was 1999 that Nolan appeared on the Salt with an additional engine in his car. We were both at the nine mile and visited a while. He showed me his new creation and told me of his decision to add the second engine a couple of months before Speedweek. He said that he had always been critical of those who ran multiple engines, but just decided that he would join their ranks. From that time on he had continual problems with his belt driven 4WD setup. He rarely made a complete run without breaking the drive belt.
At Speedweek 2002 I greeted Nolan on the starting line and asked him if he had been able to cure his belt drive problem. He grabbed my arm and led me inside his trailer to a drawing on the wall and proceeded to tell me about his gear drive setup that he had designed and had built. He said that he might have other problems, but that the drive was the strongest "link in the chain".
The rest is history! His gear box did cure the drive train problem and
he qualified @ 404.313 mph and returned at 422 mph for a BNI AA/FS
Record of 413.156 mph. He had accomplished a dream that he had been chasing
for twenty years. Now his sights were set on the FIA record. He firmly
believed that he could run 450 mph (he had been timed at 442 mph at as
private timing after the world finals in 1999) my guess is that he would
have succeeded had he not met with the fatal accident.
There were two occasions that gave a hint to how dedicated Nolan was in his search for speed. In 1982 and '83 the Salt was under water so we had no meets. Nolan went to Black Rock Desert and tested his car. Another time a few years later, SCTA/BNI decided not to run the World Finals because of a lack of entries. Nolan got on the phone and rounded up those who were interested in running and organized his own meet.
On Friday morning, October 18, Nolan stopped by our pit on his way to the nine mile. He was going to make the first leg of the FIA record attempt after the completion of Record Runs. He ask if I would push him off. I had forgotten, but he said that I had pushed his car off on the run that gained him his 200 MPH Club Membership in 1963. Of course, I felt honored to be asked and accepted without hesitation. We spent the next hour or so recalling the earlier days, joking and having a great time together. Nolan and I were good friends for more than forty years. We didn't usually get to spend much time together because one or the other, or both of us, were focused on the our own car and problems we faced. We did manage to make contact at every time that we were on the Salt together, however. I will sorely miss him.
Nolan was the "racer's racer". He did not receive a great amount of publicity, primarily because he didn't set a lot of records.. Most of us identify with Nolan because we fall in that same category. He did have the respect of his peers, however, and after all, what greater honor can we hope to achieve.Nolan loved the Salt Flats. There is no better way to honor him than with a donation in his name to...
Save the Salt
c/o Mike Waters
39937 90th West
Leona Valley, CA 93551
Last Updated: 09/09/2010