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Nance Wants Back In Game: Former NBA All Star looking for way to drag race again!!
-By Mike Perry
Larry Nance was born to play basketball. At 6-foot-10, he towered over everyone as he walked around the staging lanes at Norwalk Raceway Park…shaking hands and hugging old friends, friends he wants to spend much more time around than one weekend at the Skull Gear World Nationals.
Nance was one of the best forwards to ever play professional basketball. During his NBA career with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns, he blocked more shots than any other forward in NBA history, 2,027. He was named to the All-Star team three times, once was on the NBA All-Defensive First Team, was the winner of the inaugural Gatorade Slam Dunk Contest in 1984 and had his jersey, number 22, retired by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Though his body was built for basketball and that is where he achieved his fame, Larry Nance is a drag racer. He owned a Pro Modified car driven by Pat Moore, the “Catch 22,” during his playing career. Then, after he retired, Nance got behind the wheel himself. He did not drive in the Pro Modified class but found his niche in the Pro Stock classification...first in a Rick Jones built Monte Carlo and then in an Oldsmobile, also built by Jones.
It was a long journey from his upbringing in Anderson, S.C. to Clemson University on a basketball scholarship, through his accomplished NBA career and into the driver’s compartment of a Pro Stocker.
“I was born and raised around cars,” Nance said. “My father was a mechanic, but I really didn’t get introduced to drag racing until I went to Phoenix after I was drafted by the Phoenix Suns. I went to a race track for the first time and saw a ’67 Camaro that I fell in love with. I ended up buying it from the guy. I was bit by the bug and started spending a lot of money in drag racing.”
While Nance was playing, his multi-million dollar contracts kept him financially able to compete at the drag strip. Once he retired, however, and cast an eye towards the future it was far more important for Nance to make sure his family was financially secure, so the car went in the garage. But he never lost the driving will to one day race again, which is why Nance is actively seeking sponsorship…hoping to secure a deal that would put him behind the wheel again in ’06.
It hasn’t been easy. Though he remains one of the biggest names in the annals of Cleveland basketball lore, sponsorship has been elusive for Nance to this point. He has a few leads, but nothing solid is in place.
“It’s been really difficult and disappointing both,” Nance said. “Because of my basketball background, I know a lot of NBA people and a lot of drag racing people, and I can reach out and touch a lot of people because of my past. It has been frustrating there hasn’t been a company that wants to work with me. I don’t really know why, but it has been disappointing. It is really expensive. When I was playing basketball I was putting a lot of my money into my cars then, trying to do it myself. I really can’t do that anymore because I’m not playing anymore.”
Nance is not a neophyte racer hoping to capitalize on his name. He has produced results during his racing career both as a car owner and as a driver. His Pro Mod, the “Catch 22” driven by Pat Moore, once finished third in the IHRA World Championship points standings and was the fastest nitrous car in the world at the time. Then, when he hung up his basketball shoes and slid behind the wheel, the results were immediate.
“I went to Pro Stock and Doug Kirk is the one who taught me how to drive,” Nance said. “He showed me how to drive the car and when I went to my first race in Darlington, I won it. So the first race I ever competed in I won and I always credited that to having good teachers.”
That victory meant a lot to Nance. Compared to the NBA Slam Dunk contest, the All-Star weekend spectacle that has become the showcase of All-Star weekend which Nance won in 1984, his on-track accomplishment means much more.
“I realize how tough it is to win a race and winning in Darlington definitely ranks higher with me than winning the Slam Dunk contest,” Nance said. “(Dunking) was something I’d done all my life and I had won lots of those. It was a talent I had and it was easy to do. To put a race team together and have everything come together that day to win a race, and to not be able to accomplish that again…that was one of the biggest awards I have ever had.”
There are a number of reasons Nance wants to find a deal that will get him back in a Pro Stocker next year. The biggest reason is a void in his life now that any former professional athlete could relate to.
“Going to the playoffs, before that big game you get the butterflies in your stomach and you just can’t wait to play,” Nance said of basketball. “That’s why I love racing so much; when I am in that car I get those same butterflies and I can’t wait to get on that starting line and compete against somebody. Athletes have been programmed to compete all their lives. When you retire that doesn’t go away. I was the lucky one to be able to find racing which allowed me to get that same feeling I got when I played basketball. I’m very fortunate. The only problem is you get paid to play basketball and you have to pay to race, but it has definitely filled the void for me.”
He also misses the camaraderie that comes with racing on the professional circuit…especially in a class as tight-knit as Torco Pro Stock.
“All these guys I have raced against and became their friend. I love them all and it would be great to be out there competing against them,” Nance said. “Rick Jones is the guy who built most of my cars in the past, so I know him very well. He builds a great car. I’ve known Jerry Haas for a long time and Sonny Leonard is the one I started my motor program with. I’m here amongst a lot of friends and it’s really good to see them. I would love to be out there racing against them.”
He also wants to get back in a setting where he can play to his strength of working within the framework of a team.
“The Cavs teams that everybody loved really worked together as a team,” he said. “The team concept is so important in life, in everything you do. In Pro Stock racing, you have a guy you trust to do your clutch, you have a guy you trust to work on the motor, you have a guy you trust to drive the truck…no one person is more important than the other and we all have to work together. When you all work together as a team good things happen on the race track. That is how I played basketball and that’s how I would run my race team.”