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Life after Hoops Is a Drag
L. Jon Wertheim
July 12, 1999
Former NBA All-Star Larry Nance wedges himself into his racer and floors it
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July 12, 1999

Life After Hoops Is A Drag

Former NBA All-Star Larry Nance wedges himself into his racer and floors it

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In addition to his quest for a major sponsor, Nance is faced with the more exigent task of jamming his 6' 10", 230-pound frame into the cockpit, which makes him look as if he's driving a bumper car at the county fair. In a sport in which the top competitors are roughly the size of jockeys, Nance's car is customized to accommodate his build. Even so, he drives with his knees practically rubbing against his chin. "I'm only in the car for a few seconds, so I can handle it," he says, "but being this big definitely helped me more in basketball than in this sport."

Aside from his height, Nance is also an anomaly at the track because of his race. Oddly, the only other black Pro Stock driver is Tom Hammonds, a forward for the Minnesota Timber-wolves, who, competing in the circuit's summer events, finished 1998 ranked 29th. Not only does Nance claim that he has never encountered any trace of racism at the track, but he also bridles at the suggestion that the folks in the bleachers are mostly sunburned Bubbas whose idea of higher math is beef jerky plus Dr Pepper equals breakfast. "I know the sport has sort of a redneck reputation, but it's really not like that at all," says Nance. "I've met some of the most classy people I know through racing, and I enjoy the fans wherever I go."

The admiration is mutual. Nance is a popular attraction and has endeared himself to the other drivers, too. "When he first started competing in NHRA events, we all figured Larry couldn't have been all that good a basketball player, because he has absolutely no ego," says Jim Yates, the world champion driver in two of the last three years. "It wasn't until we saw him in the car that it became clear that he is a great athlete. He has unbelievable hand-eye coordination, and he has some of the best reaction times out here."

Unfortunately for Nance, in pro drag racing, racers who don't make it past the qualifying rounds earn no prize money. Only the 16 drivers in the finals make a check. So far this season Nance, who is driving a 1999 Dodge, has qualified for the first round once and earned $4,000.

That, however, doesn't deter Nance and his Catch-22 team. At least until the money runs dry, he has no intention of slowing down.

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