Most of us have dreamed of finding that one race car that got away – you know, the favoriteone that was a real winner. This is one of those feel good stories with a happy ending along the lines of a Disney movie.
Let’s start by rewinding back to 1970. Like many of the racers back in the late 60s, Larry Nelson started racing when Stocker and SSers were peaking in popularity. Larry had been drafted into the Army in 1970 and was stationed in Ford Knox Kentucky. He pulled a 2‐door 55 Chevy out of a junkyard near the base with the intention of building a Jr. Stocker with partner Duane Brock. Brock and Nelson would work on the car on weekends while Larry continued to serve out his time in the Service. With Nelson still in uniform, Duane ran the car in Jr. Stock during the 1971 season close to home in Ohio. Larry was able to get out of the service 5 months early and he took over the driving for the 1972 season.
After 19 months of dreaming about racing, Larry got after it. The weekend before the Summernationals, Nelson headed to a SS Race at Kil–Kare on Saturday where he beat Bob Glidden twice. Brock and Nelson headed to Beech Bend the next day where they ended up wading through a tough field of SS racers to win the race. And as was typical in the day, the guys had to pull a head after the race before collecting the $800 payout.
The following Wednesday, the two headed to Englishtown for the Summernationals. The cylinder head still off the car from the weekend win was reinstalled while in the Tech Line. Larry went on to win his class – SS/T ‐ and he and 37 other cars would race on Sunday for the SS Wally. On race day, Nelson marched through a tough field of the best racers in the day including 1971 Indy SS winner Greg Charney, “007” Norm Fryer, Frank Jordan in his SS/X 60 Chevy to meet Anthony Cieri and his SS/Q 65 Chevelle Wagon in the final. Running off a 13.40 National record, Nelson ran 13.37, 14.10, 13.37, 13.42, 13.37 and a record setting 13.20 in the final to take the win and immediately become one of toughest competitors in the “New‐for‐ 1972” NHRA Super Stock Eliminator.
Nelson went to have a strong season as the Runner Up to Dave Boertman at the World Finals along with winning the National Dragster Open at National Trail Raceway. With the NHRA practice of handicapping cars based on the National Record, Brock and Nelson located a 2 and 4 door 55 Chevy Wagon to give the flexibility to swap bodies when one of the records got hit ‐ a common practice back in the day. With the move to the 2 door wagon in 1973, the Summernationals winning 2‐Door 55 Chevy was parked. Eventually Lamar Vaubel helped sell the 2‐Door ‘55 to Brothers Joe and Paul Smith from New Hampshire. The Smith Brothers raced the car sporadically through the 70s with no notable accomplishments. Since Larry joined Jeg’s in 1972, he was an easy guy to track down – and Joe Smith stayed in contact with Larry over the years. Larry asked Joe several times about buying the car back, but Joe was steadfast that he would not sell.
Like many racers that make the decision to “stop”, Larry got out of racing several years ago after a long string of successful modified and SS race cars. There were plenty of other things in “life” that needed to be tended to and the racing would have to wait. But like all real racers know, this disease that we carry only goes in remission – it never goes completely away.
And so was the case with Larry when in April of this year his Summernationals winning 55 Chevy – the car that made him a Super Stock somebody – appeared in a Class Racer For Sale ad. Larry was shocked when he heard that the car was for sale since he and Joe Smith had an understanding that Larry had first dibs on the car if it were ever to sell. But Joe was ill after experiencing a heart attack and Brother Paul wasn’t aware of that agreement that put Larry first in line. As you could expect, there was plenty of interest in the car. Long-time Stocker racer Lynn Smith was third on the list and after the first two guys bowed out, Lyn was ready to make the deal. Knowing that Larry was one of the interested buyers, Lyn called Nelson and it didn’t take long until a deal was struck that put the car back in Larry’s hands. As Larry put it, “Lynn was a real gentleman about this deal!!!”
Larry and his son recently made the trip to New Hampshire to pick up the 55 and bring it home to Ohio. Everywhere they stopped on the trip home, the 55 Chevy on the trailer sparked plenty conversations with curious bench racers that wanted to know more about the car and the plans for it, along with stories and recollections of the 55 Chevy they had back in the day.