WHITELAND — Growing up in Indianapolis in the 1950s, Gene Nolen became fascinated with the combination of man, machine and speed.
At 74, he still is.
Nolen, who owns Whiteland-based Nolen Racing, is in his 28th season as a car owner in the USAC Silver Crown Series. The team features four drivers, including Columbus native Dakota Jackson, whose skills are suited for the demands of dirt or pavement racing.
The competition and camaraderie of the series keeps pulling Nolen in for more.
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“You just make a lot of friends and you enjoy the competition,” said Nolen, who lives in Greenwood. “It’s about competition and it’s about having fun, so we’re having a good season.”
Nolen, a widower since his wife Rosie passed away in 2005, works to remain active.
He plays six to eight rounds of golf each year. He loves to fish, but, like golf, he has gradually scaled back on the number of times he’s spotted baiting a hook.
Since buying his first midget car in 1983 with Paul Huntington as his driver, Nolen has always preferred to go racing.
“Anybody who is 74 years old and wants to race as bad as he does is very competitive,” said Hunter Schuerenberg, 27, a Greenwood resident and one of three dirt-track racers in Nolen Racing’s stable of drivers.
“Gene makes a living so he can enjoy racing. He has a passion to be in races and to win races.”
Nolen is one of four men who in 1974 founded Manar, Inc., a custom plastic injection molding company. He is chief executive officer of Manar, which employs 400 people in plants in Indiana and Tennessee.
A 1961 graduate of Tech High School, Nolen estimates he spends $150,000 annually to make his racing dreams come true. The most he’s made in a single year, not counting sponsorships, is approximately $60,000.
Thirteen race cars are in Nolen Racing’s 5,500-square-foot garage.
Jerry Coons, Jr., who competes on dirt and pavement, headlines Nolen Racing’s lineup and presently ranks third in Silver Crown points with 278. Franklin resident Joe Axsom runs solely pavement races, while Schuerenberg and Jackson specialize in dirt cars.
“I’ve been doing it long enough that you’re used to going back and forth,” said Coons, the 2008 Silver Crown points and USAC sprint champion. “The one thing that’s neat about the Silver Crown Series is having both surfaces. That’s what’s unique about it.
“I’ve won pavement races before, but I’m probably better on dirt.”
On Thursday, Coons finished seventh at the Rich Vogler Hall of Fame Classic at Indianapolis Raceway Park. Axsom also ran the 100-lap featuring, placing 17th.
Next on the Silver Cup schedule are the final two pavement venues – Friday’s race at Toledo Speedway, a half-mile track, and a trip to Salem (Indiana) Speedway on Aug. 12. The last three Silver Crown Series competitions are on dirt.
These are opportunities for Nolen Racing, a fourth-place finisher a year ago in the USAC Silver Crown national championship and runner-up the season before, to maintain and even enhance its reputation.
These words grace the front page of the Nolen Racing website — “Always a contender!”
Nolen Racing isn’t about to change now.
“It gives me confidence knowing a great car owner like Gene would give me a chance,” said Jackson, 22, a Columbus North graduate in his first full season with Nolen Racing. “Gene is really supportive, even if you make a mistake. He’s the first one at your trailer telling you that you’ll do better the next time.”
The final events on the 2017 Silver Crown Series schedule:
Aug. 12;Salem Speedway;Pavement
Aug. 19;Illinois State Fairgrounds;Dirt
Sept. 3;DuQuoin State Fairgrounds;Dirt
Sept. 23;Eldora Speedway;Dirt