Aiken native Larry Noel knows a thing or two about horses. This weekend at Carolina Dragway, he’ll be handling over 500 of them at once.
Noel will be racing in Jackson as a member of Southeast Gassers Association, a racing group that runs period-correct drag cars from the 1950s and 1960s. He spent Saturday at a car show at Augusta Mall promoting the SEGA and Saturday’s race in Jackson, S.C.
Former International Hot Rod Association Pro Mod champ Quain Stott founded SEGA nearly eight years ago. The association’s goal is to remove as much of the driver’s assistants as possible from the cars and put the person behind the wheel in complete control. Noel joined in 2015.
“He (Stott) just got sick of the way racing was going with automatic transmission and electronics,” Noel said. “He said, ‘It was just push button and let it go and win the race.’ It took the driver out of it and he wanted to put a driver back in the car. He created Southeast Gassers and made very strict rules that everyone has to go by. We started with two cars and we’re 100-plus cars now.”
Noel’s car is a 1956 Chevrolet Bel-Air, appropriately named “Crazy Horse.” It has a General Motors 310-cubic-inch, small block v8 engine and, per SEGA rules, it has a straight front axle and a 4-speed manual transmission. It features both bark and bite with nearly 580 horsepower and a straight-piped exhaust that exits just behind the front tires.
While the 65-year-old Noel grew up around cars, the chance to build out this ‘56 Chevrolet was a dream that materialized just within the last several years.
“I grew up in that muscle car era and I got out of high school and worked in a body shop for a little while. I then got into the construction business and then became a caretaker on a horse farm. I love cars and I’ve always done it as a hobby,” he said. “As we became empty-nesters, I said. ‘I’m going to build one more hot rod for the street,’ but then I stumbled across Southeast Gassers, went to one of their races, and we built a race car.”
While he didn’t grow up in Aiken, Noel now calls it home. A horse farm caretaker, he relocated from Connecticut about 20 years ago and loved it so much, he decided to stay. The name of the car reflects that very sentiment.
“We all had names on our race cars and they all have meanings,” he said. “The reason that car right there is called the Crazy Horse, is because I make my living in Aiken around the horse industry and you cannot live in that town unless you own a horse. You don’t build a race car in your 60s unless you’re crazy.”
Traveling around the country to race is one thing, but returning home to race is always a special occasion.
“Aiken’s my hometown, so I try to get all my horse people, family and friends to make the trip down there. It’s like a family reunion,” he said. “It’s probably one of the nicest facilities we race at all year and we’re just trying to make it a big time out there.”
The race takes place Saturday at Carolina Dragway. Qualifying begins at 2 p.m., and adult tickets are $20, while children 10-and-under get in free. For those who have yet to experience a SEGA event or drag race in general, Noel said it will be loud and friendly.
“They’re probably going to run into the nicest group of drag racers you’d ever find. Everybody is friendly and we enjoy explaining the cars,” he said. “It’s heads-up drag racing, 4-speed cars, wheels in the air and the first man to the finish line wins, just like it was back in 1967.”