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July 3, 1996

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ There haven’t been many nervous moments for NHRA rookie Larry Nance.

After all, why worry about more experienced drivers intimidating you when you’ve experienced the pressure of the NBA playoffs and the all-star slam dunk competition?

``In the NBA, every night in and night out guys try to intimidate you,″ said this unflappable rookie, 13-year NBA player Larry Nance. ``It’s intimidating for somebody to go up against a Warren Johnson or a Bob Glidden, but I don’t think that would affect me.″

Neither did playing against Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley.

Nance made his NHRA debut at Memphis last month. Although he didn’t make the 16-car field, qualifying 32nd in a Chevrolet Monte Carlo, he remains committed to carving out a spot in pro stock.

Nance, from Akron, Ohio, will try to earn a spot this weekend at Topeka, Kan.

While Nance is confident, he realizes he has much to learn. He began racing only this spring after retiring following 13 seasons with Phoenix and Cleveland. He won his IHRA debut in the spring and decided to step up to the rigors of NHRA competition.

``You’ve got a lot of guys who have been doing this a long time, longer than I have, and I realize that,″ Nance said. ``I am determined to be good at it, and I’m going to work at it until I am.″

Nance won’t be the only NBA player switching to drag racing this season.

Denver Nuggets power forward Tom Hammonds is planning to race during the NHRA’s Denver stop in two weeks. Hammonds will drive a Jerry Haas-built Oldsmobile Cutlass with an engine from pro stock standout Steve Schmidt, who also builds Nance’s engines.

``This is not a media hype,″ Hammonds said. ``I’m serious. And if I’m spending this kind of money, I don’t want to be out there making laps to please the crowd but want to be part of the Sunday program.″

Hammonds has raced a street-legal 1968 Chevrolet Camaro for the last few years, and he set many records for street-legal machines with the car. He plans to compete in as many pro stock events as possible before reporting to the Nuggets training camp in the fall.

Unfortunately, Nance isn’t planning to race at Denver, so an all-NBA matchup must wait.

``One time they were calling me the fastest man in the NBA,″ Nance said, referring to a high-horsepower street machine he owned that was raced by others. ``Tom was like, `Well, Larry doesn’t drive his car, so I’m the fastest guy in the NBA.′

``So I called him up right when I got this car and said, `Who’s the fastest guy in the NBA now?‴

Nance became interested in drag racing while playing in Phoenix. He watched races at Firebird International Raceway and became a fan.

``I fell in love with a Camaro,″ Nance said. ``That’s really my favorite car. I ended up buying that Camaro, had it all the way until I went to Cleveland. I sold it there and bought another car.″

Nance also let his teammates know about his love affair quite often.

``They wonder why I do this,″ Nance said of his former teammates. ``But they’ve heard me talk about it so much on plane trips and bus trips. I talked about racing all the time. They understand it’s in my heart and that’s what I really want to do.″

Just because he made a comfortable living in the NBA doesn’t mean that he can race full-time without financial help.

Nance is actively courting sponsors for his team so he can race the full schedule next season. His schedule for the rest of this season includes Brainerd, Minn., Indianapolis and Reading, Pa.

``My realistic goal,″ he said, ``is if I can qualify for one or two events, get some exposure and hopefully somebody will see me and I can get a sponsor.″

End advance for Thursday, July 4

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