Mel Nolan

As this is a Cork based club, its only fitting that we would include some of our best Corconian achievements. I put this piece together back in  2011 as it was the 30 year anniversary of an unbroken record.
Mel Nolan: ¼ mile standing start in a mere 8.55 Seconds and 172 MPH - Fast forward (literally) to 2021 This record still stands today.

Danny Keaney held the Irish land speed record at 168.35mph (271kmh) famously beating the holder Vivian Candy in a Shadow Formula One Grand Prix car at Carrigrohane, Co Cork,

Mel of course was there, with his great friend, Denis Collins. Amidst the conversation Mel suggested that he’d do this.. and according to Denis, once Mel decided to take on a challenge, there is no turning back. The next 12 months were spent in the workshop and with help from his friends Mick and Mort Manifold, Mick Bowyer and Dave Fouhy, Murphy Engineering. Mel upgraded his bike from a 750 to a 1000 and fitted the 1st turbo to a motorcycle in Ireland. He challenged Danny Keany on a works 750 Yamaha. The challenge was accepted and the date was set for the Carrigrohane Straight in July of 1980.

At 4:30am 13,000 people came to watch the battle on the Straight Road in an attempt to set a new Land Speed Record. However on this occasion, Mel’s Turbo failed (wastegate problem) and it was back to spanners at least for another while. The Carrigrohane Straight wasn’t the hub of racing activity, so Mel went off to the Brighton sprint with Denis as the first Irish team to participate. The Brighton Sprint was a fantastic success and two weeks later off to Elvington RAF base in Yorkshire where he was to break the world flying mile record in October of 1980.

Sponsorship was to be a huge part of racing and with the help of Noel Murphy of National Aluminium, Mel renamed his machine the “National Aluminium Turbo”

Anyway… Back home. Mel re challenged Danny Keaney to a showdown in Mid July 1981. This was Mel’s Year where some short time after 4:30 AM (Again) he was to take the record from Danny. Not only that, but the following morning with two runs required East to West and West to East at a top speed of 192 MPH Mel would set a new Irish land speed and World Kilometre Record. The Irish Record stands to this day Forty years on.

Off to Elvington again the following October and raise the flying KM Record to a new level and attempt the British ¼ Mile Land speed record. Mel needed two consecutive runs at over 196 MPH to take the record. However on his 2nd last run of the day, he had an average run of of 198 MPH with a top speed of 207 MPH but on the finish line he damaged two  pistons and regrettably was not able to do a return run and claim the record. All the major news channels, BBC, RTE, Pathe News, National newspapers and Motorcycle magazines carried the record story. Mel became a National Hero in the middle of a deep recession in Ireland at the time.

A few things happen to bikes that are so well built and are ridden by such brave and determined people, eventually there are no more records to attempt. The bike was wheeled out one last time to celebrate Cork 800 festivities.

This was the last of the run of the era. The Cork 800 Sprint, Mel was unable to compete due to surgery and Denis Collins in true team spirit rode the Turbo and of course…Won.

The bike was dismantled and put in storage. 30 Years on, the Bike was restored to a level greater than its original condition.

For all the men that are reading this and want to go out and get their project underway, bear in mind, one needs a very understanding wife.

Mel’s wife Mary dealt with the 6 “young fellas” at home, while Mel was… in the Shed… again… dealing with such machines as his 1360 Yamaha with Nitrous.

We’re not done yet, amidst all this adventure, lets just include another Irish Record of ¼ mile standing start in a mere 8.55 Seconds and 172 MPH, these are the times and speeds that are presented to us today.

Mel Nolan brought Drag racing to Ireland, and in doing so has presented us with a challenge…. “Beat that”, because, yes… that ¼ Mile record also STILL STANDS.
Runners up to this record are:
Craig Mallabone UK: 8.63 and another Corkman with his sights on the clock Ciaran O'Driscoll with 8.7

Facts - courtesy of Denis Collins 2011.
Paul O'Sullivan 2021