When Targa Newfoundland first raced through the Burin Peninsula 16 years ago, the racing teams met one Jason Nolan. At that time, he was an 11-year-old self-described “car guy”, but anyone who meets Nolan says there is something special about him that they can’t forget.
“He’s definitely a special person,” said Targa driver Andrew Warren, who went through school with Nolan. “He’s always happy, he’s always excited. You can always tell that when he gets something in his mind that he’s bouncing.”
Nolan has cerebral palsy. Because of this, he uses a wheelchair and has difficulty controlling his movements to do certain things, such as eating and speaking. But he’s never let that get in the way of the things he’s passionate about, and ranking at the top of that list is a passion for everything car-related.
Nolan, who is from Garnish, is arguably Targa Newfoundland’s biggest fan.
He’s never missed a race that has come to the Burin Peninsula. When the Marystown Council voted in 2014 to stop allowing Targa to race through the community, he wrote a stack of letters explaining why they should bring it back. In 2017, council voted unanimously to reinstate it.
In 2007, Targa race teams were so impressed by Nolan that they wanted to do something special for him. Ontario-based driver Rick MacLeod asked Nolan’s father, Brian Nolan, what they could do.
“(MacLeod) said,’ Well, you’re always having trouble with his wheelchair,’” said Brian, who explained that he always had to fix something on it. Before they knew it, a new electronic wheelchair arrived at their house.
Shortly after he donated the wheelchair MacLeod was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and later on brain cancer, and has since died.
Nolan still has the wheelchair he gave him, as well as other mementos that he proudly displays, such as a driver’s uniform and a die-cast model of MacLeod’s Mustang.
Today, there’s another Mustang driver who has taken a shine to Nolan.
While Andrew Warren and Nolan have known each other since their school days, they’ve become better friends over the years through their mutual love for cars.
Warren, 28, will be racing a 1990 Fox Body Mustang in the Tom Hollett Memorial Targa Bambina this Canada Day long weekend on the Burin Peninsula. Bambina is essentially a shorter version of the week-long Targa Newfoundland road rally that races through several communities on the province’s east coast every September.
“He never slept the other night when Andrew asked him. He was restless the whole night. And that’s what he usually does when he got something he’s excited about, he won’t sleep the night before. So, I guess the week of Bambina, I don’t think he’s going to get much sleep.”
Brian Nolan, about his son Jason Nolan
While the Marystown native knew he would be driving in Bambina, he still didn’t have a navigator. Warren knew that Nolan always dreamed of participating in Targa, so he decided to ask him.
Warren posted a video on one of Nolan’s favourite Facebook groups called NL Muscle Cars Group, tagging both Nolan and his father, Brian, who knew what Warren had planned.
Brian saw the video first, so he went to Nolan’s room to tell him to log on to Facebook.
“I am about as excited as anybody can be for the Bambina and Targa here in Marystown again,” Warren said in the video. “I got one issue though, Jason. That’s an empty seat right there, buddy … I’m hoping that maybe you’ll say that you’ll get in it with me and actually be my navigator for the Bambina this year.”
Brian knew that his son would be excited when Warren asked the question, so he recorded a video of his reaction.
“He went right off his head and didn’t know what to do,” said Brian. “He’s pretty excited.”
Nolan spoke with The Telegram via Facebook Messenger.
“I am so happy to be Andrew’s navigator,” he wrote.
Brian says the whole family is excited that Nolan will get to have this “unreal” experience.
“I don’t know what he’s going to do on the race day when they get ready to do it, honest to God, I don’t know. He never slept the other night when Andrew asked him. He was restless the whole night. And that’s what he usually does when he got something he’s excited about, he won’t sleep the night before. So, I guess the week of Bambina, I don’t think he’s going to get much sleep.”
Now that Nolan’s agreed to be Warren’s navigator, the pair will start practising as soon as the weather clears up. They are working together on developing a communication system using simple hand gestures, so that Nolan can communicate the navigator’s directions to Warren while he drives.
Nolan also plans to help Warren with any work that has to be done to get the car race-ready.
“Nothing ever stops him,” Warren said of Nolan.
This determination is present in Nolan’s day-to-day life. For example, Nolan organizes a weekly car meet every Wednesday night in Marystown, and takes care of social media outreach for the Southern Classic Cars Club. To post on social media takes more effort for Nolan than most people.
“He only has one hand that he can use,” said Brian, who explains Nolan has a special keyboard that he uses that makes it possible for him to type. “For him to be on the computer, like you have to see how hard he works, it’s unreal. The sweat is coming off of him just to type.”
That didn’t stop Nolan from telling The Telegram how excited he is to race this summer.
“I can’t wait for the day to come,” he wrote.