Anyone who has spent more than a minute in a basic psychology class has been exposed to Erik Erikson’s theory of human development. One of the formative tasks of adulthood, according to the Vienna-trained psychotherapist, is deemed generativity versus stagnation.
The idea is simple enough to grasp, and with a moment’s reflection nearly everyone can recognize how this is manifested in the real world.
Look around, and you can find those who never seem to gain a foothold in life, or others who – once they’ve enjoyed a taste of success – simply rest on their laurels.
As Erikson suggests, these unfortunate souls are stagnant. Then there are those we admire, people who remain thirsty and restless, and because they are rarely satisfied their search to reach new heights is never ending.
Funny enough, by recently celebrating his 76th birthday, Gene Nolen is supposedly well beyond worrying about the concerns of daily life.
Think again. When pondering all that is currently on his plate, Nolen, perhaps unwittingly, gives one a glimpse of how he is hard wired.
When describing the energy it takes to juggle the demands of an international business as well as an active race team, Gene offers a little laugh and says, “It’s a challenge, and I live on challenges.”
Nolen was born on the last day of February in 1943 to parents Bud and Zola Nolen. Befitting the choice made by upwards of 40 percent of Americans in this age, Gene was born in his parents’ home on the near west side of Indianapolis.
Bud operated a Sinclair filling station at the corner of South Keystone and Prospect and, like many in the Circle City, he loved auto racing.
However, he took it one step further, and after securing a race car to call his own, in his son’s words, “He raced in figure-eight races and that kind of thing over at Kitley.”
In referring to Kitley, Nolen uses the same terminology many longterm residents use, to this day, to denote the Indianapolis Speedrome, which is located on South Kitley Avenue on Indy’s east side.
Bud passed his love of racing to his son, who has now attended every Indianapolis 500 since 1955. Yet, interestingly enough, if there is one childhood memory that sticks with him, it is being enthralled by the live radio broadcast of the Hoosier Hundred from the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
For Nolen, the road to becoming a successful businessman began at Arsenal Technical High School. Most would agree that Tech remains one of the most unique high school settings in America.
The school was established at the site of a Civil War arsenal, and the sprawling 76-acre campus includes buildings, by virtue of dating back to the 1860s, that are listed on the National Historic Register.
Not surprisingly given the location, several notable racers were Tech graduates. Among this lot was Jimmy Jackson, who had played football for his high school team, a squad sometimes referred to as Big Green.
In honor of his alma mater, Jackson eschewed all taboos of the time and took to the bricks in the 1946 Indianapolis 500 in a distinctive green race car and uniform.
Upon his graduation from Tech in 1961, Nolen took some night classes at Indiana Central College (now UIndy), but would soon see a bit more of the country. While there were foreboding signals that trouble was at hand in Southeast Asia, things were yet to ramp up militarily.
Nonetheless, Nolen decided to enlist in the National Guard, and was at first shipped to Fort Knox in Kentucky. From there, he then headed to Fort Gordon, just south of Grovetown, Georgia, to continue his training as a member of the Military Police.
In a refrain so often repeated by veterans, it was a period in his life that he considers beneficial to his growth. However, those who know him, likely find it hard to imagine the affable Nolen serving as an MP.
Gene does not hold an official degree in engineering, but there is little doubt that he is fully certified in the college of hard knocks. By 1974, Nolen and three associates founded what is now known as Manar Inc.
The firm specializes in plastic injection mold technology, with applications in everything from the automotive to the aerospace industry. At present, plants can be found in Indiana, Tennessee, and China.
Where Nolen once made regular trips to China, an effort he admitted was highly stressful, he now only makes the trek annually.
One thing Gene makes perfectly clear: without his business success, owning a racing team would have been out of the question.
When he decided to dip his toe in the sport, he had already taken steps to learn from one of the best. Glen Niebel was born in Mt. Auburn, Ind., and joined Paul Meade’s sprint car operation by 1965. In time, he would move his budding engine shop south to the town of Edinburgh, also the site of the Manar headquarters.
Glen was a rare talent, and soon after he began fielding his own car. An innovator, Niebel began developing a V-6 engine for a sprint car in 1983, and after the normal teething pains it was soon ready to make heads spin.
Glen gained national notoriety when paired with Wickenburg, Ariz., mortuary owner Bob Frey, a man who had already tasted success on a big stage.
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