There’s just something awesome about a unique race car. We all love ’69 Camaros or Fox Mustangs, but even the nicest specimens tend to get lost in the crowd. But every so often, a car gets built that ignites the masses. While difficult to explain, you just know it when you see it. It’s in the details—the combinations of parts that equal the finished product. And often times, the most important aspect is the sheer skill and craftsmanship that makes the car a piece of art as much as a race vehicle.
To say Larry Larson is accomplished in the racing world would be borderline insulting. Whether it’s as a racer, Drag Week champion, crew chief, tuner, or chassis builder, the Oak Grove, Missouri native has done it all—and done it better than most.
If you follow the drag racing world, you’re more than likely familiar with Larry’s Chevy II and wild S-10 pick-up truck. Both have been made famous over his 11-year tenure in Hot Rod Magazine’s Drag Week and Rocky Mountain Race Week. The S-10 was Larry’s purpose-built response to the carbon-bodied Pro Mod street cars fielded in the Unlimited Class of the multi-track events. With the S-10’s steel cab and bed, it’s significantly closer to a real street-worthy vehicle than most, if not all other cars competing at the same level. The twin-turbo, PLR/Brodix combination proved to be a strong one, and Larry found himself competing in other classes in the racing world, including NHRA Top Sportsman, which he won the Topeka national event in 2015.
Fast-forward a few years and Larry was thrust into the championship hunt in the television show and race series, Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings. After the first season, the powers-that-be made some wholesale rule changes for the show’s sophomore season. It’s from these changes that we saw the birth of the massive single turbo combos. Forever the trendsetter, Larry took an open-minded look at the rulebook. He figured out that a large single turbo combination offered a significantly lower race weight than the twin-turbo combination.
“I run a Hart’s Diesel 140mm turbocharger,” Larry informs us. “We didn’t change anything [when we initially made the swap]. I didn’t know how it was going to be since I was the first one to do it. All we did was pull the twins off and put that big turbo on it last year for start season two. I got the charger from those guys and we actually built the headers and bolted it on. We didn’t even do any wastegates or blow-off valves or anything. I just wanted to see if it would spool, because we did everything in about two weeks. I backed it out and stuck it on the chip and up it came. So we pulled it back inside and mounted gates and blow-off valves and went about our way.”
Hardly anybody’s ever seen one of these things, let alone actually made them into a race car. So, because nobody did any doors, hood, or other pieces for them, I used all of the factory body panels.
As the end of season two came, Larry caught wind of some rule changes on the horizon. The word on the street was the truck would no longer be legal when season three rolled around. Sure, Larry could have changed the truck to keep it compliant, but it was made clear that while Larry was welcomed back, the truck would not be.
“Stock Appearing” is a racing buzzword used in rulebooks to keep race cars close to the stock shape and look of the factory cars they are based on. The sole intention is to keep the cars as relatable as possible to the fans in the stands and watching on TV. Although Larry’s S-10 fit the steel roof and quarters rule, there are aspects of the body that keep some from considering it to be “stock appearing.” Larry faced two options: find somewhere else to race, or build something new—and he answered back in a big way!
“There was so much controversy over the truck,” Larry explains. “I was in the last two seasons [of NPK], and everybody wanted to complain about one thing or the other. I had to laugh at it because the truck had 5,000 actual street miles on it and I don’t know how many runs, and none of the rest of these things would drive out of the parking lot. At the end of the season two, they basically told me when they announced the rules in December that it wasn’t going to be legal for season three. There were three or four things they didn’t like about it, and I could have fixed those later, but they would have found something else.
“At the end of the day, I built it for Drag Week and not for the no prep scene. So it was just time to build something new. They told me they wanted something more stock appearing for No Prep Kings because that was their big thing. They want it to look like a factory car from the stands, so the fans can relate. And I’m like, alright, careful what you wish for.”
Rumors that Larry was building a new car started to surface as the third season of No Prep Kings began filming. It wasn’t until the second race in Epping, New Hampshire that the drag racing world would set its eyes on Larry’s new purpose-built no prep 2016 Cadillac ATS-V.
“I’ve only ever seen two of those cars in person,” Larry adds. “The car’s a little smaller, a little narrower, a little shorter height-wise, and the wheelbase is a little shorter, so I think that makes a better looking at race car than the CTS’s do. But I wanted something that would hold a big tire and still sit low to the ground. And the late model cars are better aerodynamically. So we looked at this Cadillac and decided on it because, once again, nobody else has ever done one.”
You have to look hard to find some of the most artful and intricate design features of the Caddy. Once you notice there are no window screws or dzus fasteners anywhere, the magic begins to reveal itself. You may notice the bodylines are exceptional and chalk it up to Larry being a perfectionist. You would soon realize that every single body panel was stamped or manufactured in a GM factory.
“Hardly anybody’s ever seen one of these things, let alone actually made them into a race car,” Larry continues. “So, because nobody did any doors, hood, or other pieces for them, I used all of the factory body panels. And then one of my big things that I wanted to accomplish was to do it with no windows screws and no dzus fasteners so it truly, truly looks like a real street car.
“Like I said, I had a desire to do it that way,” Larry continues. “So between the no window screws or dzus’s, it was a little bit of a challenge. The guys at the shop and I, we put our heads together and tried to design this thing or think of what would work. And so we started off deciding on that seatbelt latch mechanism and it started off down by the bottom of the fenders and I didn’t like it down there. And then we were going to put it up at the top of the fender in the rear and there wasn’t any room there. So then we ended up with it up on a cowl. We crossed our fingers and hoped that it would work because nobody that I’m aware of has ever done anything like that before. So we spent the time to do it and it has worked out real well so far.”
The 2016 Cadillac ATS-V presented another issue for Larry and his crew. The entire body structure, with the exception of the hood and bumpers, were steel. This meant extreme measures would need to be taken to remove weight from the body.
I wanted something that would hold a big tire and still sit low to the ground. And the late model cars are better aerodynamically. So we looked at this Cadillac and decided on it because, once again, nobody else has ever done one.
“Everything’s steel except for the hood,” Larry tells us. “And those came with the factory carbon-fiber hood on them. Basically everything but the outer structure was cut out of the car. Because I was using all the factory body panels, I couldn’t afford to leave extra structure anywhere from a weight standpoint. The combination has to weigh 2,750. I was hoping at the end of the day that I had a minimum of 50-pounds of ballast to be able to move around in the car. And that’s about where I ended up. The bumpers are of course plastic, and the hood’s carbon, but it’s still got the factory door hinges, doorstops, and handles, and the inside of the rocker panels are still there. So there’s a lot of stuff. It’s got all the factory door seals on it and when you open and close the doors, everything shuts and opens like a factory car.”
The familiar massive single turbo and 481X powerplant greets you when the the nose is removed. Larry tells us these are the same engine and turbo he ran in the truck prior to building the ATS-V. The Stage 4 481X engine is built by Pro Line Racing. It is force-fed air by a massive 140mm Hart’s Diesel and Machine turbocharger. The engine is controlled and data is logged with a FuelTech FT600 engine management system. The engine is backed by a Rossler 3-speed TH400 transmission with a Pro Torque torque converter. Power is transferred to the wheels through a modular rearend housing from Strange Engineering. The suspension is controlled with a set of revalved Strange Engineering struts in the front and four-way adjustable Ohlins rear shocks all supplied by Kinetic Engineering. Larry is kept safe in the cockpit with a slew of safety equipment from DJ Safety. The Los Angeles, California-based company’s five-point harnesses, parachutes, and fire suppression system are all used on the ATS-V.
With the premier date of season 3 of Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings around the corner, the world will soon become even more familiar with Larry’s ATS-V. The car is nothing short of amazing. It’s easy to forget that it’s a 4,500 horsepower purpose-built race car when you get lost in the details. Its artful design and stock appearing good looks are paralleled by the car’s performance on track. At the end of the day, this Caddy is just as much show, as it is go!