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Desert racer switches to modern promotion
by Dan McGee
Feb 11, 2013 | 3460 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Photo courtesy Art Eugenio/SCORE — After finishing a BAJA 1000 race, driver Roger Norman is being interviewed as then series owner Sal Fish (right) looks on. Late last year, Norman bought the series from Fish.
Photo courtesy Art Eugenio/SCORE — After finishing a BAJA 1000 race, driver Roger Norman is being interviewed as then series owner Sal Fish (right) looks on. Late last year, Norman bought the series from Fish.
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Photo courtesy of Art Eugenio/SCORE — Crowds are close to the course at any race in Baja California. Here, Roger Norman tears down a road in a truck he shared driving duties with off-road great Larry Roeseler.
Photo courtesy of Art Eugenio/SCORE — Crowds are close to the course at any race in Baja California. Here, Roger Norman tears down a road in a truck he shared driving duties with off-road great Larry Roeseler.
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Photo courtesy of Art Eugenio/SCORE — Racing in Baja is not for the faint of heart as the crowds are right on the edge of the course. Here, Roger Norman gets some air in his Trophy Truck as he sails between walls of fans.
Photo courtesy of Art Eugenio/SCORE — Racing in Baja is not for the faint of heart as the crowds are right on the edge of the course. Here, Roger Norman gets some air in his Trophy Truck as he sails between walls of fans.
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Tribune photo by Dan McGee — At last year's HDRA Fireworks 500, held at the end of USA Parkway series, owner Roger Norman (Yellow shirt) watches as racing legend Rod Hall waves the green flag to send off the first truck.
Tribune photo by Dan McGee — At last year's HDRA Fireworks 500, held at the end of USA Parkway series, owner Roger Norman (Yellow shirt) watches as racing legend Rod Hall waves the green flag to send off the first truck.
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RENO — For years, desert racing hasn't been in the limelight as far as motor sports are concerned. But that's changing as Northern Nevada resident Roger Norman is on a mission to once again bring desert racing out of the shadows.

Oddly enough, he discovered the sport by accident.

"In 1996, I went on a motorcycle trip with Chris Haines, who has won the Baja 1000, and he suggested I co-drive with him," Norman said. "I suggested the Vegas to Reno race to see what we could learn from that. I bought an inexpensive Class 1 buggy and finished fourth in class in a car that shouldn't have even finished."

He added the run was so trouble free, the buggy didn't even get one flat tire.

"I was hooked solid. It's such a great adventure racing off road and seeing things you'd never get to see, the landscape and beauty of Nevada," he said.

The ride at the Baja race eventually fell through, as the car never arrived, so for the next few seasons Norman raced the buggy with his wife acting as the chase crew.

"Then I sold the car and Rod Hall asked if I wanted to race with him," he said.

Hall is a legend in the sport and in their first year as teammates, they won the title as well as the Las Vegas to Reno race and later Norman won the Baja 1000 with Hall's son, Chad.

He also raced with other teams for the next two years and won the Baja 1000 again in the Wide Open Challenge Class.

Because desert racing is so expensive to cover it hasn't had the exposure other types of motor sports like NASCAR does. As a result Norman saw that a new style and type of promotion was needed.

Back in the 1970's and 80's, the High Desert Racing Association was one of the players until its founder Walt Lott passed away. In late 2011 Norman brought the HDRA back to life.

"It's important the promoter is promoting and I saw for several years that better promoting on events was needed," he said. "Dakar is an example as it's in a difficult place so they had to create media and promotion to get companies and sponsorship. Now they've become much more well known in a short amount of time."

His initial experience with HDRA, which has races in the U.S., was promising to say the least.

"When I found the right people, and started HDRA, that very first race had a national TV show that I was the executive producer with and funded. I produced three shows out of five races and had a great response," he said.

In many televised races only certain teams and drivers are shown. Norman makes sure there's running tally for each competitor and for the first time every racer got some coverage.

"Ivan 'Ironman" Stewart did the announcing and some of the pit reporting so the shows turned out fantastic," he said.

He also changed the financial structure as before most of the prize money came from entry fees but the costs were going through the roof. Now, competitors race in a world championship series and the money comes from sponsors and not from the drivers.

"The amount will change every year depending on the sponsorships," he said. "The richest was the 500 last year and it was my first year promoting it."

Right now, HDRA has four races on its schedule including the Reno 500 during the weekend of July 12-14. Norman said that event drew the biggest field last year.

"We were talking about HDRA about two weeks in November 2011 then in January 2012 we were promoting the first race," he said.

About that same time SCORE owner Sal Fish let it be known that he was considering selling his series. Most of those events are in Mexico and includes the famous Baja 1000.

"I let Sal know I was interested," he said. "He told me there were several others and I said to put my name at the top of the list. About six months later, on the phone, we agreed on everything but he wanted to finish out the year and we bought the series on December 20th."

Now Norman is one busy person. HDRA's first race this year was the South Point Vegas 250 staged on January 11-12. Currently he's planning and laying out the course for his first SCORE event, the 27th annual San Felipe 250 that runs on March 8-10.

While his usual course is to look at things then make changes, there has been one for SCORE events. Rather than having three weeks to pre-run a course, this time there will only be two weeks to do this.

"Pre-running is a big part of Baja and it brings racers to cities a couple of weeks before the event and is good for the economy," he said. "We're also going to be doing some maintenance on the course that has never happened before. A lot of organizations race down there and we're going to do things to fix up areas."

He compared running off-road racing to the restaurant business; it's difficult, there are a lot of little details involved for the little money that can be made. However it's become his passion.

"I absolutely love it. We got raving reviews of every aspect of what we are doing. As a racer I have a different understanding of the sport as well as a businessman in the casino and construction business," he said.

Another change, for the Reno 500, was a rolling tech under the arch downtown. Then fans could see all the cars and since they were driven it speeded up the process.

"Everybody loved the rolling tech," he said. "Even contingency sponsors love it and it was a whole new way of looking at it. "And we coined the phrase for Reno as 'Racetown USA,' and we're going to start using it a lot more."

Norman has also been looking into a reality show and some in the TV industry have shown some interest in this. With his involvement in Wide Open, which he also owns, the Internet, SCORE and HDRA, he can make it a lot easier to shoot a show like this without the usual high fees.

"Then it's more a partnership where they can come in and do their show. If they win, we win," he said.

One of the biggest changes bringing his promotions to the 21st century is embracing both the Internet and social media. For him it's very effective as both platforms cost less than traditional advertising and can reach more people that are well connected.

"It reaches our core group and they expand it out to everyone else. This would be very difficult if we had to use newspapers, radio and TV and it would be just too costly," he said.

Both series have their own websites where events are streamed live. The SCORE one even has a weekly show, Dirt Live where racers are interviewed and even Norman shows up to answer questions.

Any team wanting to compete in a SCORE race will do all their registration, getting the rules and ordering fuel online. According to Norman the only phone call is when a team's fuel supplier confirms their order and where it will be delivered.

"It makes life so much easier as now everybody can go through the website," he said. "And it is up 24 hours a day so you can finish it anytime you want. Our goal is to have everything on line."

And being so connected will allow fans to interact with the Dirt Live shows.

"Dirt Live covers mostly racers that are in SCORE although many compete in other events," he said. "During the broadcasts we take questions from Face Book and ask them live. If they hashtag a photo it comes up on our website and we can have thousands of photos and we use Face Book, Websites as well as Twitter.

Even though it's been a tough few years economically, he feels the sport didn't suffer much.

"I'm amazed as people love the sport so much they are making it work. Everybody is doing what they needed to do in order to compete. Some people have taken a break but for the most there's been a lot of new people coming in," he said.

Between them SCORE and HDRA have seven events this year and they count toward a world championship with both the Baja 1000 and Reno 500 being for double points. To earn the championship racers have to compete in six of the events.

Looking ahead Norman said, "I couldn't be more optimistic now that I'm in the driver's seat. Everybody is positive, loves it, loves seeing the promoter is doing weekly shows and is being to out in the open. We're going to be changing things in racing to make it more exciting and our goal is to be shown in as many countries as the Dakar Rally, which I believe is in 180 countries."

While here is much work still to be done, Norman is looking forward to both series finding bigger markets and success.

Those wishing further information should check the series websites. For HDRA it's www.hdrarace.com and for SCORE it's www.score-international.com.

OTHER RACING NEWS

•On a sad note rising star Gavin Clouser, a member of the LivFast motocross team, crashed during Saturday's practice at Exit 28. He is at Renown Medical Center but his family asked there be no visitors at this time.

•Several MRANN riders competed in this weekend's 63rd annual National Hare and Hound event at Ridgecrest, California.

Among the Professionals local MRANN racers Robert Underwood, Irving Powers and Levi Hutchings claimed positions 11 through 13. Ross Neely had a good run ruined when he got a hole in his clutch casing while Sean Berryman ended up 27th.

Young Brody Honea wound up 2nd overall in Open Amateur and despite starting later than the experts was 62nd, out of about 350, at the finish.

•Another local doing well was Aaron Siminoe, who made the 250 Supercross main in San Diego on Saturday where he started 15th and finished 16th.
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