In 1976 off-road racing pioneer Norman T. Johnson and Gordon Grimmis wrote the essential bible of off-road racing culture titled simply “Off-Road Racer”. The book has been difficult to find because only 4,000 were made, 100 with a very special real leather cover and a personal plaque on the cover. The book immediately sold out and it has subsequently been out of print since 1979. If you are lucky enough to own one you know the treasure trove of stories it contains. Fortunately for me not only own the book but I am friends with Norm, as he is the one of the founders of The Mint 400. The book is an unabridged account of the colorful history of the birth of off-road culture, the founders, the racers, the supporters, the vehicles and the races everything that makes the culture so great.
We will be publishing excerpts from the book and eventually will re-publishing “Off-Road Racer” in it’s entirety because we think is should be accessible to the whole world!
This is the dedication, acknowledgements, and about the authors as we wanted to show respect to all the people who made this book possible.
THE OFF-ROAD RACER is dedicated to those men and women who have worked in the pits, raced on the dirt roads of the country and who, over the years, have brought our sport to greatness. We also would like to dedicate this book to those individuals who are no longer walking or racing on earth: Bob Feuerhelm, who was killed on the desert in Palm Springs before his dream of major off-road races became a reality; Steve Smith and Richard Smith (not related), who were racing in their first off-road race in the 1969 Baja 1000 and never reached the end of the course; Von Peterson, a 17-year-old motorcyclist, who was doing what he enjoyed best—leading the 1975 Baja International 500 race when the great and final checkered flag claimed his life. They are not forgotten. And a final dedication is made to Dori, Sandy, Clark, May, Joyce, Mickey, Stan and Sal, who gave moral support to us when we needed it.
As you read through this book, you will find much factual information. This was only possible through the long, hard efforts of those reporters who have covered the sport of off-road racing since its inception.
The help of many went into this book. Without the assistance of such writers as Jack Brady, Su Kemper, Jean Calvin, Steve Kassanyi and those hundreds of unnamed writers, this book would not be a reality.
Jack Brady, who has followed this crazy sport since the late 1950’s, is responsible for most of the information regarding NORRA. What he does not know about our sport is infinitesimal. Jean Calvin, although we have disagreed with her over the years on certain aspects of our sport, is certainly most knowledgeable when it comes to the 1200 cc racer.
Su Kemper, who is a freelance writer and photographer, lives in Bensenville, Illinois. It is through her efforts that we have information on what is happening in the Midwest and eastern parts of our country. Many of the photographs were furnished by her.
Trackside Photography, Arizona Competition Photos and Race Action Photos were very helpful in furnishing pictures for this edition. Many of the photographs in this publication have never been seen prior publication. Of course, drivers and sponsors also furnished personal pictures, for which we are most grateful.
But without the financial support of many, we would not even have been able to get started. A.C. Bingham, who shares the driving chores with this writer in a Class 9 Hi-Jumper, was our main supporter. The advertisers within had enough confidence in the project to support it. Their ads have made it possible to sell this edition at a reasonable price.
My wife Dori, who has sat in many a pit stop over the years, has worked “her fool head off” so that I could devote full-time to this project. She is a most treasured companion through life. Without her behind me, I am sure this book would not have been possible.
And of course, the man who first mentioned the idea of compiling such a book—Gordon Grimmis. Gordon and I were sitting in his kitchen one night, sipping a little wine, when the conversation turned, as it always does, to off-road racing. Eventually, the subject of the history of our sport was mentioned. Before the night was over, we had agreed that a book was needed and that it was about time someone published one. The next day, with clear heads, we again discussed it. Within ten days, we had financing and were on our way. Grimmis is responsible for most of the communications and the profile section of this edition.
Finally, we are grateful for the help of you men and women who have made this sport what it is today. Without the information supplied by many of you, this book would not be complete.
I personally would like to thank the Andy DeVercelly family and especially an elder statesman of our sport, the senior member of the clan who is no longer with us. I can remember the evening hours of the first Mint 400, when this small, white-haired man, dirty and grimy, walked into the lobby of the Mint Hotel with a huge rock in both arms. “I think I found the rock of ages,” he said, a wide grin covering his face. Then he showed me and a group of others the damage to his race car, which was out of the race. He was not angry or irate; he was just disappointed. This, simply, was Andy DeVercelly, Sr., one of the kindest, greatest competitors I ever had the privilege of meeting or knowing. His family amused this writer with quite a lot of the information you will be reading.
Of course, there are others who helped and they all know who they are. We, Gordon and I, are most grateful to you. We hope you will enjoy the following pages. It was a labor of love. After all, we are a part of THE OFF-ROAD RACER, too.
My sincere appreciation is extended to all those who have helped bring this book to life. Had it not been for each and every off-road racer who helped with the profile section, I’m sure its success would not have been achieved. I also thank all the wives, husbands and relatives of the racers who I am sure helped supply a lot of the information compiled herein.
As an off-road racer myself, I cannot begin to thank enough all those people who make this sport as popular as it is. Where would the average racer be without the help of those who devote so much of their personal time prior to, during and after every off-road race? Of course, I am speaking of the pit crews. In compiling these personal profiles, I have found that a great percentage of our active drivers have come out from the ranks of the pit crews.
As a driver of a Class 2, two-seater, I must also give special thanks to those who co-ride in the “dummy seat,” as it is better known. The abuse these bodies absorb in the course of an off-road race is beyond comprehension. Yet you always hear, “When’s the next race?” For those of you who haven’t tried it, you don’t know what you are missing!
I have reserved my most sincere gratitude for the two individuals who are most responsible for having made this book a reality rather than just an idle thought. First, I wish to thank Norm Johnson for the immense amount of months he has devoted to writing the major text of this book. Without his help and foresight, again, this book would not have happened. I also wish to thank Mr. Clark Bingham for his financial support to Norm and I. We will long be thankful to this wonderful gentleman.
I hope everyone enjoys the following pages nearly as much as we have enjoyed putting them together. I know I feel an awful lot closer to those who I compete against — simply because I now know a little more about them. We all see names in the program and about the only time we see them is at maybe a position drawing. I hope these profiles will bring a realization that those on the course are not just a body with a driving suit and helmet, but an individual just like your plumber, attorney, dentist, truck driver or grocer.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Norm Johnson has been involved with off-road racing since 1967 when, as Assistant Public Relations and Advertising Director for the Mint Hotel, he came up with the idea for the first Del Webb Mint 400 Desert Rally, which is now one of the classic events of the sport.
Norm has competed actively in off-road events since 1968, when he entered the Stardust 7-11 race with Fred Sikorski. He actively competes today in a Hi-Jumper single-seat Class 9 car.
Johnson, 43, is married to Dolores and he has three daughters, Robin, Denise and Lisa Ann. A stepdaughter, Ruth Speidel, and stepson Ben Speidel, complete the family picture. He resides in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he owns a public relations and advertising firm.
From 1968 to the present, he has raced just about every type of vehicle. The first car he raced was a Burro two-seater with a stock 36 hp engine. He followed with a specially-built Renault-powered buggy in the 1969 Mint 400; a Revmaster single in the 1970 Mint; a Bandido two-seat in 1971; a Baja Bug in 1972-73; a Toyota mini-truck in 1975; and a Hi-Jumper single-seat Class 9 in 1976. He has competed in both the Baja 500 and 1000, with his best finish, 12th place, in the 1976 Baja International, and Third in 1976 Baja 1000. Best major race finish was Third Class 7 in the 1975 Mint 400, and Third Class 9, 1976 Baja 1000.
Johnson is a member of SNORE, SCORE, WRA, ARVRA, Chapala Dusters, and currently is promoting the Laughlin 250 off-road race in Nevada. With Walt Lott, he promoted the 1975 Laughlin 300 and the 1976 Casinos’ 350. Norm is a former sports writer for Copley News Service, covering sports in the Los Angeles area for nearly six years, before moving to Las Vegas as a featured sports columnist for the Las Vegas Sun. He won the Copley Journalism Award for Best Sports Story in 1963 and repeated in 1964 for the Best Featured News Story. He was winner of the 1963 Associated Press Award for Best Sports Story of the Year.
Johnson currently is sponsored in off-road racing by the Southpoint Nevada Club, located in Laughlin, Nevada. Co-driver is A.C. “Clark” Bingham.
Gordon Grimmis is presently owner-operator of a large body shop located at Friendly Ford in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is 35, married and has three children, Deborah, Wendy and Dawn. He and his wife Sandy have lived in Las Vegas since 1971.
Gordon’s enthusiasm for off-road racing began in 1971 when he watched a friend, Bill Vlcek, compete in the SNORE 250 off-road race in Las Vegas. He began to attend more off-road events until in 1973 Vlcek asked him to ride as co-driver in that year’s SNORE 250. Grimmis grabbed at the chance and has been hooked ever since. He rode with Bill for nearly two years until late 1974 when he constructed his own two-seat, unlimited class buggy. Gordon selected a Hobrect Panzer chassis and competed in his first race as a driver in the 1975 SNORE 250—finishing out of the money. He has since actively pursued a quest for a money finish in the MINT 400, LAUGHLIN 300, CALIFORNIA 400 and CASINOS’ 350. In the CASINOS’ 350, Gordon and his famous co-driver, former Indy 500 winner Roger Ward, finished 10th. Bob Duss and Tom Cwynar, Las Vegas, are currently sharing driving chores with Grimmis.
Grimmis actually goes back to off-road earlier than 1971 when, as an insurance adjuster in Southern California, he met and became friends with Bill Harkey of San Fernando Buggy fame—designer and builder of the Hi-Jumper race chassis.
Norm Johnson, co-author of this book, and Gordon were charter members of the Panzer Racing Team in Las Vegas. The two have raced against each other the past two years and eventually decided the sport needed a book that would tell the history of the sport. In May 1976, the two became partners and began working towards their goal— THE OFF-ROAD RACER.
Gordon’s responsibility in this book is compiling all information for the personal profile section—representing more than 250 drivers. He is also responsible for handling direct mailings to the hundreds of men and women who compete annually in our sport and will be responsible for updating all records from year to year.