Roger Norman Exclusive Interview About HDRA

Many were stunned to learn about the rebirth of the legendary High Desert Racing Association (HDRA) when it was announced at the Dezert People 9 premiere at Norman Motorsports in El Cajon.  Roger Norman has been busy linking off-road related ventures together to form a stable platform for the growth of off-road racing. Over a year ago he started with the development of 120 square miles of private property in Reno with the goal to become the off-road version of Wrigley field.   RDC recently sat down with Roger Norman in an exclusive interview to gain insight into how he hopes to shape the future of desert racing through the Tahoe Reno Motorplex, Wide Open, and HDRA.

Race-Dezert.com (RDC)When did you first start kicking around the idea of sanctioning and promoting desert races?

Roger Norman (RN)This is something that I have wanted to do for years, the people were available and the industry was in need of something new.  It all came together in a very short period of time.  To be successful requires the right people all working towards a common vision.

RDCWhat do you think could be done better by existing sanctioning bodies?  What motivated you to create this organization?

RN– I certainly think that there is room for improvement, but that’s the way I feel about everything.  We actually want to use short course racing and other forms of professional four wheel racing as a model, where they provide huge exposure for sponsors through spectator attendance and TV.  This keeps the costs down for racers and the sponsorship opportunities up.  Without spectators and good TV packages that are put on channels that actually have viewers in the chosen time slot you have few sponsors.  Without sponsors you have to reach into the racer’s pocketbook to pay for the race.  There is a better way and we are excited to get working on it.

RDC– Desert racing seems like a difficult event to bring to television, how do you intend to do that?

RN– We have been working with several producers who currently produce a series of shows on Spike, Fox Sports, Discovery, Velocity and Speed Channel.  We will not be tying up the film rights as other promoters have done. We want the independent film makers as well. We will have our own helicopter and Cineflex Camera with an operator at each race and will be producing our own live broadcast and viral videos. After the races we will post videos as I have done in the past for Norman Motorsports. The video we collect will be made available to our media partners for exposure to all classes.

RDCTell us a little about the land you own.  How many acres is it and what is the terrain like?

RN– It is the largest deeded private property in the state of Nevada. The Tahoe Reno Motorplex offers 120 plus square miles of terrain to race on and the adjacent industrial park is the largest in the world.  We’ve got everything from pine forest to high mountain meadows here.  Wide open valleys with silt beds to shelf roads and hill climbs.  When people see it they are blown away.  The potential is off the charts.

RDCWhat is your vision for the Fireworks 500?

RN– It is going to be Racerpalooza at the Tahoe Reno Motorplex.  Desert racing, rally cross, rock crawling, motorcycle, UTV and Trophy Cart racing.  There will be multiple reasons for people to come out enjoy racing after the 4th of July holidays. One of which is that anyone including race fans with pre-runners or UTV’s will be able to pre-run.    The race site is only 15 minutes from the big casinos in Reno.  The race will be held the Saturday after 4th of July and include a full week of open pre-running on new terrain. This venue allows us to give the racers, families and friends the opportunity to recreate in the sport they love without the heavy restrictions imposed on government land. The start finish line is only five miles from the Truckee River and 15 miles from Pyramid Lake, which offers other opportunities for recreation during your race week at Tahoe Reno Motorplex. The world class destination of Lake Tahoe is a 30 mile drive from Reno. Tech and contingency will be held on Virginia Street in downtown Reno under the Biggest Little City arch. The race cars and trucks will be parked and contingency and tech will move through the field of vehicles.

RDCYou recently partnered up with Wide Open Baja.  How does Wide Open play into your plans?

RN– Wide Open is another piece of the puzzle.  Wide Open is the title sponsor of our inaugural race and will be sponsoring every vehicle in the race with a $250 reduction on entry fee for running the Wide Open logo on their race vehicle.  Up to ten Baja Challenge cars will be available for all five HDRA races for those who want to arrive and drive.  They will also be used to provide series sponsors and associate sponsors with a firsthand view of just how exciting this sport is.  HDRA doesn’t just ask them to write a check, we give them the opportunity to be part of the action.  What other motorsports or sanctioning bodies allow sponsors the ability to actually participate in the event. Our vision is that Wide Open allows sponsors to be apart of the event and participate on a professional level.

RDCHow did you link up with Robert Gross and Ken Flippin?  They have a reputation for being “doers” when they were part of SNORE.

RN– I first met Robert and Ken in 2010 at the Mint 400.   The following year I did a little business with them when I loaned SNORE some money because of a new BLM permit procedure where all proffer money was due 90 days prior to the event. The money was needed immediately for the Mint 400 to happen at all. They both struck me as being very proactive and great communicators.  They helped turn a small organization into a big one with almost a thousand cars in that series last season.  The infighting at SNORE was getting so bad that Ken and Robert were considering getting out of sport altogether.  They are a huge asset to the racing community and since I had already witnessed their hard work and dedication firsthand, the decision to make them managing members of the team was easy

RDCWhy bring back the HDRA name?  Are there any ties to that organization’s legacy?

RN– Ken, Robert, and everyone on the HDRA team are more than just racers or promoters, they are fans too.  They appreciate desert racing’s rich history and want to bring this sport back to its glory days with big car counts and real prize money.  With those goals reviving High Desert Racing Association made perfect sense.  Walt Lott’s grandson “Lucas Hand” has been instrumental in bringing HDRA back as well.

RDCMany organizations have tried to put on races in Laughlin, Primm, and Plaster City, but seem to be retreating now.  What will you be doing differently to make races successful in those venues?

RN-It is not getting any easier to put on events in the USA, that is for sure. We plan to make each race fun and exciting for the race fans and the racers. We will put the spectators in the areas they like to view from. It is much easier to get people to follow the rules when you give them the locations they like.  We will be charging a small fee of $5 at the first event for the best viewing areas. To make it safer we are providing 3,000 feet or more of six foot high fencing to keep spectators off the racecourse. Robert Gross wrote the original safety management plan for minimum standards for which HDRA and possibly others would comply to ensure the safety and longevity of our sport. The Weatherman Bob Stienburger will be the HDRA radio race ops coordinator for all HDRA races. Desert racings hero Ivan “the Ironman” Stewart will be the Grand Marshall of our inaugural race, the Wide Open Redline at Stateline in Primm, Nevada on January 28 & 29, 2012.

RDCCan you share your strategy for dealing with the BLM and insurance carriers?  These issues seem to be front and center in the desert racing community after last year’s tragedy at the California 200.

RN– We have not seen any difficulty in working with the BLM because they are as concerned about safety as we are.  We have worked out ways to keep racers from damaging sensitive areas and will have those areas watched by HDRA team members during racing. If racers choose to enter those areas they can be disqualified.  We are implementing a plan to minimize the damage to critical areas so that we can gain the trust of the BLM in the future. The BLM gave us the blessing to use some new roads and change things up a little at Primm so we are very excited.    Due to the P-51 crash at the Reno Air Races and the California 200 the insurance costs have gone up about 30% to 40% for desert racing, this has a major impact on the cost to produce an event in the USA.

RDCSo what’s next?

RN– We are currently pursuing some of the nostalgia, folklore and grandeur of years past all the while using today’s technology and safety standards not only for the racer but for the environment. We are currently and constantly searching for new and exciting venues that not only excite the racer about race day but also his family and friends who are there to participate in the event. Our belief is that every one of our HDRA events should not be just a race but also an event that every racer was proud to participate in. We want our racers, friends and family to be consumed by the environment of our event and there is no other place they would rather be than at the racetrack with HDRA.

  • B
  • December 23, 2011
having 2 race venues in are area can be great or a big dud the cost of racing a local event with are sportsman car is about 4 k per race we won the whole thing last year in vora and got about 600 $ making mony is not the issue its keeping a happy line with cost and permoters being abel to make a buck they have a lot invested and deserve a profet but we cant make are car counts to thin or we all loos
  • J
  • December 23, 2011
Being from the Tahoe area and now living in Baja . This sounds like it could be a lot of fun . There are lots of off road people in Northen Ca. That I know will play into this and the fans are there also . Good luck with this hope it works out for everyone . There is no reason this should not work . I race in Baja in the Mx. races and there is no big money to be made but there are lots of racers that show up to every race . No reason you can't do the same in the US. Wide Open does a great job in Baja and should should be a great part of this up there .
Wow, 120 square miles = 76800 acres
  • T
  • December 24, 2011
I hope this works out for you all but keep your cut throat people away from other racing org.events and trying to promot HDRA they already done enough damage!
I was overwhelmed when about nine (9) men dressed in neat, black race team shirts appeared at the Desert People 9 Function at Norman Motorsports. One of them was long-time friend Lawton Shank. I was being interviewed on a Live Feed and looked back to see Lawton smiling "ear-to-ear" and I had not noticed the yellow embroidered emblem on his shirt - "HDRA".

I worked for HDRA and Danny Cau and his capable group of hard working staff members in the mid to late 1990s. These folks practiced what they preached - but rather than "preach", they all "talked the talk and walked the walk." We had fun "serving" racers and other participants!

I know Ken Flippin and Robert Gross by reference for the most part; I know Lawton and Roger Norman as if they were brothers! It is undeniable that given certain leeway,discretion and open-mindedness, this entire HDRA formula will work so long as egos and "money-making"; get in quick, then get out" types do not tarnish the integrity of this wonderful sport that leaves a lasting impression upon those who seek the reprieve of playing in the "sandbox" - just for a weekend or a week - it is all united....

The BLM and HDRA got along just fine. We found that reporting and keeping the BLM "in the loop" (good or bad...) was a key component to a harmonious (that's was I said: "harmonious"...) with this branch of the Federal government.

As for insurance; I submit that if sponsors and investors were to look at the safety standards Roger, Ken and Robert are speaking of, the ideal situation would for HDRA to go "self insured" up to a limit, have the discreation to approve, deny or consider claims made in-house.

Small cities are self-insured; they are self-insured because they save a huge amount of money administering their own claims because the underwriters, adjusters and agents who sell event liability insurance are not always "up to the task" of investigating. That's want Danny Cau and Sal Fish had me do; respond to incidents, report fairly and accurately, then submit the information to the carrier and work with the adjuster - that poor soul stuck in a cubicle who needs to have an accurate "portrait" of what really happened.
  • R
    Racer advocate
  • June 9, 2013
This man should not run races, he doesn't care about the riders.
  • B
    Bill Fuentes
  • February 21, 2014

What a difference a little time and a little stress will do to a man who so calmly has all the right answers to those questions asked, but who got way over his head when he purchased SCORE!

I'm the author of thay upbeat December 29, 2011 commentary (above), and at the time I believed Roger would actually practice what he preached here in this article, but far from it!

Five months after my comment (above) I get this call from Norman - the charming, confident and patronizing tone of his voice lulled me in to listen... He said on May 17, 2012:

"Bill? We have been kickin' this thing around, and we have not yet decided on who our Official Starter will be for our Inaugural Reno "Fireworks 500", but when you name came up, we could think of no one other than you to have such an honor! Will you consider it?"

Still naive, I not only said "YES!", I also volunteered to come up four weeks prior and stay two weeks after the event, to help clean up! I arrived on June 7, 2012 and promptly left - all the way back to Los Angeles - three days later on June 10th; for all the right reasons!