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VORRA chief looking ahead
by Dan McGee
Jan 02, 2011 | 1685 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Tribune photo by Dan McGee - Wes Harbor, owner of the VORRA series, stands by a former Rod Hall Hummer located at the Off Road Motorsports Hall of Fame in the Harrah's Auto Museum. After helping to bring VORRA back from the brink of extinction, Harbor is looking toward better times for the series.
SPARKS — This past year the Valley Off Road Racing Association completed its 35th season. Not bad for a series that seemed on its way out just a few years ago.

Wes Harbor, the current owner and Spanish Springs resident is quite pleased about this turn of events. Oddly enough he really didn't participate in racing until after college.

"I was born and raised in Reno and graduated from McQueen High School in 1988," Harbor said. "I played a little football when I was in high school but not a lot. I was more focused on academics and when I moved away for college I got my electronics degree from DeVry University in Phoenix, Arizona."

During his growing up years his uncle, Vern Hazen, owned Hazen's Western Cycle Shop in Sparks where his father Larry Harbor ran the service department.

"So I kind of grew up around motorcycles and the Virginia City Grand Prix so that's how we spent Mother's Day, " he said. "My dad was more on the mechanical side supporting riders but I just grew up around it, being in the outdoors, water skiing with the family, camping and on dirt bikes."

Harbor added that his father didn't have him race dirt bikes because he probably didn't want his son to get "busted up."

After college Harbor moved to Los Angeles where he found a job and met people that were into sand cars and buggies.

"At the time I moved back home in 1998 I decided to build a sand buggy," he said. "Through that I got introduced to some guys that raced in VORRA."

His meeting with desert racers guys eventually led him to ride as a co-driver with a good friend at a race. And the experience got him hooked on racing.

"The first ride in a racecar was just phenomenal as it took off-roading to a different level for me," he said. "I had a pretty capable sand car but it's mind boggling how the cars can handle the sort of abuse the desert can offer and how tough it is."

After riding in a few races as a co-driver for fun, Harbor switched to driving. With his experience there were no surprises in that first race.

"I knew what the car was capable of and really enjoyed the whole thing," he said. "When you get into desert racing it's such a survival game as it's an endurance deal. You have to save the car to finish."

One popular saying in racing, given to him by "Ironman," Ivan Stewart was, "you must first finish to finish first." And the good drivers in any level of motor sports usually follow this rule.

Harbor considers himself a "shade tree mechanic," and got that term from when he and his father used a mulberry tree they fixed a hoist on it to pull engines when they worked on cars in his family's back yard. This background of fixing things came in very handy if his car ever broke down during a race.

Most desert racers have a couple of small tool bags, at least one spare tire and wheel plus some parts strapped to their cars, buggies or trucks when they take off. And sometimes, depending on what happens, they'll need all those spare items just to get back to the pits.

"At that time I was racing in the sportsman class, which is a mix of about anything as there are really no rules. Call it a novice or veteran's class as some of the veteran's decided they aren't going to chase the pro classes anymore," he said. "And some of the new guys race in sportsman for a season to figure which class they really want to race in."

In his rookie year as a driver in 2003 he campaigned the full season and won the Sportsman championship.

"Then I had the feeling that I was damned if I do and damned if I don't," he said. "If I stayed in the class and won it again, I'd be a sandbagger but if I didn't then people would say it was a fluke."

So the next season Harbor raced in Class 1 as his engine was too big for the limited classes. That season he was a mid pack finisher.

Then he moved into Class 10 when he partnered up with a Kenny Ott from Fallon. With two cars they used Ott's for short course events while Harbor, who now had a water-cooled Subaru powered car, used his for the 2005 desert season.

After running both cars in different events they ended up the season second in Class 10 behind Sam Berri.

VORRA's season is split as it begins and ends outside of Sacramento at Prairie City OHV Park where the short course events are held. Then on Memorial Day weekend the series moves to Nevada for the desert part that ends with the Labor Day event.

While the same car or truck can be used for both types of racing it pays to have two racers due to the differences between both types of events.

Harbor explained a short course car should to be lighter and more nimble. Since the circuit is about a mile long things like tool bags and extra parts are taken off to lighten the cars, and since they need to be nimble, they are set lower on their suspensions and can use a shorter wheelbase.

"I call it motocross with cars as there's lots of turns and jumps," he said.

On the desert durability is key as those cars are usually heavier, and carry the necessary parts and tool bags. A driver that is broken down on the course needs at least a chance or repairing the damage.

And in the high-speed world of desert racing vehicles will run over rocks, through ditches and over other obstacles so these cars and trucks are set higher on their suspensions for better clearance.

Around the series 25th anniversary Robinson decided to retire and Rich Kline bought the series. This started a chain of events that ended up with Harbor being the third person to own and run VORRA in the past 10-years.

Problems arose after the change in ownership and the result was declining car counts for the series.

"And I was just getting interesting in it and it was becoming my favorite thing to do," Harbor said. "I was spending all my time doing it and I was seeing the club I was in going downhill."

Harbor, who eventually stopped racing, did what he could to help the association and eventually it came back to local resident Dennis Kordonowy, a veteran driver that had been racing in the series since the 1970's.

"Rich Kline turned it over to Dennis but at that time there wasn't much left of VORRA and that went from the fall of 2006 to the spring of 2008," he said.

Managing a series isn't for everybody as it entails a lot of work, getting permits and dealing with the pressures of driver's egos. During this time Harbor was helping the club and supporting Kordonowy in any way he could.

"Finally Dennis just threw in the towel and put it up for sale. And since it seemed that someone needed to help I just jumped in with both feet," Harbor said. "I took it over in May of 2008, finished up the final five races and have completed both the 2009 and 2010 seasons."

Due to the split season not all the members race in all the events. Harbor explained that only about 25 percent of the membership competes in every race.

The remainder is split between those that only are interested in the short course part and a larger group will drop in to one or the other type of race. And some of those are from out of the area.

"And there's quite a bit of interest from guys that are traveling from multiple states across the west," he said. "We've had guys travel in from the Vegas area, Phoenix, San Diego and there's a team that comes out of either North or South Dakota for at least one race very year."

At present the association is pretty healthy with its membership about 350 and over the last three years the car counts have moved from an average of 40 to 50 for every of VORRA's seven or eight events a year.

"That's been pretty good as we've been maintaining our core when most racing is down," he said. "We're just trying to keep it affordable to the extent we can and keep it geared toward the racers. That's my background so I try and run it for the guy in the helmet and make it fun for them."

Harbor is well aware of how racing is a family sport that covers generations. Currently some of the youngest racers are following in the tire tracks of their parents and sometimes grandparents.

And a VORRA event is usually a large camping event as well with people mingling and enjoying just being together and outside.

One future goal is to have at least one race in the Reno area. In fact the current schedule shows two of them listed.

Harbor is also looking at having a short track event in this area. Don Gilman from Exit 28 and off road racer Roger Norman, who owns land in that area seem interested.

If things work out, and they're just in the discussion stage right, Exit 28 might host both a short and long course event sometime in the near future.

Another option is to extend the test track John Harrah had built at the Mustang Motor Plex for use as a short course event.

Harbor's good feelings for this came from the success of the Outlaw 250 run this summer as part of an event hosted by the Grand Sierra Hotel and Casino.

He also acknowledged two people that have helped in with their support as he's been building VORRA back to its previous state.

"I specially want to thank Rod Hall as he's really made a big difference in 2010," he said. "The help and advice with his year's of experience at being in every Baja 1000 that's been held is appreciated. And he really wants to help VORRA be a legitimate race series up here in Northern Nevada."

Harbor also feels honored as Hall, who is a legend in off road racing, asked him to be on the board of directors for the Off Road Motorsports Hall of Fame located in the Harrah's Auto Museum.

"I was very proud and honored to be considered for that," he said. "I'm excited to be able to help and drive awareness for the Hall of Fame."

He also thanked the owner of Fibercraft, Bill Lott, who not only has driven Harbor's car but also kind of acts as the historian for VORRA with his many albums of photos and knowledge of the series over its life.

Looking toward this year and the future, Harbor likes what he sees despite the current economic situation.

"I'm very optimistic, just really, really happy that we've been able to learn the basics over the last couple of years," he said. "This year was kind of our 'break the mold,' season as we were able to get VORRA published in several magazines. It just gives a lot more attention in the market for an association that's been around since the 70's."

OTHER RACING NEWS

•This Saturday evening those that race in the MRANN series will gather at the Atlantis Hotel and Casino for the annual awards banquet where the series champions will be honored.

RESUTLS

VORRA - 2010 Champions

Class 1 - Sam Berri

Class 10 - Red Team Racing

Class 4 - Brad Falin

Group T - Mike Koenig

Group 8 - Bill Jarvis

Group 7 - Roger Caballos

Class 9 - Jay Schroeder

Class 11 - Gary Herrod

Class 1600 - J.J. Schnarr

Sportsman - Terry Shelton

Pilots - Aaron Rupley

UTV - Dennis Jean

Trophy Karts - Blake Scudder

Trophy Karts Modified - Colton Scudder

Pro Quad - Bradley Raceworks

Amateur Quad - Steven Daniels

Bantum Quad - Shania Bennett

Youth Quad - Josh Machado

Junior Quad - ShawnSouza

Pee Wee Quad - Blake Machado
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