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Spencer Remembers
by Harry Spencer
Jul 14, 2012 | 1334 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Dan McGee
Driver Tracy Graf participates in the Fireworks 500 held on a course in the Reno Tahoe Industrial park east of Sparks. The race marked the rebirth of the High Desert Racing Association.
Tribune/Dan McGee Driver Tracy Graf participates in the Fireworks 500 held on a course in the Reno Tahoe Industrial park east of Sparks. The race marked the rebirth of the High Desert Racing Association.
It isn’t often that this area achieves national recognition but this month Reno-Sparks will receive the nation’s spotlight for two very different reasons.

The first occurred last weekend when the big news in the off-road racing world was the running of the inaugural Firecracker 500. The second will be the National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars later this month, which is scheduled to see both President Obama and his potential challenger Mitt Romney appear in back-to-back sessions to address the gathering.

Last weekend’s official race marked the rebirth of the High Desert Racing Association (HDRA), which was headed up by local Roger Norman. Joining Norman in rekindling HDRA were Robert Gross and Ken Flippin. Together with a core group of other experienced desert racing personnel, HDRA wants to become a new entity in the off-road field. Their pitch will be a rather novel one as it will feature racing by racers for racers. Their future events will include both Nevada and California.

The original HDRA was founded by the late Walt Lott in the mid 1970s. Following Lott’s passing, the organization underwent several incarnations and faded from the desert racing scene in the 1990s.

Last week’s Firecracker 500 was held on a course located on the grounds of the Reno Tahoe Industrial Park east of Sparks. The park is under the direction of Roger Norman, Sr. and Lance Gilman. Future HDRA events include the Southern Nevada 400 at Pahrump, Oct. 5-7 and the Race on the River at Laughlin, Nov. 9-12.

I recall the first exposure that Norman had to off-road racing when he (Norman) invited me to go shooting on the undeveloped Double Diamond Ranch several years ago. At that time I was working with Reno’s premiere off-road racer Rod Hall. I invited Rod to join us and he picked me up in his Hummer vehicle. When I introduced the two, Roger, who was a racing buff, became intrigued with Hall’s Hummer, to the point that within a few years he joined Hall’s racing team. After a few seasons with Hall, Roger advanced to establish his own racing team.

I first met Rod through another off-road racer, Kent Bullock of Washoe Valley. Shortly after that Hall invited Bullock to run a checkpoint on the Baja 1000, the granddaddy of all off-road races. Bullock convinced me it would be a “fun” outing to take with our sons. The four of us journeyed some 600 miles into the Baja Peninsula and set up camp for a three-day stay. The checkpoint was located at a tiny fishing village called El Datil. Since the race itself crisscrossed the peninsula, the checkpoints prevent contestants from short-coursing the race.

Each driver has to get a “chit” at every checkpoint on the course to qualify. Checkpoint teams were made up of two persons working two hours with four hours off during the 24-hour plus race. The race was over for us when the last driver had passed our checkpoint and we couldn’t leave El Datil fast enough.

In addition to the Norman adventure with HDRA, another motorplex is being constructed to the east by local contractor, Norm Dianda. The Dianda site will have permanent grandstands and will be featured nationally on ESPN later this summer. So it looks like off-road racing is alive and well in northern Nevada for the foreseeable future.

As for the VFW, I have written in length previously about when Reno lawyer Les Fry was national commander of that group and I was his public relations officer. At that time in the mid sixties the annual convention was held in New York with some 10,000 attendees. However, the main attraction at the Big Apple at that time was that The Beatles were staying at a nearby hotel. The crowd of “Peaceniks” who attempted to picket us was outmatched by the throngs outside The Beatles’ hotel. Of all the speakers on the day he was installed as national commander, Fry was the best.

The highlights of Fry’s tenure were that he visited the troops in Vietnam and, as far as Reno was concerned, that he brought actor Raymond Burr to be a guest speaker at a function in the Skyroom of the Mapes Hotel.

This year’s VFW Convention in Reno will receive much more national publicity than did the one in New York. The reason is that the two men running for president are locked into a head-to-head battle so it will probably draw a huge number of the national press. The meetings are closed to the public but should generate a tremendous amount of publicity for Reno-Sparks.

UNR basketball grads

A handful of former Wolf Pack hardwood stars are currently vying for positions in the NBA. They are headed by Ramon Sessions, who eschewed a $4.4 million one-year contract with the Los Angeles Lakers in hopes of landing a multi-year pact from another prestigious team. The other four include Luke Babbitt, Armon Johnson, Olek Czyz and Dario Hunt. Along with Denver Nuggets’ center JaVale Magee, who already has a solid future, this is probably the first time that so many former Silver and Blue roundballers have been actively pursuing professional careers.

Harry Spencer is a Reno freelance writer.
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Spencer Remembers by Harry Spencer

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