RENO, NV JUNE 16, 2010 - Roger Norman and the Crystal Bay Casino team of Larry Roeseler and Eric Branstrom put all their effort into winning the 2010 Baja 500 and overcame 31 positions to finish 4th overall by only :33 seconds with a time of 9:34:54. The team was challenged with the usual brutal Baja terrain plus miles of dust and an incident with a motorcycle. “The accident with the Sportsman motorcycle rider in the dust has shook me to the core. I have been devastated and demoralized about off-road racing since Saturday’s race,” commented Roger Norman in an email to his fellow Trophy Truck competitors. “We have all had our close calls and I can tell you that until you run someone over in the dust of another trophy truck at over 100 mph you will not understand the devastating feeling that is created even if they come out with non life threatening injuries.”
Roeseler and Branstrom started in the Crystal Bay Casino #8 truck and drove to race mile 198, overcoming about half of the field. Starting so far behind, they had two logjams to contend with including a truck stuck in a water crossing and a truck that had run into a ditch. “The first half of the race had a great pace even with the couple of delays and a flat tire. Larry handed me a solid truck around mid-pack,” said Norman.
Norman took over the driver seat with Branstrom continuing to co-drive and headed across Baja to the coast. “Our driver change was quick, and other than loosing the rear brakes which made the truck hard to control in the turns, we continued to click off positions towards the win,” said Norman.
The #8 trophy truck team had two incidents that cost them time. The first was a one-minute penalty, which on adjusted time took them out of third place. The second was a much more serious incident with a motorcycle rider at around race mile 225 on Mike’s Sky Ranch Road.
First time Baja competitor, Sportsman motorcycle rider Tim Nugent from Georgia, continued to race on course instead of pulling off and waiting for dust to clear after being passed by #35 Robbie Pierce’s trophy truck and didn’t realize that the #8 Roger Norman trophy truck was in the hunt to pass Pierce. The motorcycle was grazed by the right front tire of Normans truck in the blinding dust. As soon as the incident occurred, Norman stopped the truck, called for immediate assistance and got out to assist the down rider. “There were 5 locals there, including a doctor, that repeatedly urged me to continue the race, but I couldn’t until I saw our chase truck coming with our staff paramedic on board and knew other resources were on the way,” said Norman. After what may have been 10 – 15 minutes, Norman got back into the truck to continue the race. “I wasn’t in racing mode anymore. I couldn’t pass, I couldn’t get into the dust for fear that another motorcycle may be making the same mistake, it really shook up Eric and I. I lost complete focus and desire to win for over 40 minutes before we finally got radio transmission that verified Tim was going to be ok, which was a huge relief to us and helped us regroup to finish the race.” Norman didn’t catch Pierce again until Ojos Negros, about 150 miles later.
The doctors say he will make a full recovery and he is in good spirits. “I feel like I got run over by a truck!” laughed Nugent in a phone interview this week. “It has never crossed my mind that this accident was mean spirited and I have conveyed to Roger that this was a racing accident.” Nugent is in the Airforce Reserves and has been racing motorcycles for years. “I have always wanted to ride the Baja 500 without really knowing what I was saying. I have had the desire, but never the means to accomplish it. Now at 45, I have both the means and the desire and wanted to check it off the ‘Bucket List’” commented Nugent. He and his group of friends and family researched and prepared for this event the best that they could. “We had everything from SPOTs, to GPS’s, to blinking lights…I know we did everything possible to make sure everyone racing and chasing would be safe, but did not really know the true hazards of being passed. If a truck is coming up on you at 120mph, the blinking light isn’t going to do you much good, especially in the dust!”
Norman is petitioning to set up a structure to help protect the least knowledgeable and capable riders in the sport. It is important that riders have a safety training course, and are not the class closest to the fastest vehicles, but start behind all the 4 wheel vehicles or the day before. “It is a miracle that Tim Nugent survived this accident. The next guy will not be so lucky and I want to avoid any one of you from having this pain and fear I have felt. The incident could have happened to any one of us and unless we do something to force the issue nothing will be done,” Norman adds in his email to fellow competitors.
Roger Norman is so adamant on this topic that he is publicly stating that the Baja 500 will be the last SCORE race for Norman Motorsports and they will be closing the doors permanently if the safety of the sports least knowledgeable and capable participants is not protected.
“This was a very important race for us as a team,” states Norman, “We were planning to add another overall to Larry Roeselers incredible record. With the challenges set in front of us, we still finished 4th and I think that is a remarkable accomplishment coming from the rear of the pack.” Since the accident Norman has been visiting Tim Nugent everyday in the hospital and is adamant on helping change the direction of desert racing to account for the safety of all involved.