After all, as a Trophy Truck competitor, Norman’s much-publicized collision with a backmarker motorcycle competitor during the 2010 Tecate SCORE Baja 500, and his outspoken commentary regarding motorcycle and ATV safety afterward, have left many bike teams concerned over the future of these classes now that he has acquired the legendary sanctioning body, one which owes a great deal of its history and success to these classes.
Yet Norman’s presence on the starting line to see off every motorcycle and ATV entry in this year’s Tecate SCORE Baja 500 field at least gave the impression that he doesn’t simply consider them as mere obstacles to the all-powerful Trophy Trucks and buggies that serve as Baja racing’s biggest draw. He is concerned about their future, and he wants to see the classes grow.
To that end, Norman has implemented changes to some of the bike and ATV classes, most notably in the Sportsman ranks, for this year’s 500, and if he is able to implement his plans fully, even more are in store for the Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 in November.
“I think where we are right now is that we are on the ground floor,” Norman said. “There are a lot of things that we can do to increase the bike counts. One of the things is to make it a bigger event for the bikes and give it its own television show.”
In order to do that, however, Norman says he wants to give the bikes and ATVs their own separate day of racing at SCORE events. Doing so, he says, would give spectators more reason to come to the towns where SCORE races are held and give the motorcycle and ATV racers more attention. His tentative blueprint for a race weekend would include Thusday qualifying or the Trophy Trucks and Class 1 buggies, a program that was implemented for the first time at this year’s 500. Friday would be reserved strictly for motorcycle and ATV racing. Norman believes that doing so would increase, not decrease, interest and participation in these classes.
“It will just be more exciting,” Norman said. “I’m hoping that we could see 500 to 1000 motorcycles off the starting line. I think it’s doable. I think it’s just a matter of getting a few sponsors on board to cover the massive extra cost, because it is a huge undertaking to have a full extra day of racing. But it’s something we really need to make happen, and it’s something that could increase the bike counts because it would make it so that anyone could compete. Right now, when you have Trophy Trucks and cars that are getting mixed up with the bikes, it isn’t a very good experience for the bikes, and it isn’t a very good experience for the cars and trucks. It’s just extremely dangerous. So the changes that we’ve made for this race and also for San Felipe are getting the motorcycles way, way out front. For this race, I think we are doing a much better job. We’ll see how far the motorcycles get, but I think that we will finish 90% of the Sportsman bikes before the first Trophy Truck comes in.
The main change for this race is a substantial reduction in mileage for the Sportsman bikes, who will take a cutoff before the Summit, reducing their race distance from 500.99 miles to 397.99 miles. The only hitch in the plan, Norman says, was an announcement from the Federal Police less than 24 before the start of the race that the motorcycles must maintain 37 mph on all federal highways.
“We had calculated the Trophy Truck average would be about 49-50 mph, and the bike guys, if they were hitting 60 mph on the pavement, would still be making time on the cars and trucks,” Norman said. “So that totally screwed up our calculations. We had two meetings with the Federal Police prior to this announcement, and they never said a word.”
Norman has other changes in the works for the motorcycles and ATVs at the Tecate SCORE Baja 1000. The beginning of his plan might sound counterproductive to his intended safety goals, but he says that there is a method to the madness.
“What I want to do is start the motorcycles the night before the race, right out of the driver’s meeting,” Norman said. “This year’s 1000 will be a loop race, but for the 1000 that goes all the way down the peninsula, that would put the night section at the beginning, closer to the better hospitals in case someone needs medical assistance. Instead of someone having to be Medevac’d from way down the peninsula, we would have the night section closer to the border and some of the best hospitals in the world, including the Angeles hospital in Tijuana. I just went and toured it with their director, who is now one of two of four race doctors for the race. The other is the head of trauma at the Loma Linda Medical center (in San Diego).
“People just don’t realize how dangerous it is,” Norman says. “But I’ve actually been in a truck and been in the situation of trying to avoid someone a million times, where you come up on them so fast that there’s no time to stop and all you can do is try to figure out a way to get around them in the bushes. The time that I had the accident, there was no time to even flinch. I was going 120 mph. I don’t want anyone to have to go through that.”
Here’s to hoping that Norman’s plans for the future of motorcycles and ATVs in SCORE will achieve the intended outcome of increasing both rider participation and safety. As they say, time will tell.
Story by Scott Rousseau