Wednesday, February 18, 2009

NORRS: Elaborate Con or The Future of Short Course??? NORRS the real deal or is it some sort of elaborate shell game played with front companies and multiple websites??  In a world full of Nigerian email hoaxes and Bernie Madoff scamming hundreds of billions of dollars out of the richest and most powerful individuals and banking intitutions, that is the question that has the offroad world abuzz at the moment...From Dirt Newz to Sand Addiction Magazine to UTV Guide to Side by Side Action and on and on and on, numerous media outlets have been posting the NORRS' press releases over the past few months.  These press releases have promised the start up of a new short course off road series in the San Diego area and recently have indicated the signing of a number of sponsors for the series and a potential network TV deal with CBS.  Only recently have people begun to look deeper into what and who this truly out of nowhere series is.  The answers one gets when looking into the series have, to date, been unfulfilling at best and troublesome at worst...
For a little background I contacted Rhiannon (Sweet Devil on RDC) over at PCI Race Radios, who are listed on the NORRS site as the radio sponsor of the series to see what the connection was there.  Rhiannon told me that NORRS had contacted her through RDC asking if PCI would be interested in attending their races.  Rhiannon responded that PCI likely would have interest in attending and offered to put together a quote for the radios they would need for the series.  While CORR had 100 radios (at a minimum) on hand for their races, NORRS asked for 24.  Rhiannon also stated that she met both Wesley Carr and Aryn Oswalt (the listed COO and Media Coordinator for NORRS) at the recent Parker BITD race and recognized Oswalt from his time working with tickets at CORR.  No funds exchanged hands between the two companies and no agreements of any kind to my knowledge have been signed.  As Rhiannon states "there is no [formal] affiliation whatsoever other than a few RDC PM's and a handshake and hello at Parker".
Then it was on to Sunoco, who is listed as the NORRS fuel sponsor.  I was provided the name, number and email address of Mitchell Hart (Western U.S. & International Sales Manager for Sunoco) by Aryn Oswalt at NORRS who I contacted directly to set up a time for a brief interview on 2/17.  Mitchell responded to my inquiries that yes, NORRS and Sunoco do "have a sponsor deal" but that "It would not be appropriate for [him] to discuss details regarding the group" (meaning NORRS itself).  Both the Sunoco and PCI sponsorship/relationship have been confirmed by others in the RDC community besides myself and though do not constitute enormous sums of money or very "sticky" relationships they do indicate the beginnings of a groundwork for a legitimate enterprise.
Not knowing what or who exactly I was dealing with at this point I gave NORRS call back today, speaking again to Aryn Oswalt (NORRS Media Coordinator) hoping to flesh out some of the details surrounding this surprise entry into what is sure to be a chaotic '09 in the world of short course racing.
I first tried to get to the corporate structure of the series to determine what companies are involved here and how deep the pockets might be that are funding this new series.  According to Oswalt NORRS is way down on the corporate food chain that at the top starts with E-TSI (E-Tickets Software, Inc.) which he says is a company that provides ticketing solutions for events worldwide and underneath which is Venue Support.  Oswalt states that Venue Support does the engineering for and building of various entertainment facilities.  Then underneath Venue Support is VSS Entertainment who I was told is a combination media/event production company who has done everything from commercial films to consultation.  VSS Entertainment is the one company that can be confirmed to be at least somewhat legitimate as some may be familiar with them from their handling of the ticketing for CORR during its events.  NORRS is the final leaf on this branch receiving its funding from E-TSI who, per Aryn, has committed whatever funds are necessary to run the series for a planned five year period...
A quick Google of these companies and a look at their websites does reveal some peculiar things.  For what is a supposedly large, international company, the top three companies all list the same address of 2700-65 East Valley Pkwy in Escondido, CA while NORRS lists its address as 2550-21 Valley Pkwy in Escondido.  The websites themselves (all except for the NORRS
 site) are VERY basic in their design, mimic-ing one another and providing little to no information--not exactly what one would expect from a company with the funds necessary to run not only a race series but an international ticketing/infrastructure provider.  Additionally, I could only track down one of their listed references which was "The Bottling Company" which is a bar/concert hall in Mississippi, who shows Ticket Web as their electronic ticket broker, which lists their corporate headquarters as being in San Fran and appears to have no connection to E-TSI...
As far as the background of the two principals operators of NORRS (Wesley Carr and Aryn Oswalt), neither is exactly an offroad lifer.  Per Aryn, Carr claims motocross/dirtbiking as a serious hobby, being out every weekend on his bike and he has closely followed short course racing, familiar with all the drivers and classes but is not nearly as ingrained in the sport as say Ricky Johnson or Tony Vanillo/Myrl Akerman.  Aryn on the other hand claimed no depth of offroad experience to speak of.
Per Oswalt, NORRS may seem like a spur of the moment, seat of the pants operation but in actuality its development has been underway since early '08 and has tried hard to adjust its schedule to avoid conflicts with other series as a courtesy to its "competitors" which Aryn is hesitant to refer to LOORS and TORC as.  Oswalt feels that LORRS can offer greater flexibility and a lack of being sponsored by a particular racing team or manufacturer so that they could even do something like having Rally America vehicles come and race the NORRS events.  Additionally, Oswalt feels that with the stability of having a single main racing venue in the San Diego area and the excellent payback of entry fees (claimed to be 120% of total entry fees by Oswalt), NORRS will attract the necessary racers, particularly the buggie and sportsman racers, they they will need to put on a good show.
In reference to sponsors, Oswalt repeats the now familiar mantra of going after non-endemic companies saying that they have reached out to "any company with an INC. after their name" and though he was not willing to divulge any names he did say attracting sponsors was going well.
Sponsors, however, will not be the primary funding source for the series.  Instead, NORRS intends to run a profitable series based on ticket sales and vendor/food service revenue.  How can they do this?  Oswalt says that due to being part of a large corporation who has TV facilities, grandstands, bulldozers, etc. IN HOUSE they can build, maintain and run their facility at costs far lower than any other series, resulting in not only a profitable series and one that offers significant paybacks to its racers but one that can keep ticket prices low enough for an affordable family outing, even in this economy.
So where did this leave me?? be honest??  Right back where I started...I'll state right now that I just don't know what exactly is going on here and I humbly apologize to Wesley and Aryn if I am wrong here but something here just doesn't seem right...
None of the companies named herein that are supposedly related to NORRS have ANY posts, no news, no info at all out there on them, they're ghosts.  No one has written an article on them, their "press releases" listed on their site do not link to actual press releases, their client logins do not work at ANY of their sites, I called a couple of their contact numbers and extensions listed on their sites--and who answered each time at each of the different numbers and extensions??  Aryn...  The tone and demeanor of Wesley Carr's posts on RDC also speak volumes...Ever known Jim or Cissy or Tony or Myrl or Ricky to get into arguments on an internet forum?  Is that something a COO of a major series involving (in theory) millions of dollars does?  Do multimillion dollar corporations have a single address?
Now maybe, just maybe this is legit and its just a small time operation trying to appear larger than it is...maybe its a big company that feels no need advertise itself and put itself out in the public eye...maybe they have a lot of specifics that they are keeping under wraps at this point...Maybe in Wesley's next post on RDC he'll name the CEO of E-TSI and its board of directors...Maybe someone besides Aryn will answer the phone at NORRS or VSS...but at this point...I doubt it...
Perhaps I'm too cynical, too jaded, too much of a fan of taking the devil's advocate position on everything but I think a number of us have gotten the same hairs rising on the back of our necks feeling on this one.  This may be the single benefit of the disintegration of short course off road racing--with both TORC and LOORS out there all ready, the only way someone is going to hand their hard earned money over to a brand new series with a number of outstanding questions is if they PROVE IT.

No comments: