In this week’s interview Speedway Media catches up with Lance Norick. The former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver competed in the Series from 1996-2002 for L&R Motorsports, a family-owned team. Norick is from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma where he resides today.
SM: Explain how you got your start into racing?
Norick: “I started racing motorcycles as a kid and got hurt, then moved into Formula cars. I actually had the opportunity to drive in the Trans-Am road racing series and trying to find money like going to sponsors, and all the sponsors were like, Trans what? Then we started talking about the NASCAR Truck Series way back when it first started, they were like, oh yeah, NASCAR. At that point, I realized if we wanted to go racing, we would have to go NASCAR. The only reason we went NASCAR racing is because that was the only place we could find funding to go race. Originally, I had a ride with Walker Evans back in 1996. Walker is a great guy, but his wife which kind of pulled the strings around there, isn’t exactly friendly to the crew or anybody else, so halfway through the season, we decided we needed to do this on our own. That’s when we moved to Charlotte and found a shop, bought some trucks and built some trucks.”
“We lived out of a motel in Mooresville (North Carolina) right off exit 36 for five months.”
SM: Were there any other sports that interested you or was it simply racing?
Norick: “It was racing pretty much. I raced motocross professionally for four years. I’m not big enough or fast enough to do any other sports. The racing was in my blood. I came from a road course racing background which is totally different. (NASCAR) was obviously a learning curve. Over time, we learned and did the best we could with the funding we had.”
SM: The Truck Series competed on road courses. Do you feel like your road racing skills helped you at those tracks?
Norick: “Oh yeah, I definitely think it helped. I wouldn’t say our finishes showed too much of it because back in the day, that’s when they had all the road course ringers show up, guys like Ron Fellows, Boris Said, The Simo Brothers. We had stacked road racing fields, but we ran good. However, the road course ringers showed up in road course built trucks for that one race. We had a truck and we were trying to set it up to turn right and left. It was fun, we got to run Portland, The Glen, Sears Point.”
SM: At Watkins Glen, you were the first driver to run rain tires during a practice session.
Norick: “I didn’t realize we were doing anything special. They obviously stated we were going to run this race rain or shine. So everybody had the wiper on, tires. Sitting there during practice in the pouring rain, everyone is sitting in the garage. Finally, my crew chief said, ‘Hell, let’s go out.’ I didn’t realize that Ron Hornaday was all pissed off because they were trying to get out first. There was no, oh we need to be the first out. We went out and ran some laps, came back and everyone is in the pits saying, oh you were the first one and everything. It was crazy. We’d run down the back straight away at The Glen going into the bus stop, there was so much spray coming inside the truck, that you’re sitting there with a squeegee trying to clean the windshield off so you could see the turn. So you’re trying to clean the window and trying to turn.”
SM: Was there any pluses or minuses fielding your own team in the Truck Series the second year?
Norick: “It’s all about money, I think now if you had three or four million dollars, hire the right people and build a couple of trucks, you could be a good team. Obviously, the cost wasn’t that much in ’96. But soon after that, the series saw Childress, Hendrick, and all those guys had Truck teams and had the budgets and got into that range, which we didn’t have. It got to be tough.”
SM: You had sponsorship from the NHL. Were you able to gain any perks like free tickets or merchandise?
Norick: “At the time, my dad was working with a group of investors and they were thinking about bringing a National Hockey League team to Oklahoma City, which obviously they didn’t do that. That was a partnership with NHL, they were introducing us to sponsors to the hockey league. It was fun, but I wouldn’t say it brought us any sponsorship. All the games we were around, we would drive our truck on the ice at halftime. At Phoenix, we almost got thrown into jail. We were set up in front of the stadium at the game, signing autographs on our cards. It was a real race truck, it wasn’t a show truck. Somebody was supposed to come get us but nobody came. So we were like, alright well, I guess we’ll start it up and drive it around the stadium. Obviously with no headlights, driving it and we get to the stoplight, my truck driver throws his arm out the window like a turn single. All these Sherriffs were just sitting there acting confused, next thing we know we were getting pulled over. The police were saying, you don’t even have no headlights. And we stated we were just going to go right here. Someone came on the radio to the police and said just let them go. It’s not like we’re downtown Phoenix joyriding in a race truck. We were just trying to get underneath the stadium.”
SM: You were involved in a big wreck at Daytona in 2000, which is still one of the most talked about wrecks today. Do you remember the wreck?
Norick: “You know, when it’s all happening, there’s so much smoke. The truck landed up on my windshield, we were flipping and I caught on fire. I remember getting out of the truck in the infield and I stepped out on the grass, and you know you’re kind of dazed, what’s going on? I get out and there’s literally an entire motor laying in the grass next to my truck. I’m thinking, oh that’s weird. So I’m walking back to the garage and pit lane, I think it was Richie Wauters who was the crew chief for Geoffrey (Bodine) for that race and he grabs me, and says, can you go over there and check to see if Geoffrey is okay. Then by the time he noticed my firesuit and how it was all burned up, he said, go on.”
SM: The year later you posted a fourth-place finish at the same racetrack. How crazy was that?
Norick: “The crazy thing is, I was good friends with Ricky Hendrick. Here we are, we were sitting in good position with five to go, both our trucks are Chevys and two trucks are Dodges. My spotter is up there talking with Ricky. I think Ricky was in first. My spotter was like, Lance, we will go with Ricky wherever he goes, we’ll finish second and push you to the win. We took the green flag, I think it was Ted Musgrave and Joe Ruttman, really experienced guys, they got the run on us. Ricky got panicked or something and he jumped between them and left me out to dry. And I was thinking, oh man. Of course, the Dodges, shuffled him out of line and they went on to finish first and second, and we were third and fourth. I was just like, why did you go with them? They’re not going to go with you, but I think he just got panicked.”
“I had a really good speedway truck that was pushing the rules. The guy who worked at Hendrick built my Daytona truck. He was the head fabricator at one of the big teams for a lot of years, I’m sure he still is. They would never listen to him on the truck and he was my neighbor, so he came over at night and built me a truck. I remember taking it to Talladega for a test. NASCAR said everybody run, do what you gotta do. Then at lunchtime, we’re going to tell all the times, what we think the rule package is going to be. So all day long, we were testing with air boxes and computers. We were fast and everyone slowed down a second, and everyone came over and was like, what are these guys doing? We had a good speedway truck, pushed the limit but we passed tech.”
SM: Did you feel as though, you had a special racing technique that came to you naturally?
Norick: “I wouldn’t necessarily say I liked speedway racing because it’s such a chess match out there. I enjoy the process getting there. I enjoy finding the loopholes in rules, trying to build stuff at night when no one was at the shop. I liked that part of it, it was fun. The speedway part, you’re kind of holding on hoping there isn’t a big wreck. I liked the Texas type tracks, one-mile type tracks. The short tracks stuff was a little bit challenging to me.”
SM: Your team eventually closed up shop in 2002 after Homestead. Were you satisfied at this point in your career, if this was your last race?
Norick: “It came down to where we had sponsorship. We cultivated some pretty good sponsors that some of the Cup teams basically stole from us. So we would have a sponsor one year and they would be at Roush Racing the following year. It got to the point where it was like, we’re going out finding new sponsors and a year later they’re on a Busch or Cup team, paying twice the money. It got frustrating and my dad finally came to me and said, look we can keep doing this but we’re spending a lot of time and a lot of our own money to do this. At the end of the day, if there’s any inheritance you’re going to receive later on in life, this is it. It came to, we can keep doing it until we’re out. At that point, I realized it wasn’t smart because it takes so much money.”
“I was out of the car until I moved to Arizona, then I started back racing in 2008. I’ve been racing again since ’08, I’m running winged sprint cars now. It’s something I can work on. It’s a lot more dangerous, but I enjoy it and I always wanted to do it.”
SM: After all these years, do you miss being out on the track at all?
Norick: “Yeah, I do. I mean, I look at Eldora when they run on dirt and I’m like, oh man that looks like so much fun. Being that I still have been racing a lot, I don’t feel like I would get into a truck and fall out of the seat because I had been racing for the last 10-20 years. If someone called me and said, hey do you want to fill in if a driver is hurt, I definitely would.”
“Just like when I was hurt, Hermie Sadler would fill in for me for a while when I broke my arm at Memphis or Gateway. I would start the race and get out at the first caution and he would get in and finish. He did that for us for a while when I was hurt. Hermie was really good to help.”
SM: In 2001, you had three top fives and five top-10s and finished 11th in the standings. Do you feel as though that was your best season in trucks?
Norick: “We ran good that season. I’m good friends with Coy Gibbs and was good friends with J.D. Gibbs. I would’ve finished 10th that year if it wasn’t for J.D. I always gave both of them a hard time because J.D. would show up at Richmond and he’s a part-time racer. I think he wrecked me at Richmond; I know he did. His crew ended up putting the shocks on the wrong corner or something, that’s how he turned me around. It wasn’t intentional when he was doing it. Me and Coy was running for top-10, and I think Coy finished top-10 that year. So I always gave Coy a hard time. We had some good stretches in our truck. We finished second or something at Chicago, they tore our truck apart in tech, thinking we had traction control or something. For our budget, limited crew, all of our guys worked hard and did our best.”
SM: What does a day in the life of Lance Norick 2019 consist of in 2019? Do you still live in Oklahoma?
Norick: “I moved back to Oklahoma in 2017. I opened up a Tru-Value Hardware store. I’ve been in the building business for a long time and I just got sick of chasing rich people for their money, so I came home and opened up a hardware store. I also try to race 20-25 times a year in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas region in the ASCS 360 stuff. My five-year-old just starting racing this year. I’m having a good time going to the races with him and he’s starting to figure it out and mash the gas and win races. I think what I see from him, if he enjoys it, later on, we’ll see.”
SM: To wrap things up, what was the best part about racing in NASCAR?
Norick: “The crew guys, the team. I had some really good guys, especially early on. We just had a great crew, great guys, had fun and worked hard. Just the friendships you gain that you still have today. That was the most fun. Obviously, the racing was fun but it’s a business and it’s hard. The friendships and all the people that you met, you can’t replace that. That’s what I remember the most, other than you know, you had a good finish here and there, but the friendships don’t go away.”
Norick had 154 starts, three top fives and 15 top-10 finishes in a seven-year span in the Truck Series. He scored a career-best finish of third at the now-defunct Chicago Motor Speedway in 2001. The Oklahoma City native also had starts in what was then the NASCAR Busch Series, in 2003. Norick also has starts in the Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car Series, NASCAR Southwest and Southeast Series, as well the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.