Eric Norris has been successful in many different disciplines. He is a father, son, husband, stuntman, stunt coordinator, off road racer, road course racer and a former NASCAR Winston (now K&N) West Series Champion. He has been away from paved oval track racing for some time now, but is scheduled to make his return to the oval track wars when the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series returns to Kern County Raceway (CA) on October 29.
Norris will be driving a Toyota Camry with backing from Approved Memory, Lucas Oil and K&N Filters as a teammate to 2001 NASCAR Southwest Tour Champion Craig Raudman and Legends star Ricky Schlick. The Dave Reed Racing Team will be ready for action with three-time K & N West Series Champion Eric Holmes in the spotter’s stand and championship winning crew chief Mario Isolo overseeing the effort for Norris.
Eric Norris is the son of Martial Arts Expert and Television Actor, Producer and Screen Writer Chuck Norris. He grew up inheriting his father’s love for speed and his competitive nature. Chuck won six World Middleweight Karate Championships as well as competing in off-shore powerboat competitions, off-road racing and celebrity races events. Chuck passed on his love for speed to Eric, by sharing the driving roles with him, when they competed in off-road racing events.
“My dad is kind of the hub of my racing career”, the younger Norris told Speed 51.com powered by JEGS. “He used to do some celebrity and off road races and when he would do them, he would have me do them with him. He would drive half, and I would drive half, and he took me into that world of auto racing. He is an adrenaline junkie just like I am. He used to do all his own stunts, he is a total athlete and I think that I have taken on a lot of his attributes.”
One of the attributes that Eric has taken on is success. Eric is currently the stunt coordinator, and the director of the second unit, for the TV show “24”. He is currently on-site in Atlanta, GA where some of his duties include taking the second unit crew out and shooting car chase and other stunt scenes for the series. Some of his other recent work included similar duties for “The Sons of Anarchy”, “Prison Break”, the upcoming “Fast and Furious 8”, and Marvel’s “Agents of Shield”. In “Agents of Shield”, Eric enjoyed a particularly more laid back roll.
“One of my best friends is a stunt coordinator, and a good friend of mine was the executive producer. I was there full-time, and for that show they brought in a 1969 (Dodge) Charger, that they used in “The Fast and the Furious”. They incorporated that car into the show. All I had to do was drive that ’69 Charger around in all the car chases. That show was hard to leave, to go to another in which I actually had to have responsibility and had to work hard,” Eric chuckled. “I do a lot of work for 20th Century Fox, and their TV productions, so when they gave me the opportunity to do “24”, I knew that this is what I needed to do. I needed to coordinate and direct the second unit, as opposed to just driving in car chases, and just having fun all of the time.”
Eric’s love for racing started at a young age, in Formula 2000 cars, and progressed from there. He raced off-road with his father and in various motorsports venues before eventually ending up in NASCAR, for a single 1996 start in the K&N West Series at Tucson Speedway (AZ). The following season, Norris tried his hand at the Craftsman (now Camping World) Truck Series, but found the going rough.
“I was crazy about racing… so I remember I was able to get a sponsor to race in the NASCAR (Craftsman) Truck Series,” Norris recalled. “Other than the West race, it was the first time I ever had raced on an oval track. I went in there and just got my butt handed to me. So I thought to myself that I need to step back and figure this out. In 1998, Matt Stowe and I partnered up, and started a Winston West Team. At first we were mediocre, but we got a little better and a little better until 2002 when we won the West Series Championship.
“At that time we thought we had made it so we thought we would move into the Truck Series with a full-time deal. We had a company in Jani-King that had been a long time sponsor, which was going to support us. During negotiation, something happened at the last second, and they backed out (in December of 2002). I knew we couldn’t afford to support a full-time race team on our own, so I just bounced around and did a few truck races here and there. Eventually reality kicked in and I had to go to work to make money for my family. Racing became, to where if I could get a full deal, and make a living at it, I would take it. But to do only 10 races or so, I couldn’t afford to walk away from the movie business.”
Norris’ passion for the sport hasn’t waned, however, and he would still love to race if given the opportunity.
“Over the years, I’ve done a few races a year such as the “Mint 400” in Las Vegas (NV) and some road course racing, such as in Cleveland, OH. I’ve done it just to stay in it, because I love racing,” he said. “If someone came to me and said ‘Eric we’ll pay you to go race,’ I’d leave everything to go make a living at it. Racing is my passion and it’s what I love, but those things are hard to come by these days.”
On October 28, Norris will have the opportunity to rekindle that flame, with his first oval track race in many years. He will be partnering with Dave Reed Racing and participating in the penultimate event for the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series at Kern County Raceway. The Bakersfield area holds fond memories for Eric, as it was the scene of his first NASCAR K&N West Series victory at the now defunct Mesa Marin Raceway (CA). A return to that region was one of many factors that prompted his return at this event.
“One of the reasons we chose this event was because it was in Bakersfield, and the success we had at Mesa Marin. The new track (Kern County Raceway) just looks like such a fun track to drive,” Norris said. “So I figured this one would be a good one to go back to. The track is so new and everything I hear about it makes it seem fun, so it is just kind of something I wanted to go do.”
Getting the event on his busy schedule was just another hurdle Norris had to navigate.
“Matt Stowe and I have been friends with Dave (Reed) for a long time. We’ve know that Dave has had Southwest Tour cars, and have frequently talked about doing a deal with him. But with my schedule it just kept falling through,” Norris explained. “When I was working on my dad’s show (Walker Texas Ranger) I could come and go pretty much as I wanted, but now it is hard. When I got this new job (with “24”) we originally had a huge fight scene scheduled for the Friday before the race, so I thought we couldn’t do it. But when it got changed to Monday, I thought maybe this will work. I still had to go to the producers, whom I had just met, to tell them I had an opportunity to race in Bakersfield. But everyone was super stoked and said, ‘No, you definitely need to go do it.’ We had thought that we would just try it one more time and fortunately everything fell into place. Dave is such a good guy and I know that everything is going to work out.”
Eric will need some time, to knock the rust off, before he sets his sights on the “BULWARK ‘FR 150, presented by 51 FIFTY Energy Drink” starting lineup. He has very little experience in a Super Late Model and a lack of recent activity on paved ovals will make it even more of a challenge. Fortunately, a practice day on Thursday, of race week, will aid in that process.
“The only time I ran a Southwest Tour car was at Phoenix (International Raceway in Arizona), during the Copper Classic, in a Craig Raudman car,” Norris said. “It was a long time ago, but I loved running it and it was a lot of fun. (Eric finished 14th of 40 cars in the year 2000). I wouldn’t have done this event unless I had the opportunity to practice in the car before the event, so I’m so happy to have the opportunity to do that on Thursday.”
Norris is very excited to return to the track, and when race day rolls around, the admitted adrenaline junky will be sure to get his fill. Eric finds that the adrenaline rush he gets from racing can be very similar to the rush achieved through performing a stunt on set.
“For me, when I’m doing stunts, I’m usually not worried about getting hurt. I’m really more concerned with not screwing the shot up,” Norris commented. “When you are sitting in the car, preparing for a stunt, you get those butterflies in your stomach as to where you just don’t want to screw up. In racing, it is similar when you are sitting the car before the start, and you have those same butterflies. With a stunt, you just want to do the stunt and get it going. It’s the same thing with a race. Once you get started, and the green flag falls, the butterflies go away.”
As for Eric’s expectations for the race, he does not expect to go out and win the event, but he is confident that they will have a good showing and hopes to be very competitive with the group that Dave Reed has put together. With Craig Raudman, at Dave Reed Racing, preparing the car, Eric Holmes handling the spotting duties and Mario Isolo on top of the pit box, Norris should be in good hands for the split 150-lap feature event.
Front gates for the “Bulwark ‘PR 150 presented by 51 FIFTY Energy Drink” will open at 4:00 p.m. PT. Qualifying for the Legends, Mini Stocks and Super Stocks is scheduled for 4:30 with the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series qualifying at 5:00.
Norris and the stars of the Southwest Tour will be available for an on-track autograph session, beginning at 6:00. Opening Ceremonies will take place at 6:50 with main events for the local classes beginning at 7:00. The 150-lap race for the SRL Tour cars will follow, with a 10 minute break at the halfway point for fuel and adjustments. The halfway leader will receive a $1,000 bonus from “His Works Gift Basket Company” before the final 75-lap run to the finish and the $5,000 winner’s share of the purse. A large field is expected for race eight of the nine race championship season.
-By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com West Coast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Sal Sigala, Jr.