Timeout with Tambo: Duane Norman races this weekend for paralyzed vets
The festival will take place at Naval Air Station North Island and will feature vintage racing, a car corral, vendors, new car test drives, a military pit crew challenge, aviation displays of vintage and active aircraft, military fly overs and much more.
Norman, 61, started racing when he was a 12- year-old child growing up in Independence, Mo. He started with go-carts and by the time he was 18 he had graduated to what he calls the “big cars.” Norman turned pro his senior year in high school and joined the United States Air Force reserve right after graduating.
In 1970, Norman was having a very good year. He was voted the Rookie of the Year and was winning by driving sprint cars. In mid-season he was involved in a racing accident and broke his neck.
“I fractured my C5 and C6 vertebrae and I am considered a quadriplegic. I consider my situation less of a disability and more of an inconvenience,” said Norman.
After finishing rehabilitation, Norman attended the University of Missouri and earned a bachelor’s degree in science and a teaching credential. He continued his education and earned a master’s in rehabilitation services.
In 1978, he interviewed for a job in San Diego. He didn’t get the job, but fell in love with “America’s Finest City,” moved here, and eventually landed a job at Sharps Hospital where he treated patients with brain injuries.
In 1988, he started his own company, Composite Medical Equipment, and retired after 20 years.
In 1999, he realized that racing was still in his blood so he and his wife, Felicia, who is his crew chief, started building a race car.
“I drive the car but my wife has the kill switch,” joked Norman. “We are a team.”
Felicia is an occupational therapist and works for the Ramona Unified School District.
In 2000, Norman and his wife won the Sports Car Club of America championship for street modified cars.
Norman drives a 1973 Datsun 510 which he and Felicia built at their house in Ramona.
He is the only driver in the SCCA who is inconvenienced and is in a wheelchair when he is not in the driver’s seat.
The Datsun 510 is modified for Norman with a special transmission, hand controls and special power steering adapted for his needs.
Norman races in the Vintage Car division and most races are conducted on a 1-1/2 mile to 3-mile road course. The races take about a half an hour.
Norman races for the Paralyzed Veterans Association Cal-Diego Chapter, of which he is a board member. The association sponsors a number of vehicles adapted for people with disabilities to drive race cars.
“The Coronado Speed Festival and Fleet Week is very spectator friendly. The public has access to the pit area, the teams and the cars. We really enjoy going there and racing,” said Norman. “This is not about me as much as it is about the Cal-Diego Paralyzed Veterans Association. They do great things for people. It is a great organization doing great work.”
Fleet Week is a tribute to all branches of the military and proceeds go to the Navy’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation Fund for family support. A two day pass to Fleet Week is $45, and a one day pass is $35. Children are free as are active military families.
For more information, go to fleetweeksandiego.org.
If you get there support Duane and Felicia Norman—two Ramonans doing their part for Fleet Week, the Coronado Speed Festival, and disabled and paralyzed veterans. On second thought, make that two Americans doing more than their share.
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