In NewsWhistle’s weekly question-and-answer series, Clara Morgan speaks with some of her favorite people and finds out more about their lives and careers. This week, Clara speaks with Scott Trager, who operates Northeast Off-Road Adventures Inc. (NORA), a low-speed, off-road driving school with a training facility located in the Catskill Mountains in Ellenville, New York.
Although Scott’s dream of creating and running a passion-based business faced organized opposition, financial impossibilities, legal challenges, countless late nights and plenty of obstacles, in 2011, he finally started NORA.
Said Scott: “Funny thing about off-roaders –whether we seek out the obstacles or they appear after the next turn–getting past them is what we do. This business started from just an idea and has grown due to the unrelenting hard work of our team. As I tell my kids, never give up on your dreams. If I can pursue them in my fifties, anyone can pursue theirs at any age. Remember, it’s all about the journey! Keep it moving forward, and always have fun at what you do.”
Read about Scott’s favorite outdoor adventures in this week’s Q&A…
Portrait of Scott Trager; Courtesy of Susan Trager
1. When and how did you first realize that you wanted to work in the industry and business you are in?
I am an engineering geek. Since college, I’ve worked for large companies designing and building computer systems for robotic vision, military simulations, financial and news media automations. All very cerebral, most very high stress. I was looking for something different to do with my kids about eleven years ago, and took them on an organized off-road adventure in our Jeep in Pennsylvania. Totally out of my comfort zone. I got an adrenaline rush driving through the woods and got hooked. Then I joined a club and was wheelin’ every chance I could. I started the business in 2011, bought 70 acres of rugged terrain about 90 minutes north of NYC, and brought on some very talented staff members. NORA VP Jon Mapes and I got certified as 4WD instructors and we’ve trained over 700 students to date. We run training and adventure events at different venues in the Northeast, Virginia, and North Carolina.
2. Any celebrity clients or memorable stories related to your business that you want to share?
We’ve helped clients prepare for driving trips in Africa and the Australian outback, but the most memorable is the most recent – training Kiera Chaplin for the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles. It’s an eight-day competitive rally for women who use only map & compass to navigate through the mountains and deserts of Morocco. It’s an amazing, epic event that includes a humanitarian aid effort as well. I realized Kiera’s training would be a little more challenging when she told me she had never driven off road before and hadn’t driven on pavement for over 11 years, with the exception of a McDonald’s drive through. We started by having her drive over 100 miles through the Hudson Valley. Throughout her training, Kiera really impressed me with her upbeat attitude, desire to learn, and competitive spirit. She was totally engaged, from changing a tire to driving a Jeep up some steep, rocky terrain. Kiera and her teammate Cyndi have been doing very well in the rally, I am really proud of her.
3. What is a typical day like for you? And what do you like to do on a day off?
My typical day varies based on which hat I wear. My day job in Manhattan is challenging –- I am part of a team which builds automations for financial breaking news – it’s competitive with results measured in milliseconds. In the evenings, I am working with NORA staff on all aspects of our adventure business: training, designing and running private events, marketing, strategic planning, etc. Our big focus now is building a new two-story training center in Ellenville, which will be complete by year-end. Weekends are usually dedicated to NORA, but I try to get in some family time on Sundays. They say entrepreneurs are people who will work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40. Yup, I get it.
4. What is the next big thing in your industry? What are people doing differently today, compared to 10-15 years ago?
Adventure-themed activities aren’t new, but I think they will grow in popularity. As the labor force evolves to more high tech positions, people spend more time behind a desk getting mentally stressed. I know about that first hand. I also know from experience that spending time outdoors is important for my physical and mental well-being. I think people will seek out adventure travel and related activities to help them de-stress.
5. What are your three favorite restaurants near Ellenville, NY?
Maloney and Porcelli, reserved for special occasions. Gaby’s in Ellenville has excellent Mexican and is a NORA team favorite. Julianna’s Schoolhouse in Cortlandt Manor is my favorite for quiet dining with friends.
Scott with British actress Kiera Chaplin; Courtesy of Rich Lansing Photography
6. What are your three favorite bars there?
I don’t get to visit bars much these days. My favorite drink when out to dinner is Johnny Walker Black Label on the rocks with a twist, usually with a New York strip steak.
7. Your three favorite Ellenville locations?
– Senasqua Park in Croton-on-Hudson – a beautiful river walk along the Hudson River inspires me. My “go to” place when I need to remember to breathe.
– Boscobel in Garrison for their theater productions in the summer evenings. Picnic with a nice bottle of wine enjoying spectacular views of the Hudson, followed by a show in an intimate setting.
– Central Park, NYC – walking in the park is a welcome break in the spring, summer, and fall. Allows me to get out from behind the desk.
8. Which three events on your annual calendar will you will absolutely not miss?
– My anniversary with my lovely wife (she reminds me, so I never miss it!).
– New Year’s Eve with friends and family.
– Our first public class of the spring season at Northeast Off-Road Adventures. The entire team is excited to get the adventures started again, it’s usually sold out.
9. What was your best New York moment?
Best: I had just bought a pretzel and was walking down Lexington Ave. A homeless man was at a corner asking for help–I offered him the pretzel but he refused saying his teeth were bad and he couldn’t chew it. A woman standing nearby opened her bag and handed him a banana. He started laughing and thanked her. As I started walking away she stopped me and our eyes connected. She smiled, took half of my pretzel, and walked away.
Your worst? 9/11. I was in midtown that day. It was surreal. It was horrible. I got to my home on Long Island late that night, then went back in the next morning via the Long Island Rail Road. As the train passed the stations heading into Manhattan, I looked at the cars in the parking lots. Usually they were grouped together close to the platform as commuters arrived. But that morning I saw so many cars sporadically parked all over the lots. I knew those people hadn’t made it home the night before, and that many never would.
10. Tell us something that people do not know about you. (And you cannot say it is a secret!)
I perform carpool Karaoke with my youngest son on weekends, usually singing Broadway show tunes at the top of our lungs. We don’t stop singing while stopped at traffic lights.
11. How would you describe your personal (fashion) style?
Casual and comfortable when indoors, I prefer khakis over jeans.
12. Who is your style icon? Where do you find your style inspiration?
Sadly, I have no style. But I am always open to suggestions if anyone would like to help 🙂
13. Who is your favorite fashion designer, artist or architect – and why?
Frank Lloyd Wright… although part of his architecture was flawed (straight roof = leaky roof) his minimalism and functionality is very appealing to me.
14. Name your favorite…
a. Outfit – On-road: Dress shirt and khakis. Off-road: trail pants – lightweight, easy to pack, and can zip off into shorts; usually paired with a printed T-shirt. On training/event days I dress in my earth-tone NORA uniform along with the rest of the team.
b. Perfume/Fragrance – The bath soap from Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz. Really.
c. Movie – Galaxy Quest – fun sci-fi with a great mantra– “never give up, never surrender.” I also have to admit, I can’t pass up a channel playing Kill Bill, Vol 1 or Vol 2. I will usually forego sleep if it’s on while channel surfing at 1:00 a.m. I think Quentin Tarantino is brilliant, Uma Thurman is amazing.
d. TV show – I’m an engineering geek by nature. Big Bang Theory – I can relate to all of the characters (except Penny).
e. Book – Stephen King’s The Stand – an epic battle between good and evil. Read it several times. Love getting creeped out by his writing style.
15. What is your favorite restaurant in the world?
[New York’s] Maloney and Porcelli. Reserved for special occasions.
What is it you love about it? Old school steakhouse. I’ve had some great memorable dinners there with friends and mentors over the years.
What is your favorite dish? Chilled seafood tower appetizer and their steak.
16. Name your favorite vacation spot and hotel?
North Captiva Island, Florida VRBO.
What makes this place so special?
Amazing beach, shelling by day and beautiful sunset views. Forced relaxation. I love driving the golf cart on the sand roads.
17. Which three items can you not live without?
– The love & support of my family and friends.
– My belief that the universe will help me to figure it out, or to accept it – whatever “it” may be.
– Sliced smoked Gruyere cheese – reminds me of childhood snack time at my grandparents’ Brooklyn apartment. Things were a little less hectic back then.
18. What song, meditation or mantra can you listen to on repeat?
“Back in the High Life Again” by Steve Winwood. It played on the radio while I was driving home from an interview for a job I needed. I was out of work and in my early 20s, and that song made me feel more at ease that things would just work out. By the time I got home, I received the job offer. Love that song.
19. If you could meet anyone in the world, who would you like to meet? And why?
Elon Musk. I think he is a true visionary and businessman with focus on making the world a better place. Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity. Brilliant. It would be amazing to chat with him about where he sees the world in 100 years. While wheelin’ off-road, of course.
Team NORA; Courtesy of Rich Lansing Photography
20. Is there anything else you would like to share, discuss, or promote?
As a tech geek, it’s easy for me to sit behind a desk and stay comfortable. I’ve learned the more I am out of my comfort zone, however, the more comfortable I am with myself. There are amazing adventures to be had outdoors and NORA can help with your journey. We are Learning, Adventure & Fun. Shameless plug- visit www.nyoffroaddriving.com
Lead-In Image Courtesy of Scott Trager