There’s a consensus out there about the 2017 Bluewater Casino Parker 425 – it was rough, it was brutal, and it was destructive. Somehow, it seemed a totally appropriate beginning to the 2017 Best in the Desert race schedule. In a post-race interview, Class 1500 winner Harley Letner told Jim Beaver on his Down-N-Dirty Radio Show that the race conditions were the most brutal he has ever seen running the Parker 425, a race he has run every year (except once) since 2002.
Beaver, who also raced in the Trophy Truck Class, grew up in Parker with Letner, and agreed that he had never seen as much rock, mud, sand, water, debris and vegetation on the course over the past 15 years. Beaver shared that he hit standing water that was deep enough to flood the cab of his truck, soak his fire suit and gloves, and left him unable to wipe his visor, all while driving in the dark of night. Letner, who drives for Youtheory Racing, seemed to relish not only the challenge of his hometown Parker course, but also the competition with the Trophy Trucks that outclassed his underpowered buggy.
The damage started early during Thursday’s Time Trials, when Dan McMillin landed a big jump just slightly askew on the front slope of a whoop. The landing wadded the truck up bad in a tumble that lit up social media. Fortunately, all protective systems worked flawlessly and allowed Dan and his co-driver, Casey King, to walk away shaken but without major injury; unfortunately, the crash ended Dan’s weekend as he withdrew from Saturday’s race.
The carnage continued Saturday, hitting drivers often and taking a toll on the field. Course conditions challenged and broke many of the top desert racers hoping to finish and score points in this opening event of the season. Race Mile 3 proved to be a grinder, as Luke McMillin, Todd Romano and Lalo Laguna all suffered rollovers, and nearly half of the Trophy Truck class did not finish the first lap.
Of course, mechanical issues conspired with the brutal course conditions to bring numerous lead changes and drama to the race. Justin Lofton led until he suffered a flat at Race Mile 137, when Harley Letner passed him during the change. Later, Letner suffered a busted alternator and surrendered the lead to Bryce Menzies, who then blew his engine in Lap Two. By the end of Lap Two, Rob MacCachren was in the lead until Andy McMillin got around him in the night and held on for the win. Steve Olliges got on the box just ahead of Brett Sourapas who finished in a strong fourth place.
Despite the alternator issues which ultimately doomed his shot at an overall win, Harley Letner finished nearly one hour ahead of second place Class 1500 finisher, Chad Cummings, who also had pump and torque converter issues. Undoubtedly, Letner, who calls his buggy “TTDestroyer,” was showing that he could not only compete with top drivers in the Trophy Truck class, but also that he was the racer to beat in the 1500 Class.
In the Spec Trophy Truck Class, only 13 of the 29 starters finished the grueling campaign. Finishing thirteenth overall and winning the Class 6100 was Jonathan Swift at 8:07:43, with Steve Kovach finishing 14 minutes behind him.
Class 7200 finished with Al Hogan (Ford) in first place, Mike McCarthy (Ford EcoBoost) in second place, and Jeff Proctor (Honda Ridgeline) taking third place after suffering drivetrain issues.
Class 1000 Roundup
The Class 1000 race was highlighted by sound race planning, solid mechanics and flawless execution on the course. Brock Heger, in his Alumi Craft buggy, started in the 27th position (out of 37) and ran what had to be a nearly perfect race, slicing through the field to take the win in 7:28:32.
Shane Earn, having drawn the first starting slot, capitalized on his luck, stayed out front and finished on the podium in second place, just over a minute and a half behind Heger. T.J. Tuls also put together an impressive race. Starting further back in the 32nd position, Tuls and his co-driver, Josh Montoya, apparently found Heger’s line and took their Alumi Craft to a third place finish on the box. Kudos go out to all finishers, but the box finishes by Heger and Tuls stood out as examples of outstanding skilled driving, as well as top-notch support team mechanics.
Trophy Lite Roundup
Fifteen Trophy Lite trucks started the race and by Race Mile 3, there was already one casualty to the desert. Russ and Austin McKnight rolled among the whoops that would claim at least three other Trophy Trucks racers later in the day on their first lap.
2016 points champion Todd Jackson led the class early, outpacing the usual suspects – Brandon Arciero, Edmundo Chantler, Jeff Mortis and Craig Spitz – that pose a challenge for the 2017 season points championship. Arciero was able to take advantage Jackson’s cooling fan problem and took a lead that lasted him late into the third lap. Arciero then suffered his own mechanical issues when his torque converter failed, opening the door for Jeff Mortis to take the win. Craig Spitz finished second, and Todd Jackson remedied his mechanical issues and finished in third place.
In the other limited classes, John Hsu won Class 2400 in his custom Ford Performance buggy with a time of 8:30:18, followed by Mike Avila and Nick Carolan. Greg Ferruzzo out of Long Beach, California won the Class 2000 race. Rich Voss won the Class 8100 two-lap race and Shelby Thompson took Class 5000. Skyler Gambrell won the Jeep Class 3700, with Billy Bunch and Mike Bragg finishing behind him. The 1700 Jeep Class was won by Rick Randall.
Offroad Xtreme will continue to bring you coverage of the Best in the Desert race series, with coverage of the Mint 400 happening March 1-5, 2017. We will also be bringing you driver and race team feature articles as the 2017 BITD race season progresses. Stay tuned!