It seems like just yesterday that we were celebrating championships for the 2016 desert race season. While it wasn’t yesterday, it was only 3 weeks ago which left desert racers very little time if they were planning to build and introduce new race machines for 2017, which many were.
A field of well over 60 UTVs traveled to Parker, AZ to kick off the 2017 Best In The Desert (BITD) desert racing season at the annual Parker 250. The event was a little different this year, being dubbed the “GMZ UTV Winter Nationals Presented by Polaris RZR” which like the “Polaris RZR UTV World Championship”, had planned to add production and youth racing to its schedule. While no where near the size of the UTV World Championship, this years Parker 250 which in the past has been a Bike & ATV race in the AM, followed by a UTV desert race, now had a Youth race on Friday afternoon, Bikes / ATVs & Production UTV races in the AM and then the desert race in the afternoon. Most people we spoke to seemed to have a good time, we of course had a blast hanging with our racing familia and were excited to kick the 2017 racing season off!
We caught the end of the RZR 170 race on Friday prior to our photogs and video guys arrival so we apologize for the lack of photo coverage for the kids. Its always great watching the youth and future of our sport run wild in their Polaris RZR 170s. On Saturday AM we headed to the front of the pits to watch the Production races but soon realized that the race (which was held on a modified short course) had no intention of traveling through Parker’s natural short course section dubbed the “Python”. We were surprised that they wouldn’t run through this area of the race course considering the ability to see so much of the course for spectators, but BITD had made the decision to run them in another area of the desert due to the Bike & ATV race which was still taking place and ran through the “Python”. We were able to catch a little of the race, but without being able to see much from the pit area we headed off to prepare for our coverage of the Parker 250 desert race.
While UTVs began to stage, we got word of a tragic emergency which took place just prior to the start of the days racing events. Casey Folks, BITD Owner, Race Director and icon to the off-road racing community, had suffered a serious medical emergency forcing the 72 year old legend to be air-lifted to care in Las Vegas. While we continue to wait for word on Casey’s well being, we continue to pray for our friend who means so much to many. Casey plays many roles within the BITD organization. Whether its setting out course markers or meeting with BLM officials, Folks’ duties are endless and extremely important. The man is always wound tight, always taking charge of any situation he involves himself in and is known as a man of great integrity and honesty. You may not like some of Casey’s decisions, I know we don’t, but you always know where you stand with him and while he isn’t going to send a text, email or chime in on any online conversation, he will always take your phone call and thats something we can all appreciate these days. While we all anxiously await updates on Casey’s health, its important to keep him and his right hand woman, girlfriend and equally as important special person to BITD, Diane DeLauer in your prayers and thoughts. We will continue to pray for our friend, and will pass along official updates as they become available. In the mean time, please join us in keeping Casey, Diane, BITD and their friends and families in your thoughts while respecting their privacy.
Despite the emergency at hand, BITD officials never wavered. Like their fearless leader they pressed on as their was a race to run and Casey would never have a delay or cancellation on his part. His team did just as he would have wanted and thats step up and show the racers a good time. Racers staged side-by-side like they always do and were shot off the line every thirty-seconds until the last pair rolled off. With recent rains and cooler weather in Parker, the race-course was as fast as we had ever seen it. Then again, it could have just been the machines and their drivers!? Branden Sims made one comment inside his race car which we were able to catch on video that said the race felt like a short course race due to the pace he was forced to run to remain out front for the first lap. He tried hard to fight off Mitch Guthrie Jr. who had pushed into the top 3 and eventually would overtake Sims for the lead. The usual suspects all fought for positions within the top 10 while many we have been used to seeing compete in that top group seemed to just be hanging on to finish. Justin Lambert who is coming off his 2016 Pro N/A championship was now running in his new #918 Cognito Motorsports Polaris RZR XP Turbo in the Pro Turbo class and was fighting the new car blues. Marc Burnett & Matt Burroughs, two racers who recently converted from Polaris RZRs to new Factory Backed Can-Am X3’s also fought to keep their machines up and running. Burnett would eventually remove himself from the driver seat having got so sick he just couldn’t stay behind the wheel any longer. The Murray Brothers in their Factory Can-Am X3 also seemed to still be fighting mechanicals in their machine and Can-Am’s flagship program of Dustin Jones and S3 Powersports continued to be followed by a wicked black cloud of bad luck. Jones would send his X3 into a violent crash only 3 miles into the race forcing the team to accept yet another DNF behind the wheel of their new X3.
It wasn’t just Factory Can-Am racers who were fighting mechanicals. Jacob Carver had laid down a solid first lap before his Polaris RZR began to succumb to punishment. Craig Scanlon in the new SMG Polaris RZR was fighting for the overall on time through two laps before breaking two axles simultaneously 5-miles into the final lap. Scanlon would still finish on the lead lap. Newcomer Tomas Sallvin in the #988 SYRacing Polaris RZR XP Turbo continued to show why he was one to watch in 2017. He ran a flawless race all day and would finish just off the podium.
After just under 5 hours of hard and fast off-road racing, Mitch Guthrie Jr. in the #951 Factory Polaris RZR XP Turbo would cross the line first making the 2017 Parker 250 the first big desert racing win as a driver for the 20 year old from Southern California. Finishing just behind him and edging out Branden Sims for second place by 8 seconds was long-time UTV racer and class tech-director, Cory Sappington in his #904 Factory Can-Am Maverick Turbo. Branden Sims would have to settle for a third place finish and will certainly think about where he could have saved the 8 seconds he lost by. Sims is the reigning 2016 Turbo class champion, he shows no signs of letting up!
In the Pro N/A class, Robert Beuchat, a name most of us haven’t heard until this weekend, in the #1951 Suspended Fabrication Polaris RZR took the win and would also finish sixth overall. Beuchat is certainly one we will keep a close eye on as the season progresses. With Lambert out of the mix, a lot of racers now have an opportunity to gain some attention and respect within the N/A class. Russell Griffen in the #1970 DragonFire Racing Polaris RZR would finish second and our old buddy George Felix in the #1958 Polaris RZR would round out the podium in third.
A lot of drama surrounded the Unlimited class as Robby Gordon had arrived in Parker with plans to compete in his new race vehicle in the Production class. As most of you know, Arctic Cat made an announcement of partnership with Gordon over a year ago, the internet since then has been filled with speculation on Gordon and his new Arctic Cat model. At the 2016 Baja 1000 Gordon arrived with his new mystery machine and while he didn’t have the race that I am sure many in his camp had hoped for, he did show that what he had been working on was certainly something that needs to be paid attention too. Robby is a polarizing figure within the off-road community, a guy who is not only able to push the limits in development but also one who will push the limits of a rule book. Sometimes thats for the good as a guy who has been around as long as him and is known as a visionary can and does add value to any class he puts his mind too. But Gordon had registered his new “Arctic Cat” into the production class which on page 31 of the UTV Rule Book clearly states “Companies must produce a minimum of 1000 units per year to be accepted.” Clearly this is not a vehicle that is currently listed for sale by Arctic Cat or by any dealers that we have heard of. After multiple people contacted BITD about this, the decision was made by Folks to move Robby Gordon and his machine into the Unlimited Class. In addition, Robby’s son Max Gordon (8 years old), was also back to compete in a new machine that sported a scaled SST truck body. Despite the mumblings through the pits and online about the vehicles and young Max’s age, the race carried on with both of them competing in their new machines which are all listed as “CUSTOM” on BITD’s results.
One of Gordon’s new machines would finish first in the unlimited class, the #2948 piloted by the talented Sheldon Creed would take the top spot. Behind him was the #2918 S3 Powersports Factory Can-Am Maverick Turbo driven by the silent leader of S3 Powersports, Mr. Malcom Sneed III. Rounding out the podium is a name we will all hear for a very, very long time. The #2937 of Max Gordon in his custom truck or wildcat )or whatever it is but it looks cool), would hit the third spot and actually finish within the top 20. This young man is not even tall enough to get on most rides at amusement parks, but he can wheel an off-road vehicle better than some men 4 times his age!
On behalf of everyone at UTVUnderground.com, we want to thank all the racers and teams who represent us on and off the track. This is our 9th year of covering UTV off-road racing and its sure to be the best! Congrats to all the competitors, finishers and of course winners! Thank you to Polaris RZR for stepping up and once again supporting our coverage so we can get out there and tell these stories in photo and video. Lastly, thank you to BITD, their full staff as well as the man himself Casey Folks, for whom we wish the speediest of recoveries. See you all in a couple of months (our real off-season) at the Polaris RZR Mint 400 in Las Vegas, NV!! Until then, keep the engines wound up and the rubber side down!
Photos by Sebastian Krywult // UTVUnderground.com
UTV Pro Turbo RESULTS (3 Lap Finishers)
- #951 Mitch Guthrie Jr. | Polaris RZR
- #904Cory Sappington | Can-Am Maverick
- #913 Branden Sims | Polaris RZR
- #988 Tomas Sallvin | Polaris RZR
- #944 Phil Blurton | Can-Am X3
- #961 Nate Hale | Polaris RZR
- #919 Brandon Schueler | Polaris RZR
- #955 Snake Livernash | Can-Am X3
- #917 Jason / Derek Murray | Can-Am X3
- #969 Logan Gastel | Can-Am X3
- #994 Jason Merrell | Polaris RZR
- #924 Lacretia Beurrier | Polaris RZR
- #918 Justin Lambert | Polaris RZR
- #931 Craig Scanlon | Polaris RZR
- #906 Jason Farrell | Can-Am
- #907 Paul Kraus | Can-Am
- #948 Matt Burroughs | Can-Am X3
UTV Pro (N/A) RESULTS (3 Lap Finishers)
- #1951 Robert Beuchat | Polaris RZR
- #1970 Russell Griffen | Polaris RZR
- #1958 George Felix | Polaris RZR
- #1929 Lanse Chournos | Polaris RZR
- #1960 William Bedlion | Polaris RZR
- #1983 John Estrada | Polaris RZR
- #1895 Kaden Wells | Polaris RZR
- #1852 Andrew Gorman | Polaris RZR
- #1890 Zachary Adams | Polaris RZR
- #1824 Charles Lotshaw | Custom
- #1947 Dean Wheeler Jr. | Polaris RZR
- #1997 Kenny Brink | Polaris RZR
- #1907 Daniel Parker | Polaris RZR
- #1945 Richard Mertens | Can-Am Maverick
- #1985 Adrian Orellena | Polaris RZR
UTV Pro Unlimited RESULTS (3 Lap Finishers)
- #2948 Sheldon Creed | Custom
- #2918 Malcom Sneed III | Can-Am Maverick
- #2937 Max Gordon | Custom
- #2911 Renee Hudson | Polaris RZR
- #2912 Tony Riggs | Polaris RZR