This week, off-road racing returns in Parker, Arizona with an all-new version of a classic race: the Parker 400. This year, the race is in new hands, those of Josh and Matt Martelli, best known as founders of Mad Media and promoters of the Mint 400 in Las Vegas.
The Martellis are coming into Parker on the friendliest terms possible, partnering with the Colorado River Indian Tribes and its enterprises, especially the BlueWater Resort & Casino, and naming former Parker Mayor Dan Beaver as the race Grand Marshal. The town is well-known to off-road racers and fans, and the Martellis’ race promotion has emphasized the decades-long pedigree of the race.
The legendary Parker 400 goes back to 1974, and the course ran on both the Arizona and California sides of the Colorado River. It was organized and promoted by Mickey Thompson’s SCORE organization (Short-Course Off-Road Enthusiasts). Thompson recruited Sal Fish, publisher of Hot Rod Magazine, to be president of SCORE the same year.
In the mid-80s, the course changed after the desert tortoise was added to the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which meant the race couldn’t run on the California side. To compensate, BLM allowed an expanded course on the Arizona side and organizers added a third lap. The starting line was moved from Shea Road to BlueWater Marina.
After 24 years, in 1997, SCORE stopped running the Parker 400. After an effort by racers and the Parker community, Whiplash Motorsports, owned by Jay and Jackie McKinley, agreed to take on the race. In their first year, they added the ‘Gauntlet’, a series of jumps and turns, near the airport in Parker. They also changed the start line to California Avenue.
Then, in 2003, Casey Folks and his Best in the Desert Racing Association took the mantle with the title sponsorship coming from BlueWater Resort & Casino. With an emphasis on the spectator experience, the Best in the Desert race was a huge success, with high numbers of entrants and fans. Folks shook the hand of every driver at the start line himself, wishing them luck.
Folks died just a couple of weeks before the 2017 race of a stroke. His son Bryan continues to lead the organization, but in 2022 it was announced that the 2023 event would be cancelled after the organization failed to meet requirements for the event’s BLM permit. In the wake of the news, some other promoters in the industry were rumored to be interested in running the Parker race, and applying for the race permits themselves.
The Martellis seem to know they have big shoes to fill, but their success in Las Vegas and being granted the Parker race permit has encouraged them to announce the start of a new league: Unlimited Off-Road Racing, which initially includes the Parker 400, Mint 400 and California 300.
This past weekend, the Martellis and a few dozen volunteers held a desert cleanup event on the site of the start line and gauntlet area and say they removed 12 tons of trash including scrap metal, old waverunner hulls, wheels, bed frames and more.
On Thursday, the Downtown Experience is back from 8 am to 5 pm on Arizona Avenue in Parker, with tech and contingency. This is a chance to get up close to the race vehicles and meet their crews. The event is free and open to the public. There will be qualifying runs in the afternoon. On Friday, the Youth 1000 and Limited classes will race from 8 am and 9 am respectively. And on Saturday, the Youth 170, Youth 250 and Unlimited classes will race at 8 am, 8:35 am and 9:30 am.
122 total entries are registered for the Parker 400 in all classes, including recognizable names like Justin Lofton, Adam Householder, Steve Olliges and Kyle Jergensen.
There are three main spectator areas: the CRIT Start/Finish Line Gauntlet, the Shea Road Spectator Area and the Bouse Spectator Area. All three areas require a sticker for your vehicle, which can be purchased HERE. There are no per-person tickets required beyond one for vehicles. More information on spectating the race can be found HERE.
The race will also have a dedicated live stream, which Parker Live will link to during the race.