The first round of six in the General Tire Jeepspeed Series presented by KMC Wheels was held in Parker, Arizona on February 2-5. Sanctioned by the Best In The Desert series, the Parker 425 race was a tough test of competitors, right out of the box. For 2017, the Jeepspeed series has a three class structure that allows competitors to race a wide range of vehicles. The 1700 class is for six cylinder Jeeps including Cherokees, Wranglers and the Grand Cherokee. Class 2700 allows Jeep and Dodge trucks with Mopar engines. The 3700 class is for Jeep and Dodge trucks with any engine allowed. The field was a diverse mix of vehicles across the three classes. Competitors in the Jeepspeed series can build their own vehicles to a few simple rules and as a result, there are many options available. Trucks and Jeeps in Parker included Classic Cherokees, Wranglers and Grand Cherokees. In the 3700 class, there were Cherokees, a Wrangler, a Jeep Comanche and a Dodge D150 pick-up racing. This time, the Cherokees came out on top; winning in all classes.
Parker, Arizona is known for its recreational opportunities on the Colorado River, and for spectacular scenery. For offroad racers, the diversity of terrain provides both fun and challenges. Except for silt, (fine particles of dirt that are the consistency of baby powder) the Parker course contains every type of terrain the desert offers. There is deep, power robbing sand, big rocks, rough rutted hard pack, whoops, sometimes mud, and fast graded roads. Recent rains increased the veracity of each one. The sharp rocks were exposed, the sand was heavy and the ruts were square-edged and deeper. With the task being so great, the satisfaction of winning was amplified. Only 16 vehicles finished the 2 lap race; 9 were Jeepspeeds.
The first Jeepspeed class to finish was the 3700 trucks led by defending 1700 class champion Skyler Gambrell. Gambrell’s winning time would have put him in the top 40 Trick Truck and unlimited open cars! “After a great season in 2016 and being lucky enough to secure the 1700 championship, the opportunity to race a 3700 car was presented and I had to jump at the chance,” said Gambrell, “The old factory class 6 racer I am driving has more history and race wins than I can comprehend. Drivers who have raced the truck to victories include Mike Leslie, Curt Leduc, Darren Skilton and Gavin Skilton. A quick prep and familiarization with the car before the race left me with zero actual test time on the car. I felt super nervous having never driven the car in the dirt before the green flagged dropped. With the help of Chris Nissley my co-dog, we set off into the parker sunrise amidst the chaos of all the higher horse power V-8's that started in front of us. I took it very easy through the first few miles just getting a feel for the car. At race mile 8 we passed the Honcho. At race mile 15, we got past Bragg. By race mile 18 we got by Billy's Wrangler so I guess I was feeling OK in the car!
We settled into a groove and focused on putting down consistent miles. We took a splash of fuel at Mineral Wash pit courtesy of Wayne Vogler and Uncle Larry. Passing through the Jeep trail, I could feel the front shocks fading so I pulled back and just rolled through the big stuff. As we entered the Main Pit, I could see both Bragg and Billy moving to within striking distance of us. Woo Hoo! we still had a race to run! Thanks to help from Jeepspeed main pit we were off full of fuel and ready to put our heads down to maintain the lead. I ran a super aggressive pace up Osbourne Wash knowing once we hit the bigger moon hills and rough sections towards Bouse, I would have to slow down through the big holes with the tired front end. Between Bouse and Graham Wells, the oil pressure started dropping and I backed off even more; trying to make it to Midway for some oil. We nursed it to the pit and found old friends Lucas Hand and Curt Geer. With some help from RPI racing, they topped me off with some fresh oil and away we went with 60psi of oil pressure and a little pep in our step. We knew that by this time, someone must be close to catching us! After another quick splash of fuel at Pit4 and a clean flat free run to the finish, I could not believe that my first time driving the Jeepspeed Cherokee in the unlimited class would result in the win. I have to give a huge thanks to Clive for trusting me to drive such a legendary Jeep, Chris Nissley for jumping in with me on blind faith, Perry Coan for the endless sarcasm, cold beers and whiskey, and all the guys who helped pit the car at Jeepspeed Main. Last but not least, thanks to General Tire and KMC Wheels for supporting the Jeepspeed series! Gambrell took the first 3700 win of the season with Jesse Archer driving for Billy Bunch finishing second in the LS motored Jeep Wrangler, and Mike Bragg third behind the wheel of his Dodge D150 pick-up.
Both Gambrell and Bragg were racing older race vehicles that were brought back to life in order to race in the Jeepspeed series. If you have an old race truck sitting around, check out the Jeepspeed series. As long as it passes the few simple rules, you could be racing at the next event.
Taking the victory in the 1700 class was the Jeep Cherokee of Rick Randall. Randall is an Arizona local and a tough competitor whose family has raced Jeeps for generations. He was exceptionally hungry to add another win to his resume after having a challenging season last year. He was on a mission in more ways than one. “For this race we teamed up with Jess Maney and his sponsored veteran program, Vetdrenaline,” said Randall, “Jess is a wounded veteran himself and is very passionate about helping his brothers and sisters deal with the stresses of life after deployment. We were lucky enough to get Jess in the Jeep last season for Vegas to Reno and Bluewater. Our first veteran to ride this season was Jarred Maney. Jarred is a 2 time combat veteran, (Iraq and Afghanistan) with over 22 years of service in the Army. Jarred flew in from Wisconsin on late Wednesday, and Thursday morning we headed out for Parker to watch some qualifying. He loved it. My dad’s old codriver Bob Bower also came to Parker to help us pit and get Jarred ready to race. Who better for codriving advice than Bob Bower?!
By race morning, Jarred was ready. We knew that the course may be a little different with all the rain, and we were right. Hands down it was the roughest Parker that I have ever raced. We started 3rd and got to the front just as we crossed the canal for the first time. We settled into a good pace and stopped at pit #2 for fuel and to switch co-drivers. Jarred did amazing watching the gauges, GPS, and rear view for the 8100’s that were passing us. Our radio decided to take dump so we weren’t able to get time splits on the field. Kevin got in and we were problem free back to the main pit. It was a rough ride from 108-130. We decided to get Jarred back in for the same section on lap 2 and he was thrilled. While fueling, the crew noticed a broken main leaf on the passenger leaf pack. We all pitched in and changed it out pretty fast, keeping us in first place. At pit 2, we switched Jarred and Kevin again. While inspecting the new leaf spring, Harley found a stress crack in the shackle, so with a loaner welder from Baja pits, we patched it up. Before we left pit 2, the crew told us that we had a good sized lead based on Racing Trax, so we went pretty slow to the finish. We finally got a win at the Parker 425! We’ve had nothing but bad luck at this race. I was so honored to have Jarred and Jess with us racing. We are hoping to have another Vet with us in Laughlin. Congrats to all the class winner and finishers. This was a nasty one.” 2016 Rookie of the Year Mark Murrell of Colorado was second in Class 1700, and former Jeepspeed Champion Rob Seubert from Oregon was third.
Mike Shetler took the 2700 class victory in Parker for the Cherokee hat trick. While the monkey was off Rick Randall’s back, it was riding with Shetler and causing havoc. “Everything went wrong,” said Mike Shetler, “We broke down at mile 5. Our crew is all volunteers and everyone could not make it at the last minute. My Brother Dennis stepped in to co-drive and Tom Thorvick helped us again, like he did in Pahrump. We also got help from Nick and Marcie Hricziscse, and Mike Petracci of Recoil Motorsports. They are volunteers who come out to the races and help just because they love it. We suffered electrical gremlins but once we got going it was so much fun. Parker has long stretches of fast roads where we can really open it up; it’s always a blast. We also got help from another team that we didn’t know. We were sitting in the pit trying to get the truck started and our battery was dead. A group of guys pulled up and said they recognized our truck because we had pulled them out at the Mint 400. They jumped us and got us going again. Their whole crew pitched in to help. We crossed the line after one lap but got the checkered flag because the overall leader had already finished. It was not the race we wanted but we’ll take it!”
There is a comradery in the Jeepspeed series that does not exist in other forms of racing. Many of the vehicles are built in the family garage using readily available parts from the series sponsors like Jasper Racing Engines, the official engine company of Jeepspeed, General Tire, KMC Wheels, Currie Enterprises, King Shocks, Rugged Radios, Rubicon Express, G2 Axle & Gear, Smittybilt, and Howe Performance. Official suppliers joining the Jeepspeed series this season are Jasper Racing Engines, NEO Synthetic Oil, Southwest Boulder & Stone, and GG Lighting.
Established in 2001, Jeepspeed is the longest running Spec Class in desert racing. Its affordability, sensible rules, and strong backing from supporting sponsors make it very popular with budget minded racers who crave competition. Jeepspeed has big rewards for racers in all 3 divisions of the Jeepspeed Challenge in 2017. Over $50,000 in cash and Jeepspeed product awards are up for grabs. At the Parker 425, the cash bonus was brought to racers by Rugged Radios and Southwest Boulder & Stone. Racers in all three classes also qualified for a set of General Tires and a set of KMC Wheels. Each new winner this season will receive tires and wheels in addition to a cash bonus, race winnings and contingency bonuses.
Think you would like to give Jeepspeed racing a try? We have a special event this summer that will be a great opportunity to do just that. The General Tire Jeepspeed Racing Series is proud to announce a huge event for the summer of 2017, the Jeepspeed Open presented by Currie Enterprises. The Run What You Brung Summer Show will be held in conjunction with the M.O.R.E. night race on July 14-16 in Barstow, California; one of the most popular races of the year.
Jeepspeed will host The Jeep race everyone has been waiting for. No tire restrictions! No wheel restrictions! No burdensome rules, everyone can join in on the fun! Vehicles need only to pass technical inspection to insure they satisfy the race organizer's safety requirements. The event is open to any desert race vehicle recognizable as a Jeep, Dodge, or Mopar appearing vehicle. For information about the Jeepspeed racing series go to www.jeepspeed.com. There you will find additional info, deals on some attractively priced race Jeeps, Jeepspeed news, rules, forums, race results, videos and much more. Go to the Jeepspeed forum and you can read in-depth race reports from many of the Jeepspeed teams.
Photography By: Bink Designs