Parker, AZ – The BITD, BlueWater Desert Challenge is a two-day shortcourse style race through the twisty washes and pounding sand of Parker, Arizona. At the previous race, Vegas to Reno, the competitor’s endurance was put to the test; in Parker it was a flat out sprint. Negotiating the technical course was made even harder by the chocking dust that blinded many drivers. Drivers pushed to their Jeeps to the limit trying to get out front in the clean air.
In addition to the cash bonuses provided by Rubicon Express, Smittybilt and G2 Axle & Gear, 14 Jeepspeed Challenge and 3 Jeepspeed Cup competitors would be racing for a special $500 dollar bonus provided by Jim Riley and his Azunia Tequila team.
At Vegas to Reno the Azunia Team had issues with overheating. As they sat on the side of the course several Jeepspeed teams stopped to offer assistance. With their help the Azunia Team was able to make it to the finish after a very long and arduous day. Jim was so impressed by the sportsmanship of the Jeepspeed racers he offered up the bonus money. Since three drivers stopped, Jeepspeed decided to spread the money out giving a share to the top three overall finishers instead.
In the General Tire Jeepspeed Challenge presented by ATX Wheels, a dominating performance was put in by Skyler Gambrell who brought out Jeff and Perry Coan’s retired Wrangler affectionately called “Jabroni.” The Wrangler got that name when it was first built because it was plagued by problems. It has since been refined into a capable and very fast race truck. The truck was parked when Jeff had to retire from driving due to health issues. Built for long desert races like the Baja 1000, not shortcourse, Perry and Jeff made sure Skyler drove the Wrangler at the limit by offering a $200 bonus to the first truck that was able to pass Skyler.
Each morning the field headed out into the darkness only to be blinded by the rising sun on lap two. “On Saturday I started 5th next to Randall,” said Skyler, “We went side by side off the start but I was able to pull ahead. At the Matterhorn, (a large sand dune on the course) I never slowed, passing Hoffman and another truck going up the hill. I drove very aggressive for the first eight miles and then settled into a fast pace but not burning up the truck.” Skyler went on to take the win. While others did repairs and made changes Skyler simply checked the fluids and tightened the lug nuts; the truck was that good.
On Sunday, Skyler would start up front giving him a chance to run in clean air on lap one. He got by Rick Randall but could not shake him. Skyler had to back off a little when his shocks started to overheat but was able to stay with Randall. The two hit some silt where Skyler made his move getting back out front. At mile 19, Skyler was in the lead. At mile 21 Randall was out front by three minutes. The problem was, he never passed Skyler. Rick made a wrong turn in the dust and cut the course. His mistake cost him a 15-minute penalty from Best in the Desert dropping him to third overall. Skyler put in a dominating performance, one that made Jeff and Perry very proud. He has also offered to buy Azunia Tequila for the three racers who stopped to help Jim Riley with his share of the Azunia bonus money.
Second place went to Todd Jackson who leads the point’s chase and is fresh off his win at Vegas to Reno. “We started third on Saturday and got a good jump off the start,” says Todd, “It was so dusty, you could not see past the hood in front of us. We lost four-wheel drive but still finished well. On Sunday we were right on George’s (Mortis) bumper off the start. At mile 8 we finally got around him but hit a hole that launched us straight up in the air; I didn’t think we would ever come down. We settled into a comfortable pace the rest of the way and wound up third. The penalty to Randall bumped us up to second.”
The race on Saturday was a bit of a reunion for Curt Leduc. He ran a lap with Clive Skilton in the Jeepspeed that Curt built back in 1992. “Clive and I have a lot of history together,” says Curt, “You have more time to talk about stuff while you’re racing a Jeepspeed compared to a Trick Truck (laughing). Clive figured it would help me in my Trick Truck if I got to see the course, he was right. It was also a lot of fun.”
Curt ran a lap and then turned it over to son Kyle who spends most of his time racing a Pro-4 in the LOORRS Series. “Clive was cool enough to let me get back to my roots behind the wheel of his Jeepspeed during the race,” said Kyle, “It’s been years since I have driven a Jeepspeed, I had a blast doing it. It was great practice for the Trick Truck race that afternoon. Thanks Clive!” Clive then brought it home on lap three.
In the General Tire Jeepspeed Cup Bob Mamer was back with his turbocharged Comanche pick-up after missing Vegas to Reno. Bob, Brandon Berge and rookie Robert Kobal would battle for the top spot. Brandon would take the win on Saturday followed by Bob and then Robert. On Sunday it was a battle of survival. Both Brandon Berge and Robert Kobal failed to finish. “We did some damage to the rear suspension on Saturday but finished our heat and got it fixed,” said Bob Mamer, “Sunday we had a real clean run with no problems. We were lucky enough not to be stuck in the dust too bad. It was a lot of fun.” It must be encouraging to get a victory in your first race back.
Robert Kobal was competing in Jeepspeed Cup for the first time. Robert did not finish on Saturday but completed the course on Sunday. “The race was more fun than even expected, with great people and an awesome location!” said Robert, “Jeepspeed really opened our eyes from a rock crawler POV to another great way to race. We have decided to redo many items that will take us out of the Stock class in Ultra4 but make us more competitive for all future Jeepspeed races.”
The next and final race of the season will be the BITD Henderson 250 December 6-8 in Henderson, Nevada. All the hard work, dedication and sacrifice invested during an incredibly competitive season will be on the line as the points championships will be settled. The action will be intense; don’t miss it!
Photography By: Brian Binkert