The Colorado River Indian Tribes have expressed their disappointment that Best in the Desert Racing Association has decided to hold their Parker 425 off-road race in January after the Tribes announced it had been canceled Dec. 29. A statement from Best in the Desert said the race will still take place, but it will be entirely run on land held by the Bureau of Land Management.
The race and events surrounding it have been scheduled for Jan. 13-16.
The Tribes said they had cancelled the race due to fears a large influx of visitors would further spread the coronavirus pandemic. The same day the announcement was made, the Tribes reported 28 new cases among Tribal members to bring the total to 541.
“From our point of view we were hoping that the race would understand and cancel the event for the safety of the community,” the Tribes said in a statement released Dec. 30. “Apparently that is not what Best in the Desert chose to do. We won't speculate as to their reasons, but we think it's clear that our only concern is the safety of our people.”
BITD’s Bryan Folks told the Parker Pioneer Dec. 29 that they had been working on a contingency plan with the Town of Parker and BLM in the event the Tribes closed down reservation land to the races.
“We want to let our racers and fans know that the BlueWater Parker 425 Presented by Jimco Racing is ON despite the recent announcement by the CRIT,” a statement from BITD read.” Best in the Desert has been working on a contingency plan with the BLM and our other partners from the Town of Parker for over three months in anticipation we would not be able to use CRIT reservation land.”
The BITD statement said the race will start and finish on Shea Road, which would be similar to the traditional start and finish for the old Parker 400 for many years. The race will still be three laps, but with less mileage. The race will be “just shy of 400 miles.” They said updated course and pit maps along with other information will be posted in coming days at their website, www.bitd.com.
The Town of Parker and BITD had already made plans to hold contingency and technical inspection in downtown Parker, along with the Downtown Experience Street Fair. These had been held at the BlueWater Resort & Casino, but the BlueWater has been on limited operations since it reopened in September, and all special events have been cancelled until further notice.
The race had started on California Avenue in downtown Parker since before BITD began operating the races in 2003. That won’t happen this year because the racers would need to cross Tribal land to get to the race course. The Parker Python and main pit area, which are popular spectating and camping locations, will not be used this year because they sit on Tribal land behind Avi Suquilla Airport.
In their statement, the Tribes said they have received no cooperation or support from other entities in fighting the pandemic.
“Once again, CRIT stands alone in this fight against the pandemic as there has not been any support from the Town of Parker or La Paz county since it began,” they said. “This was not a decision that Best in the Desert had not already discussed with us they understood the possibility of our involvement ending.”
Parker Town Manager Lori Wedemeyer said no one at the Town was consulted by the Tribes about cancelling the race on Tribal land. She added the cancellation came as a shock to the Town staff.
The off-road races in Parker are the biggest draws for visitors to the area. It’s estimated more than 20,000 spectators come from the Parker 425. They fill local hotels and campgrounds to their limit. Race fans also spend money in local businesses and restaurants.
In their Dec. 29 statement announcing the cancellation, the Tribes noted Indian Health Services has reported 141 new cases between Dec. 1 and Dec. 27. In the same period, La Paz County reported 473 new cases, bringing the county’s total up to 1,347. A total of 33 county residents have died.
“The influx of thousands of racing spectators would drastically increase the number of COVID-19 cases on the CRIT Reservation when the pandemic is already reaching alarming numbers,” the statement said.
The Tribes noted their “Stay at Home” resolution, No. 54-20, was re-instated Dec. 24. It sets a 10 p.m. to 5 p.m. curfew on Tribal lands, prohibits non-essential travel, cancels recreational activities, and prohibits gatherings of six or more people not in the same household. The order will remain in effect until at least Jan. 31.
In their statement of Dec. 30, the Tribes urged everyone to follow the provisions of Resolution No. 54-20 and to “stay safe.”