I ran into Diane DeLauer recently at the Reno Lucas Oil short-course race. She flashed that same warm smile I had seen hundreds of times before, but then tears sprang from her eyes. Saying nothing, soon mine were doing the same.
Time flies. It has been nearly 18 months since Diane’s partner in life and Best In The Desert (BITD) founder Casey Folks succumb to a massive stroke. It happened on on January 7, 2017, right in the midst of running the Parker 250 UTV Winter Nationals. Despite receiving immediate medical care before being transferred by air to a Las Vegas area hospital, it wasn’t enough.
At the time, I wrote a memorial column encapsulating Folks’ colorful impact on the sport he lived for: “Casey was both an introspective enigma and an energized pied piper, the Jerry Garcia of off-road racing. We all followed him on his yearly tours to race events near and far like a band of gypsies truckin’ down the highway to his next big adventure. Against today’s modern world of motorsports promotion, Folks was counter-culture to a fault; his legendary grey ponytail a perfect accessory to his tough yet down home persona.
Diane and I shared hugs, a laugh or two and a few more tears as the setting sun cast a vibrant glow over the endless Nevada landscape. It was as if our now lost Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Famer had arranged the whole thing.
The post-Casey Folks, Best In The Desert 2.0 is now in full prep mode for this month’s General Tire Vegas to Reno event, which also happens to be the longest point-to-point race in the United States. From humble roots, Folks had managed the near-impossible in fostering rock-solid relationships with government and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials in keeping top-level off-road races on American soil. That, along with a penchant for hosting well organized and safety-minded events, pushed both BITD’s two and four-wheel schedule to the forefront of the sport – with a remarkable ability to attract huge fields for many of his events.
Truthfully, however, there were many within the off-road fraternity that would not have given the organization a chance to withstand last season without their charismatic leader. Forget about figuring out 2018.
If pressed, the management team that has risen to the challenge will tell you they, too, were skeptical of their collective ability to fill in for their fallen leader. Truth is, there was no succession plans in place at all.
“There was just 100 percent shock, nobody expected my Dad to go that early,” shared Bryan Folks, Casey’s 51-year old son. “It was difficult for staff, for everyone. I called it ‘poetic chaos.’ We were going through a lot. We also had separate lives from our Dad’s, but BITD came along in a big fat hurry.”
“The real story is that we had no plan B. My mindset was that my dad would always be around,” shared son Daryl Folks. “My dad wasn’t one in a million, he was one of a kind. We are not Dad. We know we needed to do things differently.”
The business of promoting desert racing in 2018 isn’t for sissies. Folks had often shared in recent years that balancing the needs of insane government bureaucracy, billion dollar companies, millionaire drivers and everyman racers, not to mention the taxing physical and logistical efforts in putting on his events, began to take their toll. Still, he was proud of the team he had assembled at BITD, a staff that included young Donald Jackson, who now runs the operational side of the series, as well as Event Coordinator Liz Marshall.
“In business, there is always more than one way to skin a cat,” said Daryl, now 54-years old. “The fact is Dad put together a tremendous staff that more than made up for our shortcomings. They deserve all the credit in keeping this thing afloat and getting us to today.”
Added Bryan: “Some of this staff goes back four decades. It’s a testament to the loyalty Dad was so good at fostering. They are essential to keeping our series going.”
Indeed, the period immediately following Casey’s blindside passing was a mixture of grief, uncertainty and the inevitable festering of rumors. Perhaps that’s natural, given the singular nature of vision equaling success for promoters like Folks. The incredible success of BITD’s partnership with the Martelli brothers and their Mad Media group in the Mint 400 venture also hung over the sport for a time.
Like so much conjuncture, however, none of those growing whispers reflected reality.
“Once we were able to detach ourselves from the emotion of it, there were only four options,” explained Daryl. “We could sell it, run it into the ground, keep the status quo or grow it.”
“We knew Dad wasn’t going to retire in a rocking chair, this thing is what he started and we wanted to build on it. I put it on the streets that we were not negotiating with anyone, that it was not for sale. This dissolved any rumors. We never thought twice about it after that.”
Purely from a timing perspective, both brothers now admit that their father’s passing was awful given triple back-to-back races including the 2017 Parker 400 and Mint 400. One huge impact, however, came with the addition of a motorcycle and industry icon to the BITD staff.
“We brought in Scot Harden,” said Bryan. “He is like family to us, and had a big influence with my Dad. He came and gave us inspiration and the decision to move on to find our personal footing. He has the pedigree and passion, and the same loyalty to our father’s core principles. Scot reminded us that we have a job to do, to nurture the future.”
“The group helped each other reach a collective mindset that they would, they could, only see the future rising higher than the foundation Casey Folks had created. “After our first meetings our philosophy was to go bigger, stronger, and better,” explained Daryl.
Despite Casey often revealing to those around him that modern sponsorship, social media and promotion often took a back seat to running BITD events, sponsors and the off-road industry did not recede from supporting the all-American series. “In my opinion, our industry sponsors could not have been more supportive,” he said. “We expected fear; they gave us time to grieve and then more understanding for us stepping onto a moving monster.”
Halfway through the 2018 season, that faith in a reconfigured Best In The Desert version 2.0 is paying dividends to both its customers and the industry faithful. The organization just released a complete 2019 schedule, an early commitment to the immediate future almost unheard of in professional motorsports. In addition, BITD just issued a mid-year report stating that it has drawn “a record number of over 1,300 entrants participating in the Parker 250, Parker 425, Mint 400, UTV World Championship and Silver State 300 events. Participation in all classes is up with significant growth across all classes and in the UTV segment in particular. In addition, new sponsors, increased media coverage and a renewed investment in marketing have all led to a much higher profile for the series.”
Considering that a race record of more than 350 entries have signed up to take the green flag on August 17th for the General Tire Vegas to Reno event, BITD’s confidence in their future is beyond mere hyperbole.
As difficult as it must have seemed at the onset of their difficult journey, both of the Folks brothers, along with their hard-working staff, have now seemingly made the transition toward expanding their father’s impactful legacy.
“There is no doubt about it, our lives changed that day,” said Daryl. “It’s just now that I am feeling normal again. It effects each person individually. We saw a lot of emotion. We had our challenges. In the end goodness and doing the right thing prevailed.
“My Dad never thought it would grew to this size,” added Bryan. “Our racers rely on it, and the industry relies on it. It is now bigger than one single person – it is a living, breathing machine.”
2019 Best in the Desert schedule
GMZ UTV Winter Nationals Casey Folks Parker 250
Jan. 11-12, 2019
Bluewater Resort Parker 425
Jan. 31- Feb. 3, 2019
BFGoodrich Tires Mint 400
Las Vegas, NV
March 7-10, 2019
2019 UTV World Championships
April 5-7, 2019
VT Construction Silver State 300
May 2-5, 2019
General Tire Vegas To Reno
Las Vegas, NV
Aug. 4-17, 2019
Laughlin Desert Classic
Oct. 10-13, 2019