Racing toward his goal
Rhinelander teen sets sights on NASCAR Cup Series
By Eileen Persike
Many seven-year-olds are getting their first bicycle, or perhaps just learning to ride without training wheels. But that wasn’t the case for Parker Retzlaff. Parker, now 17, was speeding around dirt ovals in his sprint car at the tender age of seven. Fast forward to Jan. 16 this year, and Parker is cruising at a cool 185 mph in his NASCAR car around the track at Daytona International Speedway. He and four others were selected from thousands of racers to participate in the preseason NASCAR ARCA Menards Series testing. The 2.5 mile track is much longer, with speeds much faster than what Parker has ever experienced.
“It was really cool,” the teen said. “With all the air, and how fast you’re going you’re just pinned to the side of the seat and you can’t move.”
Going to the races began as a fun family outing for the Retzlaffs, but it wasn’t long before Parker was on the track instead of the stands. He said he remembers some of the races, but his clearest memory is getting his first car, which he drove at the Eagle River track for one year.
“He started driving his bandolero car the same year, asphalt racing on Tuesdays and on dirt Thursdays, every week,” said Brian Retzlaff, Parker’s dad. “He did that for about four years and at [age] 12 started racing full-size dirt trucks with adults.”
Brian has been with Parker throughout his career and for the first eight years or so acted as his mechanic, crew and marketing manager, learning as they went along. He secured a couple of local marketing partners, including Ponsse and R & T’s Dinky Diner, and is looking for more. For the past couple of years, Parker has been racing with the Cook Racing Technology team in the competitive East Coast ARCA series. Racing, Brian said, isn’t as easy as people think, comparing it to “going through rush hour traffic in Chicago at 100 mph for two hours.”
“My first ARCA race was 104 degrees in Memphis,” Parker recalled. “It starts to burn your body out. I got really dizzy and soon as I got out of the car I just sat down on the ground; I wasn’t eating before the race and wasn’t drinking enough.”
Racing is also mentally taxing, with the number of split-second decisions drivers have to make. Parker said those decisions become second nature.
“Sometimes it’s actually good to have a yellow [flag] and you can just calm down for a second,” he said. “I stick my fingers out of the car on a yellow to cool my hands down. Just relax, cool down.”
Parker will next move from ARCA to racing trucks, then the “minor league” Xfinity series, then the highest level, cup racing, which is the most familiar to people.
“My goal is to go into cup racing if everything works out good,” Parker said.
To read more about Parker and follow his career, visit his website, parkerretzlaff.com.