Jordan Anderson remembers the first time Parker Retzlaff popped up on his radar. While making his Xfinity Series debut for RSS Racing last year at Phoenix Raceway, he busted out the sixth quickest qualifying time.
In that race, Retzlaff shared a starting row with a Joe Gibbs Racing entry, lined up directly ahead of two JR Motorsports cars, beat two Richard Childress Racing hot rods and all three Kaulig Racing teams. Yeah, that‘s impressive for any driver making their debut.
“To have someone like him, 19 years old, he‘s a great talent,” Anderson told Jayski.com last month. “And if you look at his results from last season, every one of his races, he was running at the end. For a team like ours, it‘s all about being able to bring a car back to the shop, make it better and bring it back to the racetrack the following week. That‘s how you get better.”
There‘s familial ties between Anderson and Retzlaff, too. When the teenager was competing in the ARCA Menards Series and the K&N Pro Series, he was running his operation out of Larry McReynolds‘ shop. Anderson is married to McReynolds‘ daughter, Kendall.
After making a splash in the Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series in 2022, Retzlaff, an avid iRacer, was looking to make the jump full time in 2023. With primary partner FunkAway hopping on board towards the end of last season, it made sense to bring them along with him to Anderson‘s team.
“I was just looking for somewhere to go in 2023 and Jordan‘s [team] was a really good fit for me,” Retzlaff said. “Everyone around me liked it. Jordan and I have the same goals and everyone around me has been working hard.”
Retzlaff has been a frequent competitor on iRacing since he was 10 years old. Prior to that, he began racing sprint cars when he was 7. Recently, he‘s spent time on the Chevrolet simulator, which is his first chance at being on a manufacturer‘s rig.
Retzlaff believes the additional sim time will pay off throughout the season. In just nine Xfinity races and one Truck Series race at Talladega last year, he put little pressure on himself, knowing it was a massive jump in the level of competition. Still, he earned a 10th-place finish in his second outing with RSS, and picked up an additional pair of top 15s.
“It started off really good and it got mediocre towards the end of the year,” Retzlaff reflected. “I‘m hoping to get back to my point of where it started off last year and get even better.”
That‘s exactly what Retzlaff did in the season opener at Daytona last month. The rookie stayed out of trouble and when the caution flew on the final lap, his No. 31 Chevrolet placed fourth. It was Retzlaff who gave the winning shove to race winner Austin Hill down the backstretch.
That was another impressive showing. And there‘s another pack-style race coming up at Atlanta this weekend.
“With the way the schedule is, there are a lot of wild card races with the road courses, superspeedways and two Atlanta races,” Anderson noted. “If Parker can play his card right, I think we‘ve got a good grouping.
“Expectations are hopefully we‘re up there battling for a playoff spot.”
Retzlaff agrees. He believes, despite his lack of experience and with the team just being in its third full season, the No. 31 car can still contend for the postseason.
“I think making the playoffs would be a really good success,” Retzlaff stated. “I think we‘ll call it a successful season if we‘re fighting for one of the final payoff spots, even if we don‘t make the playoffs. Our goal right now is to learn and get better every week. We don‘t expect to go out and start winning back-to-back races or anything like that.”
Jeb Burton, who moved over to Anderson‘s team to field a second entry, believes Retzlaff has the talent to succeed as well. It‘s just about managing expectations and being consistent for a full 33-race schedule.
“Parker is a good little wheelman,” Burton said. “He‘s got a lot to learn, but he has speed. I think it will be good to have him as a teammate.”
Despite having a trio of top-20 finishes during the first month of the season, Retzlaff ranks 19th in the championship standings, 29 points below the cutline. It was a 37th-place result at Las Vegas that cost the team dearly.
“Parker has the opportunity to find that balance between being aggressive and fast and taking care of the equipment,” Anderson said. “We needed someone like that to be in our 31 to make sure it was growing and getting better, especially going to a second car.
“I think he‘s going to be a quick learner and has been really impressive. We went to that test at Charlotte (in January) and he hopped in the car and laid down a pretty good lap with the next five laps all consistent.”
And while top 20s are nice, the No. 31 team wants just a bit more.
“We‘re going for top 15s every week, no matter where we are,” Retzlaff said.
Of the 25 different venues on the Xfinity schedule, Retzlaff had never competed on 15 of those layouts entering the season.