The history, the glamor, and the glitz all describe Las Vegas but each of these terms that can also be applied to the Mint 400. And 2018 marked the 50th anniversary of the “Great American Off-Road Race.”
The Mint 400 started out as a promotion for Del Webb’s Mint Hotel in downtown Las Vegas in 1967 and was organized and promoted by Norm Johnson. The original race was run from the Mint to the Sahara Hotel in Lake Tahoe, CA with two matching dune buggies racing across 600-miles of open desert. It was an overnight success and even inspired “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” the cult classic written by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson.
With all of that success, you’d think the Mint was around those entire 50 years. Unfortunately, after 1989, there was no Mint 400 run.
For nearly twenty years, the race course that made up the famous race was silent. No motorcycles thumping through whoops, no trucks roaring through the berms, no Baja Bugs flinging sand. Then, in 2008, the Southern Nevada Off-Road Enthusiasts (SNORE) revived the historic race with the Martelli Brothers, Joshua and Matt promoting and producing it.
Two things separate the Mint 400 and other off-road races in the United States, and that is the use of Fremont Street and the race vehicle parade.
In 2012, the late Casey Folks, a veteran off-road motorcycle racer and owner of the Best in the Desert (BITD) joined the Martellis to sanction the event.
Prior to contingency, the vehicles are lined up at the start of The Strip on Las Vegas Boulevard and escorted down to Fremont Street. A section of the world famous street is closed down just for The Mint.
There, they are inspected, and contingency is officiated rather than near the race staging area in Primm. This gives the race maximum exposure and allows fans, both familiar and unfamiliar, a chance to see these machines up close before qualifying and race days.
After Friday’s qualifying just outside of Las Vegas, not far from Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the crews and machines come back to Fremont to announce the starting order for Trick Truck, Unlimited, and Trophy Spec. Fans stand in lines to get autographs from their favorite racers after the trucks are staged up again.
This is also where the crews get to shine as the Pit Crew Challenge takes place later that night. The ladder format whittles teams down to two of the fastest finalists with the winning teams taking home prize money.
On Saturday morning, everyone treks down south on the I-15 to Primm, NV and the staging area for The Mint 400.There are two stages for the race: the slower Limited Classes, where the UTVs, Buggies, Vintage, and Stock race, and the fastest Unlimited Classes, where the Trick Trucks, Unlimited Buggies, Ultra4s, and Trophy Spec classes run.
This separation prevents the faster vehicles from running into those far more limited vehicles and causing issues for both.
While the Limiteds start at 6am, the Unlimited classes don’t start until 12pm. Up until the start of the Trick Trucks and Unlimited Buggies, everyone lines up and leaves the start line two-by-two.
The Trick Trucks and Unlimited Buggies, however, qualify together to see who gets the coveted number one spot, which gets a single car start. After that, craziness ensues as these guys push at the drop of the green flag. That intensity doesn’t stop until they either finish or they break. Sometimes, even that doesn’t stop them.
This year’s win went to Bryce Menzies, a Las Vegas local and professional driver who’s won The Mint in 2012. Sometimes, luck is all you need to win and that’s what Menzies had for this year’s race. It came down to the wire as he wasn’t in the lead at the start of the race; he wasn’t even the leader at half of the last lap. Instead, he became the winner for a mere 28-seconds as his truck outlasted his rivals.
The leader at the start of the last lap was Baja 1000 winner, Apdaly Lopez. What was the reason for his loss despite having a good run up to this point? His tire tore apart and, while he was changing it on course, the onboard jack failed and all of this occurred just a few miles out from the finish.
The Mint 400 is one of those races you have to be at to experience properly. So much goes on around all of Las Vegas all year long, but it all seems to stop for just this one race. That alone should be enough to tell you that you need to experience one of the biggest races in North America.