The oldest and most prestigious desert race in the United States takes place next week, and race organizers are making sure that “the Great American Off-Road Race” is the largest as well.
For the first time in 43 years, the BFGoodrich Mint 400 will host motorcycles as part of its expanded two-day race schedule. Beginning at sunrise on Saturday, March 8, multiple classes will compete on an 80-mile singletrack loop that is expected to live-up to the race’s historic reputation for bone-crushing courses.
Depending upon the category (see full list below), bike racers will complete two or three laps of the new course, which fittingly is comprised of a combination of three historic Nevada bike races: Whisky Pete’s World Championship Hare and Hound; the Gold Strike World Championship Hare and Hound; and the Las Vegas 400.
As bike teams prepare to return to the deserts outside of Las Vegas, the gamble by the Mint 400’s executive team led by CEO Matt Martelli has already paid off, with 154 entries signing up to compete. A wide variety of truck, buggy and UTV categories make up the remaining classes, a total that now combines for a staggering entry list of 536 racers.
Included in the bike race are two vintage motorcycle classes (1981-1990 and 1980 and older) as well as desert classes including pro motorcycle, expert motorcycle, amateur motorcycle, Ironman (for solo riders) and newly minted father-and-son, women, and relay team classes.
Some top teams and riders to look for include the Honda/Monster Energy team of Mark Samuels, Justin Davis and Justin Morgan in the Open A class and the Honda/Monster Energy entry of Ricky Brabec (pictured at top) of recent Dakar Rally fame) and Kendall Norman in the Open Pro category.
There are sentimental entries as well, namely the KTM of 54-year old Baja champion Paul Krause with son Branson (Open E class), and the welcome return of a Kawasaki “Team Green” entry for 62-year old legend Larry Roeseler, who will compete in the Over 30 Pro category along with former Kawasaki teammates Kellon Walsh and Ty Davis.
The bikes stopped racing after 1976 due to skyrocketing insurance costs. The high cost of entering and reduced factory support also took its toll on the motorcycle entries toward the end.
But the earliest days of the Mint were defined by the wide-open spirit of desert racing. Hardcore motorcycle racers like Malcolm Smith, J.N. Roberts and Bud Ekins, riding primitive machines with virtually no wheel travel, were heroes. The bikes dominated the race and typically beat the four-wheel vehicles by two to four hours.
On a historic note, Yamaha and Husqvarna have been the only bike manufacturers to take overall Mint titles.
Now in his late 70s, the iconic Roberts has been honored as the Grand Marshall for the upcoming event. He won the very first Mint 400 in 1968, taking 12h30m to finish despite crashing at about 75mph within sight of the finish line.
Earlier, the veteran bike racer and Hollywood stuntman had teamed with Malcolm Smith to win the first NORRA Mexican 1000 (later to become the SCORE Baja 1000) in 1967.
Mike Patrick and Phil Bowers were the first Mint 400 racers to log consecutive wins in 1969 and ’70. Rolf Tibblin logged back-to-back wins (with different co-riders) in ’71 and ’72, and is the only three-time Mint 400 motorcycle winner (he also won in ’76).
“Bikes have always been the gateway to off-roading,” said CEO Martelli. “Most off-road racers got their start on a bike somewhere in their childhood. They are still the most affordable way to off-road.
“Years ago, if you raced a bike, you pretty much raced everything. We want the Mint to be a catalyst, reconnecting the off-road bike culture in America.
“And we want to give the bike racers the respect they deserve. They are the unsung heroes of our sport. They literally risk life and limb to be the fastest in the desert.
“We will be including the bikes in our digital and TV coverage as well as live stream coverage on Saturday,” added Mint 400 COO Josh Martelli. “We’re thrilled to be bringing back this important part of the Mint 400’s history.”
Mint 400 Motorcycle class breakdown:
Pro Over 30
Pro Over 40
Expert Over 30
Expert Over 40
Expert Over 50
Relay Motorcycle Team
Vintage Evolution — 1980 and older
Vintage Pre-Modern — 1981 to 1990
Dual Sport Motorcycle
Women’s Exp/Am Motorcycle
Expert Ironman Motorcycle
Amateur Ironman Motorcycle