If last month’s upstart King of the Hammers event is big league off-road racing’s untethered Mad Max fantasy come to life, this week’s Mint 400 is the sport’s shiny copper penny. It’s a historic throwback to all that is good about holding a motorsports party against the neon-charged excess of Las Vegas.
The combination of downtown Fremont Street’s “Glitter Gulch” buzzing with the counter-culture freedom that remains off-roading’s core value has been irresistible since the race was first held in 1968. It conjures up lasting images of the Mint 400 girls, booze and Hunter S. Thompson that is still a highly intoxicating cocktail.
Need proof? Look no further than the 2019 BFGoodrich Mint 400 presented by Monster Energy’s entry list. It proudly sits at a staggering 551 teams in a variety of categories that includes 50 unlimited trucks (all carrying a sticker price of at least $500,000), 50 class 6100 trucks and nearly 150 UTVs. Happily, like the old days, stock Volkswagen Bugs still compete here too.
Over $40,000,00 worth of the desert exotica will parade this afternoon down the world-famous Las Vegas Strip during, get this, the “Ignite CBD Mint 400 Vehicle Parade.” How appropriate. It’s a new world for sure, but it’s hard to imagine that a super-premium cannabis brand would be welcome as a title sponsor such a happening anywhere else but the Mint 400.
The parade kicks off five full days of “The American Off-Road Race,” which was won last year by hometown hero Bryce Menzies in his Red Bull-backed Ford unlimited truck. Tomorrow morning the Method Race Wheels qualifying will take place to set race day starting positions for over one hundred Unlimited Truck, Class 1500 (unlimited open-wheel buggy) and Class 6100 (limited trucks) racers.
Then, the party really begins with the two-day Mint 400 Off-Road Festival (presented by Rockford Fosgate) in the uber-retro revival that is downtown Las Vegas. Over 200 aftermarket and off-road companies will display their wares in front of a daily crowd estimated at 25,000. It’s a people-watching extravaganza for sure, an eclectic mix of drivers, teams and awestruck, fanny pack-toting tourists busy deciding between selfies of race cars or Pee-Wee Herman impersonators. Or both.
As Mint 400 tradition dictates, there will be celebrities amongst that crowd as well. This year Formula One Champion Jenson Button is fielding a Class 6100 truck, competing against NASCAR racer Casey Mears, son of off-road legend Roger Mears. It will be hard to miss two-time UFC Champion Cain Velasquez, who is also trying his hand in desert racing behind the wheel of a Zero 1 “arrive and drive” buggy.
Oh, let’s not forget there is racing too. Motorcycle icon J.N. Roberts will be at the start line to waive the green flag, launching the massive field of competitors on to a brutal, 90-mile Nevada course. For the first time since 1976 motorcycles are returning to the Mint and will start off the line at 7:00am on Saturday, followed by the limited four-wheel vehicles beginning at 1:00pm. On Sunday, four-wheel racing resumes at 6:00am with the Pro UTV Classes and more limited race vehicles. Sunday afternoon at 1:30pm will culminate with unlimited trucks racing for top honors.
Of course, even the race days have a touch of Las Vegas glamor. While thousands of fans will crowd five designated spectator areas, those wanting the VIP treatment can buy packages for special access to a fully-outfitted hospitality area at the Primm Valley start/finish line – all hosted by Michelin star chef Drew Deckman. The only thing missing are poolside cabanas and bottle service.
After decades of greatness, for years the Mint 400 was dead and buried. Now race organizers Matt Martelli and his Mad Media crew have brilliantly leveraged that powerful legacy of outlaws and glamor, and the BFGoodrich Mint 400 presented by Monster Energy has returned to its rightful place as motorsports’ ultimate Mardi Gras. It is a happening unlike any other, an outrageous tradition of romp and circumstance as powerful today as it ever was.
RACER.com will continue Mint 400 coverage all week, with special reports and exclusive live streaming right from Las Vegas. Stay tuned for more from the “Great American Off-Road Race.”