It was a race of attrition and torn rubber — in keeping with the Mint 400’s reputation as one of the toughest challenges in desert off-road racing.
This year’s race also served as a stark reminder that the McMillin family’s ongoing legacy in off-road racing is as strong as ever. Luke McMillin added his name to the illustrious list of overall Mint 400 winners with a last-minute victory in Saturday’s main unlimited class race, driving his No. 83 Ford entered by McMillin Racing. Together with co-driver Jason Duncan, the brother of fellow off-road racer Dan McMillin took the lead on the final minutes of the race to score a comfortable victory. The tandem needed an official time of 6h49m52s to complete 428-mile Mint 400 course, located within an hour’s drive of downtown Las Vegas.
Despite the fact their chassis was an older design, the team’s preparation and focus served to remind everyone of the power of a team now three generations old.
“I am in shock right now, and I really can’t believe it,” said an emotional McMillin from the finish line. “My team works so hard; we built this truck in 2014 and we’ve been through Hell and a half getting it here. “We just won the Mint 400, and that’s badass.”
McMillin collected a $15,000 prize from event organizers for his efforts, with an additional $25,000 contingency bonus. The team is expecting to take delivery of its second all-wheel-drive truck from Mason Motorsports for Luke later this season.
The action was intense and unpredictable throughout the day, as what looked to be a decisive victory for polesitter Concrete Motorsports racer Harley Letner that ended in heartbreak with a head gasket failure. With Harley Letner out of the way, the race came down to a battle between Ryan Arciero (No. 32 Ford), McMillin, and the No. 7 Ford of Bryce Menzies. Despite all of the racers overcoming flats, the group started the fourth lap within seconds of each another and maintained those positions up to the FOX Shox Proving Grounds.
With darkness fully descending upon the Primm Valley desert, it was there that leader Arciero suffered a flat tire with the victory in his sights.
“Man, this is such a disappointment as we had everyone covered,” shared the melancholy Arciero. “I didn’t hit anything, so we must have had a slow leak that eventually needed changing. I can’t tell you how to describe the feeling watching Luke and Bryce drive by when we were stopped.
McMillin inherited the top spot, and never looked back on the way to his first Mint 400 victory, his second in the Unlimited Truck category. It was the fourth victory for the McMillin off-road racing dynasty, as cousin Andy McMillin also took top honors in both 2009 and 2014. Luke’s father Mark McMillin won the 1988 Binion’s Mint 400 race, driving a Porsche 911-powered Chenowth Class 1 car.
Race favorite and reigning champion Justin Lofton was never really a factor, with brake issues forcing the No. 1 Fox Shox/Yokohama Jimco truck to come home a disappointing 10th in class and 15th overall.
Speaking of disappointing, this year’s Mint 400 only managed to attract four Class 1 unlimited cars for the race, a sad situation taking nothing away from Cody Parkhouse’s fifth-place overall victory driving a Jimco-Chevy.
There was added intrigue in the Mint 400 Class 10 race for limited cars, with Preston Bridgman taking home a cool $20,000 from the unique Class 10 Shootout thanks to a consortium of supporter from Alumi Craft Race Cars, Pro Am, Competitive Metals, CB Performance and Red Line Performance. Winner, with Brent Fox earning $10,000 for second and Conner MccMullen nabbing $5,000 for third.
A far better race on Saturday came from the now exploding Baja Truck class for unlimited trucks with restricted engines. While Terry Householder’s No. 224 Herbst-Smith machine came home in first among the 23-truck field, all eyes were on the sister truck piloted by class rookie Justin Blower. In his first race behind the wheel of his No. 214 Pak West/BFGoodrich Ford, Blower and co-driver Zach Coats finish a remarkable second in class and 10th overall. The No. 295 Mason-built racer of Travis Chase arrive home in third, less than three minutes back.
Randy Merritt took home a win in Class 7, Mike Neff in 6100 truck and Sky Johnson in Ultra 4.
Showing just how far the ubiquitous UTV technology has come, Branden Sims headlined Friday night’s limited class race from the BFGoodrich Tires Mint 400 with his second career UTV Pro Turbo win. Starting from the first row with his No. 1913 Tensor Tire Polaris RZR, Sims held the lead through four laps of the brutal 107-mile course. Sims took the victory by 12 minutes over Jacob Carver (No. 936 Polaris), while Dustin Jones (No. 978 Can-Am) completed the podium.
It was a similar story in UTV Pro NA (Naturally Aspirated), where Robby Gordon and son Max teamed up their family manufactured No. 1971 Speed/Toyo Tire machine to lead a majority of the event and score the win over Adrian Orellana and Kaden Wells, both in Polaris RZRs.
The UTV Pro Unlimited podium went to Travis Zollinger, who arrive at the Mint 400 finish line ahead of Eric Phillips and Jeramiah Drew. All three racers were competing in Can-Am side-x-sides.
Taking home additional Mint 400 hardware on Friday among many were second generation driver Jack Olliges in UTV Rally (Can-Am), Joe Fitos (TrophyLite), Kevin Thompson (Class 1450), third generation driver Jake Gaughan (son of Brendan Gaughan) in Class 1/2 -1600 and Jorge Ventura claiming the crown in the always popular Class 11 for vintage VW sedans.