On today’s rather strange compression of time and endless bad news, the recently-completed BFGoodrich Mint 400 feels like a lifetime ago.
Like the American economy, only a few short weeks ago off-road racing was running on all cylinders, with a shared optimism that 2020 was poised to be great season for racers, builders, component suppliers and promoters.
A record crowd – and the world’s largest gathering of motorhomes and RVs – graced California’s Johnson Valley for February’s King of the Hammers event. Tens of thousands of people, and social distancing wasn’t yet a thing.
Now comes word that off-road racing’s third major event on the yearly calendar (not forgetting about the Dakar Rally) proved to be yet another home run – at least in terms of getting the sport to a greater audience, as well as some other eye-opening numbers.
In the days of old, this type of information was reserved for event producers, their stakeholders and a select group of sponsors. The modern motorsports business model, though, is far different from the simpler times of logos and billboards, essentially forcing forward-thinking promoters to take more control of their message and the media. Today, they are open to sharing information previously held in secrecy – especially if it’s good news.
For the Mint 400 and its organizers, the 2020 edition of the “Great American Off-Road Race” was another winner.
“It’s important to share this data with the public now, as this is real data that is searchable by third parties,” explained Mint 400’s Matt Martelli. “As a sport, we need to see where we stack up against other forms of motorsports. We are proud of this success, but we have a long way to go.”
This is not to suggest that everything was perfect. This was the first year that the Mint 400 group ran its own race as opposed to previous versions run in conjunction with Best-In-The-Desert (BITD). That shift brought expected growing pains and grumblings from some quarters, but for many, the proof of keeping the race near the top of the sport’s food chain lies in the numbers.
According to information released by the Martellis, the race attracted a grand total of 65,000 fans to the nearly week-long event. This year attracted a stout entry list of 525 competitors, including 246 cars and trucks, 186 motorcycles, and 93 combined youth motorcycles and UTVs. A total of 56 women competed in this year’s event, including 2020’s Miss Mint 400, Emily Dobrzenski – a first for the race.
The overall Mint 400 winner was Luke McMillin in his No. 83 4WP/BFGoodrich Ford (photo at top), also a first for the talented third-generation racer.
A unique chapter in the 2020 story was the $100,000 raised by the Mint 400 Military Challenge for charitable foundations that support military veterans and families. The presence of America’s armed forces was part of many Mint 400 events, including the creation of a new Military class that allowed a diverse collection of combat-ready vehicles to prove their viability on the same rugged terrain used by every racer.
The week was also kicked-off by a desert clean-up staffed by big-hearted volunteers that removed 25 tons of garbage from the landscape near the racecourse, most of which was dumped there by people who had nothing to do with the sport. This annual effort is not only a solid PR move, but also just the right thing to do.
That has nothing to do with the estimate $40 million-dollar financial impact the Mint brings to the greater Las Vegas area.
All great news, but the biggest single update was the increase the race enjoyed from the massive live streaming coverage that generated 26.5 hours of content seen in 126 countries by more than 800,000 viewers – a massive jump from 2019. From Thursday’s Method Race Wheels Qualifying through Saturday’s final checkered flag, dozens of live cameras (on the ground, in the air, and onboard with Rob MacCachren), an all-star panel of hosts and guests offered those “tuning-in” with dynamic level of quality that was unforeseeable even a couple of years ago.
“While our numbers are up across the board, the real success story is our live stream,” said Martelli. “Last year we had a quarter million unique viewers watching the Mint 400, which we were happy about. Our team made some adjustments on our social media strategy and how we marketed our coverage of the race. Those changes made a huge difference.
“Today, it’s crucial for event promoters to have control of their overall brand. In fact, it’s clutch. We take all of these statistics as really positive news, both for the Mint 400 and the sport as a whole.”
While it may be awhile for off-road motorsports to continue the trend set by both the KOH and the Mint 400, for now we can stop and realize how far this dynamic sport has come.