For those of you who have dreamed of one day attending the Baja 1000, I've got an alternative closer to home. The Mint 400, also known as The Great American Off-Road Race might not be as well known as the Baja 500 and Baja 1,000 but it is an awesome experience and opportunity to meet your favorite drivers, manufacturers, and be a part of one of the greatest off-road races in the world.
The Mint 400 is held annually in the desert outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. This year, we were privileged to be invited as a VIP guest of BFGoodrich Tires, the 2020 sponsor and favorite tire brand of the top race teams.
In 1968, Norm Johnson created the race to promote The Mint Hotel & Casino as "The Mint '400' Del Webb Desert Rally" and 101 vehicles set out across approximately 400 miles of desert from The Minto Hotel in Las Vegas to the Sahara Tahoe at Stateline (South Lake Tahoe). The race continued till 1989 following the sale of The Mint Hotel to Jack Binion who integrated the property into what is now Jack Binion's Horseshoe Casino at 100 Fremont Street.
Unlike many other events that Las Vegas is famous for, this race is truly a part of that incredible "Old Las Vegas" spirit that has unfortunately eroded over the years as giant corporate properties moved the focus from Fremont Street to the Las Vegas Strip.
Today though, following the race resuming in 2008 and becoming part of the Best in the Desert championship schedule both The Mint 400 race as well as Downtown Las Vegas are seeing an incredible resurgence. It is also featured in the Hunter S. Thompson novel, Fear and Lothing in Las Vegas who wrote about events surrounding the 1971 race. The modern race features two areas - the festivities including a parade and street festival where you can get up close and personal with the race teams, trucks, parts manufactures, and racing enthusiasts runs south along Freemont Street, while the race itself starts and ends in Primm, Nevada just over the state line from California.
While most of the race is on a marked course through the open desert, the start and finish lines are right in front of the stands. This is also where the Youth Course is laid out to give the spotlight to the racing stars of the future.
Admission to the spectator area in 2020 was $10 in advance or $15 at the gate and parking is free. This makes The Mint 400 and incredibly affordable family event, but also soft on the budget if you are looking for a cheap guys weekend idea in Vegas. There is also a VIP Suite that you can buy a hospitality pass for if you want food, drinks, video screens to watch the race and possibly even more important - nice clean bathrooms.
The other way to watch the race is by purchasing a pass to one of four different spectator areas. These can be accessed by purchasing a pass for $30 per vehicle, per day and are very competitive to acquire.
In the general admission spectator area, there's a midway with various events, brand activations, vendors, and demonstrations that included a monster truck, motorcycle stunt demonstrations, and even a track designed for RC off-road trucks.
BFGoodrich was there showing off it's latest tires including the Baja T/A KR3 - Desert Class 10. This tire that was introduced in the fall of 2019, features improved tread and sidewall puncture resistance as well as a larger contact patch allowing for improved traction, sharper steering response and reduced braking distance. While this tire is designed for the ultimate performance needs of desert racing, it's awesome to know that the innovation and research that comes from it being used in races like this ultimately make it down to the tires we use on our trucks too.
Initially, I thought this was more of a corporate talking point. However, I talked with an engineer at the race who confirmed that races like this are an extremely important part of their design process. BFG works closely with the race teams that they sponsor and takes their feedback and ideas back to their facilities to ultimately design the next generation of tires to keep us safe no matter where we are.
One of the things I love about almost all forms of motorsports is how even the top drivers and teams embrace the fans. While non-race fans might not get it, this opportunity to talk with drivers and get to know them as as much a part of the experience as watching the trucks fly over jumps and spray clouds of dust for miles behind the trucks as they race through the desert.
Throughout the event, starting on Thursday, there are different races with the main events on Friday and Saturday. These days include motorcycles, UTV, Limited, and ultimately the big event on Saturday featuring the biggest and best ... the Unlimited Race.
As guests of BFGoodrich, we had incredible access that included time spent in an official media helicopter as well as the ability to roam the desert to find the perfect spot for photos and to observe the race up close and personal.
In this way, it was similar to what I dream of one day experiencing in Mexico where fans lineup at various spots along the route and only luck and common sense prevent you from getting too close to the action. Ultimately I expect that this is why they tightly control both the number of spectator areas and how many people can watch the race from those spots.
The true speed and ability of these vehicles is truly stunning. They are traveling at speeds of 60, 70, even 80 miles per hour over rough terrain and can exceed 100 mph across dry lake beds and other straight, flat parts of the course. Top speed of the most powerful trucks is said to be approximately 135 mph in ideal conditions!
In comparison, the next day I took the Toyota 4Runner out to see how that truck could take the bumps and rough terrain. In spots that I saw the Trophy Trucks traveling at full speed, it was uncomfortable to travel above 30 mph.
This is a huge testament to not just the incredible tires but also the suspension that these trucks have.
As the sun set on the desert, there was still time to watch the trucks complete the race.
Unlike NASCAR Truck Series and most other races out there in arenas and tracks, there are no lights here. That only adds to the excitement as you see these trucks with lights blazing and plumes of dust illuminated by the setting sun trailing behind them as they race towards the finish line.
Attending The Mint 400 has been on my bucket list for a while and while we had special access, it impressed me just how much fun any fan could have attending the race.