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The Mint 400 Legacy Shines Bright

We don’t cover off-road racing much here on the pages of Tread magazine, as our focus is on the general off-road lifestyle. However, some race experiences are worth talking about and add to our passion to get out and explore. It’s hard not to appreciate the amazing off-road technology that is developed in racing as well, as much of it finds its way into our builds.

All the action attracts lots of people
All the action attracts a lot of people to the desert.

Even amongst the bright lights and chaos of Las Vegas, the Mint 400 demands the spotlight. “The Great American Off-Road Race,” as the Mint 400 is known, reflects both the event’s long heritage and grandiose happenings. The year 2020 marked the 33rd running of the race, with the first race all the way back in 1968 and no races between 1990 and 2007.

Mint 400 bike race

We were lucky enough to be invited by BFGoodrich Tires, the title sponsor of the Mint 400, to attend this year’s event. We were fully immersed in the off-road racing culture for a long weekend of Mint 400 action. Sure, most race attendees don’t get to drive side-by-side through the desert at high speed with Zero1 Offroad, drive a 6100 Class race truck on a short course at Speed Vegas with Driven Experiences, get VIP hospitably passes, all-access media passes, and a heli ride over the race course. Besides the media pass and helicopter ride, though, anyone with the means could have all of these experiences like we did. It could be for you, and definitely was for us, a truly next-level long weekend of off-road racing action.

Mint 400 race in the Vegas dirt

“Don’t ever let the opportunity slip through your fingers to experience the BFGoodrich Mint 400 for yourself.”

While we for sure had a blast, you can too with just attending the event and being amongst the action. The Mint 400 is a lot of things, and the race itself, while impressive in all ways, is only a small fraction of the fun on offer.

Race driver

Lots of Off-Road Racing

The racing is the focal point, however, so let’s dive into that action first. The unlimited trucks are fire-breathing technological marvels that get all the attention at big races like the Mint 400. The reality of races like this, though, is that there is a huge field of racers who span age, gender, and vehicle type.

The youngest racer I heard about at the 2020 Mint 400 was a 7-year-old UTV racer. There is also a youth moto race; it was impressive to watch such little humans tackle such rough terrain.

Rock climbing during the race

Women were well represented this year, with 65 women competing in the race. Sarah Price made her Unlimited Class Trophy Truck debut at this year’s race, and was the only female driver in that class. She ended up in Eleventh Place, after some mechanical difficulties.

Race vehicles at the Mint 400 ranged from dirt bikes to UTV to buggie to crazy AWD unlimited trophy trucks and everything in between. There were even old VW Beetles racing. They looked like good fun, but my back ached just watching them bounce across the desert.

The Big Show

Saturday at the Mint 400 is the big show out in Primm, Nevada. Behind the Buffalo Bill’s Resort and Casino there are motorcycle races, off-road and flat-track pavement races in the morning, and an off-road vendor festival all day. Midday all the Top Class trucks and buggies gather on the grid just in front of the spectator area, and the fans get a chance to check out the race vehicles up close and connect with the teams. The drivers, co-drivers, and their machines are treated like rock stars. They take countless selfies, sign everything in sight, and get interviewed by TV crews and bloggers alike.

The Mint 400 is quite the show!
The Mint 400 is quite a show! The finish line even has flame cannons and a big jump.

Saturday at the Mint 400 is the big show out in Primm, Nevada. Behind the Buffalo Bill’s Resort and Casino there are motorcycle races, off-road and flat-track pavement races in the morning, and an off-road vendor festival all day. Midday all the Top Class trucks and buggies gather on the grid just in front of the spectator area, and the fans get a chance to check out the race vehicles up close and connect with the teams. The drivers, co-drivers, and their machines are treated like rock stars. They take countless selfies, sign everything in sight, and get interviewed by TV crews and bloggers alike.

For the big race competitors had to conquer 428 miles of brutal Mojave Desert terrain. The race consisted of four laps of the 107-mile course, with rapidly deteriorating conditions throughout the weekend. Racers took off from the start line two at a time, at short intervals, and wove their way through a short track course right in front of the main spectator area. The big jumps were the crowd favorite for sure.

And the Winner Is …

In the penultimate Unlimited Class race on Saturday, #83 Luke McMillin took the overall win. It took him 6 hours, 49 minutes, and 52 seconds to cover the 428 miles of rough desert terrain. Blown head gaskets, flat tires, and other mechanical issues caused by the absolutely torturous course made the race a major test of durability and resolve for every racer. The lead changed hands a number of times throughout the race, and it wasn’t until about midway through the last lap that Luke was able to secure the lead.

Trophy truck driver
Trophy Truck drivers are the rockstars of off-road racing. Here Rob MacCachren is getting some pre-race love from the media and fans.

The McMillin off-road racing dynasty is strong. Luke’s father, Mark, took the overall Mint 400 win all the way back in 1988. Luke’s cousin, Andy, took top honors in both 2009 and 2014.

The 2020 podium was rounded out by two-time winner Bryce Menzies in his AWD Unlimited Truck, and Ryan Arciero in Third. The race was insanely close, as less than 10 minutes separated the top three trucks. This year’s race terrain was so brutal that winning came down to the durability of the truck, a bit of mechanical sympathy by the drivers, and good tires.

While Menzies’ AWD truck showed off the latest technology and the future of the sport, Luke’s winning truck was built all the way back in 2014. Luke’s win shows that a proven and properly set up vehicle can still win over the latest technology. The AWD Unlimited Trucks are the future, however, and most top racers are building and testing them now, including Luke.

Luke’s truck was also running the latest BFGoodrich Baja KR3 40-inch race tires. Fun fact, the top spot on the Mint 400 podium has now been earned on BFGoodrich tires for the past eight years in a row. BFGoodrich is in the second year as title sponsor for the Mint 400, with a signed deal already in place to sponsor the next four. There is no doubt that off-road racing is in BFGoodrich’s DNA, and they plan to continue supporting racing and off-road tire technology development through racing for many years to come.

It’s Not Just About the Racing

Before any racing even begins at the Mint 400 there is so much to experience. The event starts each year on a Wednesday with a parade of race vehicles down the Las Vegas Strip. These very-much-not-street-legal off-road machines cruise the full length of the Strip before ending up at the Off-Road Festival on Fremont Street. Multiple blocks of this famous downtown Vegas street are blocked off and filled with off-road industry vendors for three days.

Racing into the night adds excitement during the Mint 400
Racing into the night adds all kinds of excitement, especially at crazy high speeds through rough desert terrain.

The festival includes product demos, custom vehicles, tons of race merchandise, and so much more. A highlight each year is the high-paced Pit-Crew Challenge on Thursday night. Race teams compete on stage in a head-to-head bracket format to see who can change a tire the fastest. It’s actually way more fun to watch than it might sound.

Like many people, we aspire to be race car drivers, but like most, don’t yet have the means to drive off into the desert in a race car. One way to quench your competitive hunger is to race in the Friday afternoon LOSI 1/5th scale RC races. These little RC vehicles are crazy fast and crazy durable! It’s a fun activity for all ages.

Make the Trip Yourself

Don’t ever let the opportunity slip through your fingers to experience the BFGoodrich Mint 400 for yourself. Sure it can be fun to watch the highlights online, or even the live feed from the race, but there is nothing like being amongst all the action. A 1,200hp race truck flying through the air, flying by you at over 120 mph, or eating 3-foot whoops for dinner is just one of those things that needs to be seen, heard, and felt firsthand.

Racing in the Mint 400

OnX was the official mapping sponsor of the Mint 400 this year and made it super easy to find great photography and race viewing angles on the course. A great way to get a taste of the off-road desert action yourself is to use those same maps to go explore the course after the racing ends super early Sunday morning. Most of the course is on pubic BLM land and free to explore. We will warn you, however, that it will be slow going on the race course itself unless you, too, are running massive 40-inch tires and long travel suspension like the race vehicles. Luckily, there are lots of mapped routes near, through, and around the race course itself to explore and get a flavor for the remote rough terrain these racers had to endure at breakneck speeds.

Bottom line, the Mint 400 lived up to its name as the Great American Off-Road Race. We’re already itching to go see some more race action in person soon. Above that, however, we’re truly itching to go explore this area of the Mojave Desert even more with our own vehicles.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the July/August 2020 print issue of Tread Magazine. 

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