The 2015 Polaris RZR Mint 400, Presented by General Tire flooded the streets of Las Vegas this past week, bringing race teams from throughout the world to compete in the great American off road race. The race was created by Norm Johnson back in 1967, initially a publicity event from the Mint Hotel’s annual deer hunt. Forty eight years after the inaugural event, the race continues to bring together racers and test their resolve against the terrain and teams that stand between them and victory.
In the predawn hours on Saturday morning the soothing rumble of high flow exhaust filled the Primm Valley. Racers lined the infield at Buffalo Bill’s Casino, departing in pairs to take on whatever the course had in store. Dust filled the air as the sun crested the mountain, ensuring that the drivers would have to put some faith in their instincts (and navigational equipment) as they pressed on.
The morning race saw a variety of vehicles on course, from the vintage and stock bug classes to those filled with the increasingly popular UTVs, and seemingly everything in between, the morning race set the tone for the day. The drivers that ran clean laps placed well, those who didn’t had their work cut out for them and fought hard to gain ground on the leaders.
The first car to cross the finish line was the #1887 of John Webster, finishing his two lap run in 4:44:23.914. Just over 20 minutes behind him the second morning finisher, Paul Dallenbach (#5569), would take the checkered flag on his first Class 5500 – Baja Challenge win at The Mint. When asked about his run, Dallenbach said “We ran a clean race, no flats” adding “Last year we over drove (the car).”
The winner of the mornings three lap race was none other then Roger Starkey in his single seat Class 1000 car. “What a race!” Starkey said on the podium. “This is the second time we’ve run The Mint, but the first time we’ve won it. We started out in third and got out in front, so we only had to worry about someone catching up. It was unbelievable. The course was great…real fast…getting a little chewed up. It couldn’t be better.” Starkey finished unofficially with a time of 6:26:16, just a little under two minutes in front of second place.
Two racers were injured in a multi-vehicle accident during the second race of the day. No spectators were involved or injured in the accident. The race was temporarily stopped to allow medical teams time to treat the victims and remove the vehicles from the race course. Both racers were transported to a nearby hospital for treatment and the race restarted at 4:45 p.m. Times were written down and the appropriate adjustments were all added to finishing times.
“The safety of our racers is paramount,” said Mint 400 CEO Matt Martelli. “Best In The Desert officials stopped the race immediately upon learning of the accident and only resumed after the injured were treated and the vehicles removed from the course.” The two injured racers have been surrounded by friends and family and have been overwhelmed by support in the offroad community.
The overall first place finisher, Justin Lofton (#41), lost a tire about 4 miles into the race and his rear brakes at the beginning of the third lap. “We did the whole last lap with no rear brakes, which doesn’t seem so bad…it slowed me down, which probably helped get me to the finish line in this thing.”
Robby Gordon had pushed his #77 machine to (in his own estimation) a 12 minute lead before the race was temporarily red flagged for an accident cleanup and emergency response, once the cars were tightened and the race resumed he went on to place second. Third place Rob MacCachren lost a driveshaft during the race, yet still only finished about 8 minutes behind Lofton. Carlos Lopez (#11) and Gustavo Vildosola Jr rounded out the top five.
Dan Mcmillin (#23), Luke mcmillin (#83), Gary Weyhrich (#98), Sam Berri (#1549), and Cody Parkhouse (#1532) completed the top 10 overall finishers. Sam Berri reflected on his team as he rolled his car across the stage Saturday night, saying “this is for everyone involved in building the car. I’m out here to give these young’uns a run for their money.”
Some of the last cars to cross the line belonged to Class 4400, the Ultra4 Racing series cars that braved the desert race course in their solid axle, shorter wheel based, machines. After the race Michael Klensin (#4431) said “after the first lap we couldn’t get the car over about 60” adding “the whoops from the Trophy Trucks were just beating us up.” For those not familiar with where they’re run, the Ultra4 cars see a mix of terrain, but a primarily are built as a rock crawling buggy. But like other race series, the Ultra4 drivers are always adapting to their competition. Many drivers are choosing to make their rigs faster by incorporating independent front suspensions and high speed desert racing provides a great proving ground for design and testing. I asked Michael if we’d see him next year, as he laughed through his words he said “ask me again in a month”.
Many thanks to the Best in the Desert team of officials and volunteers that made the race possible. To all of the BLM officials, the local and state Police Officers, and Sherriff Joe Lombardo I thank you on behalf of all the race fans that you helped to enjoy the Great American off road race.
Words by Dave Morganthall
Photos by Jason Zindroski