Boys of Thunder and the World Famous Mint 400 Off-Road


B.J. Baldwin, of Las Vegas, flies high in 2012 Mint 400


Well, gang, it’s that time of the year again, when the adrenalin in my body begins to anticipate the smell of high-test fuel in the air, the noise of 800 plus horsepower motors shaking the earth beneath ones feet and the Boys of Thunder begin coming alive once again. Yep, gang, it’s time for “racin.’” All kinds of “racin.’”

There is, for example, NASCAR and its biggie, the Daytona 500 this weekend. Indy Racing League has its biggie in May, the Indy 500. Road Racing has a couple of biggies, the already raced Rolex 24 Hour being its true biggie. The Silver State Open Road Races has two biggies. Now they are big. There is no question about that! However, there is one race that is bigger than all of them combined in entries and, just maybe prestige if you just finish the race I speak of the World Famous Mint 400 Off-Road Race, which is held every March in my hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada.




The Indy 500 has 33 open wheel race cars take the starting flag. The Daytona 500 has 43 race cars hit the start line. The Rolex, held every year at Daytona, may have as many as 50 cars in various classes competing. The Silver State Classic Open Road event, over the years, has had as many as 240 cars run down Nevada State Highway 318 for 90 miles (with the fastest going well over 205 mph). And then there is the Mint! A few years back, in its prime, there were more than 400 special built off-road race cars, trucks, and buggies entered, with less than 24% actually finishing.


The Mint 400, of which this writer was responsible for creating in 1968, raced across the desert for 22 years, before it was shut down when the Mint Hotel/Casino was sold. The new ownership felt it was no longer a viable promotion. Thus, the race sat quietly for nearly 20 years, when a group of Las Vegas off-road enthusiasts got together with a major sponsor, General Tire, and the Mint 400 came roaring back in 2008. Well, it didn’t exactly roar back—you might say it sorta trickled back under the guidance of volunteer promoters. Three years later (after the 2011 race), Matt and Josh Martelli, approached the group with an offer to purchase the race. The off-road group took the money and walked away.

Casey Folks man running the Mint 400

In 2012, The Martelli brothers, under their umbrella company Mad Media (a television production company), immediately began the job of returning the famous race to its “Glory Days.” They approached veteran off-road race promoter, Casey Folks (who competed in the original Mint 400s on motorcycles), to include the Mint 400 as part of his “Best in the Desert” off-road race series. They then asked this writer, Norm Johnson, to come aboard as a consultant for the event. Mel Larson, who took over as race director from 1970 through 1975, was named the Grand Marshall for the 2012 event. Many new side-bar promotions were created for the return of the Great American Race, including the return of the Miss Mint 400 contest. The 2012 race had 321 entrants, and this year’s Mint 400 is expected to surpass that number.



Mel Larson, Miss Mint 400 2012 and Norm Johnson at start of 2012 Mint 400

The 2013 Miss Mint 400 competition will be the biggest ever held! Contestants simply upload three photos and create a public profile on The Mint 400 website, then encourage their friends and fans to vote for them. Judges will review all entries and pick nine Finalists. The lucky girl with the most online public votes will automatically become the tenth Finalist. All ten Finalists will receive a travel budget, a gift bag of prizes, and a free 3-night stay at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino. Historic Mint 400 race director, and “Miss Mint 400” contest founder, KJ Howe, will lead the esteemed panel of judges in choosing the woman who best represents the spirit of The Mint 400. K.J., along with race director Mel Larson, created “The Girls of the Mint 400″ in 1972 to add glamor and PR value to the race. The final judging will take place at The Miss Mint 400 Crowning Ceremony, where a panel of experts will determine the winner, and the 2013 General Tire Miss Mint 400 will be crowned!  All of the Finalists will hold the title of being a “Mint 400 Girl,” but only one can wear the crown! Famous Miss Mint 400 women include Tracy Vaccaro, Vickie Reigle, Lisa Soulé, Anita Merritt, Angela Aames, Lisa Hunter, Suzanne Regard, and, of course, Vanna White and Lynda Carter, who all went on to appear in various movies and television series – as well as Mint Hotel and Casino advertising campaigns.

Pole sitter, Danica Patrick and car owner, Tony Stewart, celebrate.

The longer Danica Patrick can keep her Chevy at the front of the field in Sunday’s Daytona 500, the less the cost of tickets for the 2014 NASCAR Weekend in Las Vegas will be. The Las Vegas Motor Speedway is offering a $1 discount off of 2014 tickets for every lap Patrick leads in Sunday’s Daytona 500. The offer is good until the green flag flies for Sunday’s race at Daytona.

“Danica has been headline news since she won the pole on Sunday, and it’ll add some excitement for our race fans to join in her success,” said LVMS president Chris Powell. “And there’s a minimum guarantee – everyone who takes part in this offer is guaranteed a minimum of a $10 discount, even if she leads fewer than 10 laps.  But if she leads more than that, it’s a dollar off each ticket for each of those laps led.”

Patrick became the first woman ever to win a pole position for a NASCAR Sprint Cup race when she edged out four-time NASCAR champion, Jeff Gordon, for the top spot during Sunday’s qualifying. To be part of the promotion, fans must purchase a 2014 weekend ticket in either the Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt terraces before the start of Sunday’s Daytona 500. To order, fans can call the speedway ticket services department at 1-800-644-4444. A 25-percent deposit will be required on all purchases.


Marie Osmond

Las Vegas headliner, Marie Osmond, will sing the national anthem prior to the March 10 Kobalt Tools 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “As a NASCAR fan, I admire every element of this sport: the strategy, the choreography of a pit stop, the thrill of the race, but especially the blend of personalities of the drivers and their attention to their fans of every age,” Osmond said. “I’m honored and happy to be invited to open the Kobalt Tools 400 by singing the national anthem.” The veteran American entertainer and NASCAR fan co-stars with brother, Donny in “Donny & Marie,” at the Flamingo Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.


Well, gang, that’s about it for this week. I’ll be glued to the tube this weekend, as my favorite sport in the world returns to TV—NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Fox TV (locally channel 5) this Sunday.

I’m outa here!


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