The Mint 400 Returns for a Historic 2019

The Mint 400 Trio, Mel Larson, KJ Howe and Norm Johnson

The Mint 400, as you may know, was my baby, dating all the way back to 1967 when I was the publicist for the Mint Hotel & Casino in downtown Las Vegas.  A brief history lesson is needed to understand why I am so proud of this year’s race.  In 1968 when we (the Mint Hotel) announced the first off-road race to be held in Nevada it attracted (I think) 115 entries: and that number was because I had invited Parnelli Jones and Mel Larson (two famous professional racers of NASCAR (Mel) and Indy 500 (Parnelli) fame to compete in the actual race. The first race would take up two columns alone, and in 1969 it was proclaimed “A legendary race in its own time,” by Chris Economaki, who was known as the “Dean of American Motorsports.” In 1969 I was eventually promoted to another Del Webb Hotel and the race continued with Mel Larson in charge and me as a consultant through the 1972 race.  In the mid ‘80s the Mint Hotel was sold to the Horseshoe Hotel and they attempted to run the race for a couple of years, but finally gave up on it–and it ceased to exist for nearly 20 years. In the mid-2000s the local off-road association SNORE got hold of the rights (not sure how that happened either) and actually promoted it for a couple of years to some success.

Martelli Brothers, Matt and Josh

Along came a young media type of promoter and his brother, Matt, and Josh Martelli. They saw a future in the desert and were young enough to actually think out of the box, and decided to take a stab at getting fully involved with the sport of off-road racing.  Somehow, they purchased the rights from SNORE, hired me as a consultant, and connected with the best off-road race sanctioning group in the United States, led by Casey Folks: owner, president, rules maker and all-around great guy, and his Best in the Desert organization. The first year, 2012, was an immediate hit (even to them). They nearly doubled the entries of SNOREs last race n 2011. They hustled their ass off in 2013 and landed a National Major Television network to cover the race: actually, Mad Media (the Martelli’s mother ship) filmed, edited, and provided the finished product to the network. It was a big hit with the racers, sponsors, and Las Vegas. It made me proud to say that in 1967 (when I thought of the race, and 1968 when it first saw daylight) I never dreamed it would be as big as it was becoming.  At one time, however, the race actually  had more than 400 race vehicles entered and filling Fremont Street, all the way from 6th street to Main Street.  Now, by golly, Mad Media has out promoted themselves.

Casey Folks at Best in the Desert

The goal when they purchased the race in 2012 was to eventually have 250 entries.  With the assistance of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), great clean-up of the race course following the race, and before each race, the City Council of Las Vegas, the County Commission, and Metro Police, Mad Media got permission to go for 300, then 350 and finally go for it all in 2018–the 50th anniversary of the Great American Off-Road Race. And, because of Best in the Deserts reputation for strict adherence to the rules set down by the BLM it struck gold this year with a total of 541 vehicles entered.

The following is a story written by Chris Leone, provided to this reporter by Mad Media for this column. This was necessary as I was unable to attend because of a health situation. Maybe I’ll get back out there in 2020. Jeepers am I that darn old. Yep, I just checked my birth certificate—it says 86! Wow, hot damn!

Coming off of a 50th anniversary event that was heralded as one of the best in the sport, the BFGoodrich Tires Mint 400 had high expectations to fulfill in 2019. From Wednesday’s parade down the Las Vegas Strip to Monday’s awards brunch in Primm, this year’s event elevated the standards yet again for a premier off-road event in the United States.

Mint 400 Events

541 entries represented a triple-digit jump from last year’s Mint 400, boosted in part by the long-awaited return of motorcycles for the first time since 1976. But of those entries, representing dozens of classes in all disciplines of vehicles, only a handful of champions could be crowned. Those racers included Ricky Brabec, the Dakar Rally front-runner who gave Honda its first-ever motorcycle win at the Mint 400, and Justin Lofton, who became the first-ever three-time Mint 400 overall winner in Unlimited Truck alongside co-driver Derek Balcunas.

“This year’s BFGoodrich Tires Mint 400 week went beyond our wildest expectations,” said Mint 400 CEO Matt Martelli. “It was an incredible event from start to finish, and we couldn’t have done it without the incredible efforts of our entire crew. Congratulations to all of our finishers, and especially this year’s winners, including Justin Lofton, our first-ever three-time overall champion. We’ll see you again in 2020!”

The week began with the annual Ignite CBD Mint 400 Vehicle Parade, where 125 of this year’s entrants headed down the streets of Las Vegas before winding up at Atomic Liquors for the second annual Mint 400 Dinner of Champions. Thursday and Friday saw the Mint 400 Off-Road Festival powered by Rockford Fosgate take over Fremont Street, with an official proclamation from the city renaming the area “Mint 400 Boulevard” for the weekend. From racers going through tech and contingency to hundreds of displays from the foremost companies in off-road, as well as over 25,000 attendees, the event was a testament to the health and strength of the modern off-road industry.

Thursday was especially busy with Time Trials and the Pit Crew Challenge, both of which were supported by Method Race Wheels. The Unlimited Truck team of Jason Voss and Class 6100 team of Terry Householder each took home prizes worth nearly $20,000 for their respective top pit stops, while the midway point of the competition saw Bryce Menzies and Brock Heger announced as the fastest qualifiers on the four-mile time trial course.

Saturday and Sunday would see the action move to Primm and Jean, where a massive presence at the start/finish line and sold-out spectator areas allowed the fans to get up close to the competitors as they battled for the win. Saturday morning’s action saw the motorcycles take on an 80-mile course designed especially for them, while cars, trucks, and UTVs would tackle a 119-mile layout on Saturday afternoon and in two separate Sunday races.

Expanded live coverage was at the forefront of the many initiatives taken on by the Mint 400 team for 2019, and the coverage didn’t disappoint. Between Saturday and Sunday, the Mad Media team produced nearly 18 hours of streaming content, (I must insert myself here as I watched it streaming live and couldn’t believe the quality—great job guys) utilizing two dozen live cameras—including two helicopters and two drones—and nearly five dozen GoPros to bring the story of this year’s Great American Off-Road Race to life. From breathtaking live shots of the sport’s fastest vehicles barreling through the desert to studio interviews with event legends and race winners, this year’s live show set a new standard for what can be done with live production in off-road racing.

This year’s Mint 400 inspired a large contingent of big names to compete alongside off-road regulars, from 2009 Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button to two-time UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez. Both were able to take the checkered flag on Sunday, with Velasquez placing second in Class 5500 and Button cracking the top 20 in Class 6100 despite limited testing.

As for Mad Media what can one say. Some of their other viral film projects such as the Gymkhana series and XP1K series, have been viewed hundreds of millions of times. From their early days as pioneers of branded viral video content for skateboard companies Osiris and Expedition, to their most recent work spreading the gospel of off-road racing with the world-famous Mint 400, Mad Media remains a powerhouse pioneer of digital media.

Fans looking to relive all of the action from this year’s BFGoodrich Tires Mint 400 can visit for live stream replays, photo galleries, and stories from this year’s running of the event.

Well, gang, hopefully I’ll be at the next Mint 400, and I’ll see you there!

I’m outa here!

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