Well, gang, the week I wait for every year is here, and it all starts today (Wednesday, March 20), with the first-time ever, “4 Wheel Parts Off-Road Vehicle Parade,” on the Las Vegas Strip and ending on Sunday with the Awards Presentation. Of course, I’m referring to the world famous General Tire Mint 400 Off-Road race. More than 260 off-road race teams and tens of thousands of off-road enthusiasts are about to converge on our little village, for “The Great American Off-Road Race” and this writer will be right in the middle of it all.
Drivers and crews representing 14 different countries, spanning every continent, will compete in 21 different classes, during The 2013 General Tire Mint 400, presented by Polaris.
The “4 Wheel Parts Off-Road Vehicle Parade” will get underway at 3:15 p.m. in front of the Circus Circus Hotel & Casino and end at Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino. It will feature 80 custom built off-road trucks, buggies and other vehicles, parading down Las Vegas Boulevard, led by this writer, Norm Johnson, Mel Larson and the Grand Marshall of the 2013 race, K.J. Howe, riding in a 1963 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible provided by A. Wayne Olson, chairman of “Cadillac Though the Years.”
Festivities will continue Thursday in downtown Las Vegas, beginning with a “Meet and Greet” event in front of the El Cortez Hotel at 4:00 p.m., followed by the “KMC Pit Crew Challenge” at 5:30 p.m. and the crowning of General Tire Miss Mint 400 2013, sponsored by Metro Honda, at 9:15 p.m., culminating with the Pit Crew Party at the Commonwealth Bar on the corner of 6th Street.
Technical Inspection and contingency row, where all race vehicles are required to participate, will get underway, Friday morning on Fremont Street and continue throughout the day east of Las Vegas Blvd., with much of the action taking place on a stage set up at Sixth and Fremont, in front of the El Cortez Hotel & Casino. Fox 5 TV will be broadcasting live segments every 30 minutes from the stage, for its “Fox 5 News This Morning” show, beginning at 5 a.m. through 8:30 a.m.
The race actually gets underway on Saturday, March 23, with a special two-lap event for the limited classes at 6 a.m., from the Jean location, culminating with the start of the four lap Mint 400, the most challenging and brutal off-road race in America, at 1:00 p.m. There are four special viewing areas, where spectators can watch some of the most technical vehicles in the world rip across the desert. Of the 256 (when this column was prepared) racecars entered, it is estimated that less than 48% will actually finish the race in the official time allotted. Those spectator areas are free and open to the public.
The massive field of competitors includes 41 “Trick Trucks,” 29 “Class 1500” cars and 30 “Class 1000” cars. Off-road racing champions, Rob MacCachren (a second generation racer), BJ Baldwin, Bryce Menzies, Jesse Jones, Cameron Steele, Curt LeDuc, Steve Sourapas, as well as top off-road competitors Adam Householder, Steve Olliges, John Swift, Shawn & Ray Croll, Jason Voss, Mikey Childress, Jerry Whelchel, Kyle Conlon, TJ Flores, Steve Strobel and Mark & Gary Weyhrich, highlight the massive group of Mint 400 racers.
Actor and racer, Patrick Dempsey, racing one of four locally built Zero One race vehicles in the race this year, will also join the field, placing his name among the long list of famous actor/drivers who have been attracted to the challenge of the Mint 400, including Paul Newman, James Garner, Steve McQueen, Mort Sahl, Sandy Hackett, who drove the “Love Bug” VW in 1969 and Astronaut, Gordon Cooper. Driving another Zero One prepared race car, will be a team of three ladies from Hollywood, led by former Playmate, Pilar Lastra, Patti Hughes-Mayer, and Melissa Eickhoff.
And, gang, entered this year is a 94-year old grandfather, who came to the race in 1978, when his son first took part in the great race. Now, his grandkids are racing in the Mint 400, and they have built and prepared a four-seat race-approved buggy just for him. Paul Dohrman will drive from the start line to the first checkpoint, and will there by become the oldest competitor to ever get behind the wheel of a race car in the Mint 400. The previous record was held by Paul Newman at 70.
“This is going to be an epic battle,” Mint 400 CEO Matt Martelli said. “We have 256 teams including 76 Unlimited Vehicles…any of which have a shot at winning this race overall. Off-road desert racing is the UFC of the racing world – and The Mint is one hell of a cage match. You prepare, and you go in with a game plan…but as the race progresses, everything changes and anything can happen. When the green flag drops, it’s all-out war…with plenty of drama. I believe off-road racing is the most exciting motorsport on the planet!”
The brutal 400-mile Mint 400 course, designed by “Best in the Desert” off-road race promoter, and one of the original racers back in the day, Casey Folks, features rocky washes, suffocating silt beds, high-speed graded roads, rock gardens and the giant rolling jumps. Racers start side-by-side and drag race each other for position, creating intense high-speed off-road racing action right from the start.
The Mint 400 will be covered LIVE on the largest off-road racing website in the world – Race-Dezert.com. “RDC” will feature unprecedented coverage of the Mint 400, including up-to-the-minute photos, stories, videos and live streaming. Additionally – because of generous support from title sponsor General Tire, and supporting sponsor Polaris, this year’s television coverage of The Mint 400 will be expanded to a special two-hour show on the SPEED channel – to be broadcast early in June to 78 million homes. Local and National radio shows will also be covering the event, including the national radio show, “SpeedFreaks.”
Well, gang, it’s time to call it a wrap, get into my Levis, and head for downtown Las Vegas, to watch all these young men and women having a ball, as they prepare mentally for the toughest race in America—The General Tire Mint 400, as presented by Polaris, produced by Mad Media, sanctioned by, Casey Folks and his Best in the Desert organization. I’m outa here!