Since the late 1960s, the legendary Mint 400 off-road race in Las Vegas has been one of motorsports most recognized events. With early star power coming from the likes of Parnelli Jones, James Garner and Steve McQueen, the “Great American Off-Road Race” has always created a special kind of historic significance.
That history will come alive on Friday, March 22 as organizers of the General Tire Mint 400 and the National Off Road Racing Association (NORRA) have joined efforts to bring a large collection of vintage off-road racing machinery to Las Vegas’ Fremont Street for a first-of-its-kind “Show N Shine.” NORRA promotes and organizes the General Tire Mexican 1000 Rally, a vintage-flavored on and off-road rally that takes place down the Baja peninsula in late April.
With the list of famous off-road vehicles expected at the Mint 400’s “Show N’ Shine” growing as the display date grows closer, visitors to the race’s famed Tech and Contingency Day activities can expect to get up close to some iconic desert racing vehicles – many that competed in the Mint 400 during their heyday.
Leading the list of veteran NORRA Mexican 1000 machinery schedule to appear are the 1971 Azunia Tequila/General Tire Snortin’ Nortin’ Chevy Nova of Jim Riley and the 1983 Ford Bronco General Tire “Retro” Pace Truck of Ron DeWolf. Also making its debut in retro yellow, black and white General Tire livery is the Class 5 VW Baja Bug of Bill Hernquist, which originally ran these colors as a factory racer in 1990. The famous ex-Mark Stahl Class 1 Chenowth-VW now owned by Jeff Furrier is also slated to be in Las Vegas.
Several historically significant vehicles are also undergoing restoration but are scheduled to make their public debut at the NORRA Mint 400 “Show N’ Shine” display on Fremont Street. One is the exotic black Chevy “BFG” Chevy Blazer originally built by Parnelli Jones and later raced by the late Frank “Scoop” Vessels and then Don Adams. Now owned by Mint 400 veteran Cameron Thieriot, the Blazer was made famous in ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” coverage of the 1980 Baja 1000. It is being prepped to run down the Baja once again at April’s GT NORRA Mexican 1000, driven by Vessel’s late son Kash, Adams and even Malcolm Smith, who co-drove the car with Adams to a 1983 Baja 1000 class victory.
Also breaking cover for the first time in decades will be the remarkable Mickey Thompson-built Challenger IV single-seat unlimited open-wheel racecar. Currently being painstakingly brought back to life by Rory Ward, the unique and complex front engine racer took part in the 1978, 1979 and 1980 Mint 400s driven by its legendary creator and his son Danny. The car was lost from the public eye for decades, but it now will make its debut at the 2012 Mint 400 as a roller before being raced at next year’s Mexican 1000.
Southern California enthusiast Dana Dague is bringing not one, but two newly restored vintage race trucks to the display. One is a 1975 bright Datsun 4×4 pickup that was originally campaigned by former factory race driver Spencer Low. Dague’s second entry is a beautiful 1981 Dodge D50 truck once raced by Mike Meeks and Jerry Mallicote. Both of these restored vehicles competed at the Mint 400 in their past and both will hit the dirt again in the future at this year’s Mexican 1000.
“The invitation from the Matt Martelli and the Mint 400 group to bring a NORRA vintage display to this event was both an honor and an ideal fit,” explained NORRA’s Mike Pearlman. “Each event shares General Tire as a corporate partner, but both events also share a passion for this sports’ colorful past. Thanks to all of the Mexican 1000 participants and teams who will help make this display a special part of the Mint 400 experience.”
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