The BFGoodrich Tires Mint 400 has a reputation for being the most brutal desert race on the planet. The course is non-stop punishment, and the field is deep in nearly every class. To win the Great American Off-Road Race is no small feat, and the champions for the 50th anniversary of the race were rewarded for their efforts on March 11th at the Golden Nugget Casino.
The morning race started at 6 AM, with slower classes running two laps over the grueling 118-mile course. Jeremy Henderson took top honors in the 7100 class in his Toyota pickup. This popular class is made up of trucks with bolt-on suspension components like the kind you would find out in the desert on any given weekend. In JeepSpeed, Garrett Allred won the 1700 class in 5:43, while Billy Bunch was victorious in 3700, finishing just 30 seconds behind Allred. Mike Shetler won Jeepspeed 2700 in 6:36. Mike Jams won Class 3000 (Desert Lites) and Chad Hall followed up his victory in Parker by winning 7300 (Stock Mini Truck) at the Mint in his factory-backed Chevy Colorado ZR2. The veteran desert racer finished two laps in 7:04 in his BFGoodrich-shod Chevy.
Being the 50th anniversary of the inaugural Mint 400, a certain reverence was paid to the vintage vehicles. These pioneers led the parade down the Las Vegas Strip, and both man and machine proved that they still have what it takes to race. Desert racing legend Spencer Low won the Vintage Open class in Dana Dague’s beautifully restored Nissan Pickup, and Garey Leavitt won the Vintage class in his Volkswagen Bug. Rick Boyer won Class 11 in his Volkswagen Bug in 7:09.
Faster vehicles that are too light to mix it up with Trick Trucks ran three laps starting at 6 AM. Class 1000 is the fastest of the bunch, and Brock Heger put on a clinic for the 27-car field. Despite a flat tire and a rollover that disabled his radio communications, the young driver finished the three laps in 6:33 to win the Mint 400 for the second year in a row. While there are a variety of factors including lap traffic and course condition, this time was good enough that he would have finished 16th in the afternoon race, with his four-cylinder Ecotech buggy posting a better time than all of the 6100 trucks and 4400 buggies.
Mike Belk won Class 5000 (Baja Bug) after finishing second last year, and Erick Kozin won Class 5500 in his arrive-and-drive Zero1 Odysseys buggy against a full field of celebrities. Journee Richardson won Class 2000 (1/2-1600) in her bright pink buggy, raising awareness for breast cancer in the process. Craig Spitz finished first in the 20-truck Class 6000 (Trophylite) field. Spitz has continually worked his way up the standings after finishing 12th in class in 2016 and 5th in class last year.
UTV racing continues to enjoy meteoric growth, and 2018 was no exception. The Mint 400 had 135 entries across four classes. Shaun Miller won the UTV Sportsman Class in 7:09 (two laps) and Rhys Millen won the UTV Unlimited class in 7:49 (three laps) in his Polaris RZR. Dodge Poelman bested the 50 car UTV Pro field to win the Mint 400 for the second year in a row in his Polaris RZR. And Justin Lambert won the UTV Turbo class; the largest class at the Mint 400 with 69 entries, edging out Phil Blurton by under a minute.
The main event started at 1 PM, with Trick Trucks, 1500 class unlimited buggies, 6100 spec-engine trucks, and 4400 Ultra4 cars. Bryce Menzies had a nearly flawless day to edge out Apdaly Lopez but a mere 28 seconds after six hours of racing. For his efforts, Menzies won $10,000 from Fox and an equal amount from BFGoodrich Tires. The victory adds to Menzies’ 2013 win at the Mint 400, putting him in the exclusive company of Justin Lofton and Andy McMillin as two-mint Mint champions. Harley Letner qualified first overall in his 1500 buggy and led the race for the first lap, but a flat tire allowed the lead trucks to get past him. He still managed to finish 8th overall and over an hour ahead of the next 1500 competitor. In 6100, the Desert Assassins’ Bobby Pecoy was at the front of the 49-truck field despite a poor qualifying position. He finished 21st overall. NHRA crew chief Bobby Pecoy came all the way from Indiana to win the 7200 class, placing 36th overall. Last year the 4400 class raced in the morning, but a large field and ever increasing capabilities put the Ultra4 cars in the main race this year. Paul Horschel won the class, finishing 42nd overall.
All of the winners can take pride in knowing that they are desert racing’s cream of the crop, beating the best of the best on one of the most brutal courses in the world.