Racers Roll The Dice At Mint 400
From The Festival on Fremont to The Battles on The Course
When most people think of Las Vegas, Nevada, they think of gambling. It’s a destination known around the world for its casinos and extravagant resorts. In the offroad racing world, it’s known for the Mint 400. Since the first run way back in 1968, the race has gone through a lot of changes. Two things have remained the same, the terrain outside of Las Vegas is still rough and nasty while the amazing offroad festival, better known as tech and contingency, takes over Fremont street.
The Mint 400 holds several events that take place over the entire week. There is a parade that travels down the strip to let everyone know the Mint is underway. There are autograph signings, a pit crew competition, special promotions for the fans, time trials for the big unlimited trucks, and two days of contingency on Fremont Street. Sponsor and vendor booths line both sides of Fremont Street for blocks. Contingency is based on the awards that racers earn from sponsors. In order to be eligible for the cash or parts they offer, it’s contingent on the racer running the parts and displaying a sticker on the car. Race officials check off the decals displayed on the racer’s tech sheet, and also perform inspections of safety equipment, driver’s suits, and helmets. The racers can get last minute tweaks done to their cars, and fans have a chance to check out the booths, meet the drivers, and see the cars up close. It is a huge street party centered on racing.
With all the fun to be had on Fremont Street, some fans might temporarily lose focus on the main event, the race. The racers can’t afford to make that mistake. With many long straight sections, the course looks easy on the map, but the dirt is deceiving. Those who break on race day often blame it on the rocks. While there are plenty, the whoops and deep sand also conspire to torture the UTV’s and their occupants. With the amount of prestige that a Mint 400 victory affords, the pressure to win is enormous. It all comes down to your preparation, and finding the right pace. Do you challenge everyone to a sprint, or play it safe hoping that attrition will whittle down the field? It turned out to be a bit of both. There was no clear path to victory, it was a roll of the dice.
UTV racing was split into 2 days. Saturday morning the motorcycles would be the first to hit the course. Then several vehicle classes would race in the afternoon; including the Unlimited UTV’s, Sportsman UTV’s, and the UTV Rally class. New this season is the UTV rally class for stock UTV’s. It is already proven to be popular with 15 entries at the Mint. Included in the Rally field were a couple heavy hitters that would be racing in the Trucks on Sunday. Since there is no prerunning allowed, they were undoubtedly getting a sneak peek at the race course. It’s nothing new, and per proper etiquette, the peekers do one lap and pull out to let those who are racing have a clean battle.
Darren Rude of Youtheory racing decided it might be fun to run the rally class since they do all their prerunning in UTV’s, and didn’t have anything going on for Saturday. “It was really rough, but we had a blast,” said Rude, “We have the points lead now so we are going to race at the UTV World Championships. We had an issue after pit A when our windshield got soaked with mud and we couldn’t see. We went through that sketchy section passing three cars. We were running an iPad with leadnav, and were able to navigate with limited vision, and the GPS all the way to the quarry. It worked so well, that we are planning to put iPads in the Trophy Trucks now. We have already checked over the suspension on the Can Am, and everything looks great.”
The Unlimited class was won by last year’s Champion Brett Comiskey. He was racing both on Saturday in the Unlimited race, and on Sunday in the turbo class. Comiskey had a good run on Saturday beating 15 other cars. Second place was Kaden Wells, and Eli Kiger was third. “I do like it when it’s rough like that. It was rough and fast,” said Comiskey, “The washes were really choppy, but we reeled everyone in by the first pit. Last year we were leading too, but had to stop and change a wheel bearing. We had only one flat tire, and no other problems. The win topped off a great weekend. We had 20 other Aussies over here for the race. Everyone had a great time. We gave out shirts, hats, and stickers at contingency, and the people were super good to us. We made a heap of good friends. After the race we drove to LA, cleaned up, and put away the cars, and then got on a plane back to Australia. I was absolutely buggered. I slept 8 hours on the plane.” Brett finished 16th out of an amazing 76 turbo cars on Sunday. Also doing double duty was Craig Scanlon who was racing his Turbo RZR on Sunday Morning, and then jumping in his 6100 class truck for another three laps. He finished 20th in the UTV, but suffered an issue in the truck and was unable to finish despite a valiant attempt.
After Saturday’s races, the course was nice and tenderized for the Turbo and Pro class cars that would race on Sunday morning. Typically in a desert race, the big unlimited cars and trucks start first, and then the fastest limited cars and UTV’s follow. The course gets chewed up pretty bad from the huge tires on the unlimited vehicles so the smaller UTV tires have to run in huge ruts, making the challenge even greater. With the 2 day format, the big guys would run last, which seems much more fair. Let the racers with the huge tires and huge shocks take the worst of it. With that said, the UTV’s would still get their share of the rough conditions.
On lap one, Dustin Jones jumped out to the first position on the road. He was followed by a whole train of Turbo cars. Brandon Schueler, Branden Sims, Austin Weiland, Randy Romo, Alex Nicholas, Sierra Romo, and Billy Long had already passed some of the class 10 cars that started ahead of them. Disaster struck shortly after for Branden Sims when his spindle broke, causing his a-arm to pierce through the inside of his front wheel. He would be sidelined for a couple laps while Best in the Desert officials brought him the parts he needed for repairs. It was not the Mint 400 Sims was hoping for; like many of his competitors who suffered problems on lap one. Those who survived laps one and two would be locked in a fierce battle for the win.
On the final lap, the leaders were still going all out for the win. The course was filled with rocks, deep ruts, and whoops. The constant pounding was taking a toll, and every little sound weighed heavily on the racer’s minds. Some of those who were in the lead pack on lap one remained, and they were joined by Phil Blurton, Jason Murray, Justin Lambert, Mike Cafro, and Cory Sappington. In the end it was Mitch Guthrie Jr with the win, Phil Blurton in second, and Austin Weiland in third. Guthrie has a smooth driving style that makes it look easy, but according to him it was anything but that. “We were definitely not cruising,” says Guthrie, “This was one of the fastest races I can remember; it shows how competitive it is. The pace was very fast, and I was feeling a lot of pressure. We started 18th so we had to make some passes. We got a couple off the start on lap one, but we had a lot of battles. I had to keep my head, but still turn it up on lap two. On lap three, we had two cars ahead of us. We passed them to be first on the road, but we knew there were a lot of fast racers behind us so we couldn’t back off. It was tough keeping the pace up so high without breaking anything. We did our jobs in the shop prepping the car; I don’t even know how many hours we spent getting our new Polaris perfect. Kurtis Elliott and I are really working well together in the shop, and on the course.”
While the Turbo cars were duking it out, the Pro class was having their own battles. Seth Quintero and Bret Ward had a fierce battle for the win with Quintero coming out on top. John Estrada finished third place; over 20 minutes later. “We had nearly a flawless race,” says Quintero, “We had a great fight with 2nd place for the win. Lap one was super fun. By lap three the track was mangled. We had a noise coming from the back of the car, but we could not back off. (He discovered after the race that he had a broken motor mount). We tried all day but could never pull out enough of a lead to back it down even a little. We are so excited to win after finishing 2nd place in our first Mint 400 last year. I’m going to have to make space in my trophy room so the Mint trophy will fit.” Seth’s team is tiny with everyone wearing multiple hats. While he and Colby Wemple are in the car, his main pit guy Riley, and his Mom, and Dad help to pit him. Seth told us that he got pumped up during his gas stop when he saw Riley run up to the car with a gas can over each shoulder! Riley is also known for his lightning fast belt and tire changes.
2nd place, Bret Ward, gave Quintero a run for his money earning his second podium finish in a row. “We went back and forth with Quintero until we finally got him,” said Ward, “We shredded a belt and had to watch him drive by while we changed it. We held a fast pace all day despite the track conditions. I owe the performance to my co-driver Steve McGee and Jim Rodriguez from Keene Powersports who tuned the motor. Ben Porter fine-tuned our Fox shocks to withstand the punishment. The course was filled with rocks, and the breaking bumps going into the turns by lap three were just pounding everyone. I was supposed to switch driving with Ken Cook, but we were in such a tight battle with Quintero we made a team decision and I stayed in the car hoping to catch 1st place. Around mile 60 on the last lap we broke a rear axle and the right front shock blew. We drove the final miles at less than race speed, but we still took a respectable 2nd place podium; 28 minutes ahead of 3rd place finisher. I’m looking forward to battling with Seth again as we will be starting next to each other at the UTV World Championships in Laughlin.”
As Bret Ward states, the UTV racers will be right back at it at the UTV World Championships in Laughlin, Nevada April 5-7. The World Champs is held on a shortened desert course so the pace will be even more intense, if that’s even possible.