2014 Mint 400 Revs up for Start Tomorrow

Mar. 15, 2014 By Josh Burns, Photos by Scott Rousseau and Josh Burns
Tech and contingency took over a good portion of Freemont Street in downtown Las Vegas today.

With 330 entries, the 2014 General Tire Mint 400, Presented by Polaris is ready to kick off tomorrow morning just outside Las Vegas in Jean, Nevada. An event that is rapidly regaining its status as the largest off-road race in America, this year’s Mint 400 has drawn out racers in droves. A whopping 57 Trick Trucks, 42 UTVs and well over a dozen other classes will take the green flag tomorrow. What’s more, there are roughly 50 teams on a waiting list to get into the race. Clearly the Mint 400 is gaining steam.

Back in the glory days of the Mint 400 legends such as Parnelli Jones, who is in attendance at this year’s race and spoke at today’s press conference, earned the pole position by luck of the draw, but now the unlimited vehicles—Trick Trucks and Class 1500 buggies—qualify for starting spots. Yesterday, Dale Dondel earned the fastest qualifying time, with Bryce Menzies and Robby Gordon finishing in second and third, respectively. The fastest 1500 car (and fourth overall) was Harley Letner, while the fifth-fastest qualifier and second 1500 car was Justin Lofton. Pat Dean was third fastest among the 1500s and ninth fastest overall.

The 2014 General Tire Mint 400, Presented by Polaris, hosted a press conference today. Here, the group shares a laugh talking about the upcoming race. From left to right: Justin Lofton, Cameron Steele, DeMarcus Ware, Sal Masekela, BJ Baldwin and Robby Gordon.

One of the biggest changes for this year’s event for race owners Mad Media is the addition of Red Bull as a supporter—a huge windfall as the race will be filmed and shown as part of the Red Bull Signature Series in July. With that, a number of well-known action sports athletes were in attendance today at contingency on Fremont Street and at the media press conference, including Travis Pastrana, action sports host Sal Masekela, and NFL Pro Bowler and newly signed Denver Bronco DeMarcus Ware.

“For me, my career is spent on the other side of the table, where I get to celebrate and put into context moments like these for other athletes,” Masekela said. “So to be able to get to get the invite to come here and have some fun and race with DeMarcus is pretty crazy. The only real difficult part for me is I’m a diehard Charger fan, and DeMarcus signed with the devil this week in Denver, but we’re gonna put that aside and have fun.”

NFL Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware (left) and action sports host Sal Masekela with Off-Road.com Editor Josh Burns. Ware and Masekela will partner tomorrow to race the Mint 400 in a Zero One car, with Masekela driving the car off the line in the morning.

Ware has certainly had a tumultuous past few weeks. After a somewhat surprising move by the Dallas Cowboys, who waived the popular defensive end, he was quickly thrust into free agency but was able to quickly find a home after signing a large contract with the Broncos earlier in the week. In spite of all that’s been going on in his professional life, Ware still made the trip to Vegas to partner with Masekela in a Zero One racecar.

“I had the opportunity now to walk out on the strip and see the cars, and I’m talking my heart started racing, I got pumped,” Ware said. “So I see you guys trying to bring that heat out to the world and let everybody else feel that, so you can bring everything else in. I’ll be ready for tomorrow.”

Pastrana was sporting a walking boot on his left leg at the press conference, but he said he is ready to race in the #60 Ford Geiser Trick Truck. Pastrana will be the 19th car off the line after posting a respectable qualifying time yesterday.  An X Games legend and motocross, rally and NASCAR competitor, he’s no stranger to tackling multiple racing disciplines on two wheels or four, and his effort this year in Trophy Truck will be worth noting—especially for Pastrana himself.

The stars of today’s press conference included well-respected local racer TJ Flores, action sports superstar Travis Pastrana, on- and off-road legend Parnelli Jones, and Mad Media’s Matt Martelli.

“I’m just excited,” he said. “The Mint 400 was always something that my dad and I…we grew up pretty redneck back east, and we always followed off-road races as much as we could, and I grew up kind of idolizing Robby Gordon down at the end of the table. It was always so cool to see guys like him jump around into so many different races. He races the Indy 500, and then he’s racing NASCAR and then this, and this is amazing just looking down this table right now.”

Some people clearly went ape over this year’s Mint 400.

Along with Pastrana, Ware and Masekela, today’s press conference included off-road heroes past and present, including motorsports legend Parnelli Jones and modern-day heavy hitters Robby Gordon, BJ Baldwin, TJ Flores, Justin Lofton and Cameron Steele. A few of them call Las Vegas home, including 2011 Mint 400 winner Baldwin. Yet, despite growing up in the area and knowing the trails like the back of his hand, Baldwin has been frustrated in his efforts to land a repeat victory in the past few years, and he hopes to avoid any pesky mechanical gremlins tomorrow.

“This is my backyard,” he said. “A lot of the racecourse is my test platform, so I know every inch of it, so obviously I’ve been on it for years. I used to ride dirt bikes out on this racecourse. I test my truck my truck on this racecourse. But this particular racecourse I seem to not do very well here, no matter how well I know it. I have always done well here in the middle of the race and then had some kind of mechanical issues. This particular layout is very hard on the powertrain, especially on my truck, I guess. I would rather go on the north part of this course, where we’ve won before and podiumed before, but this is a very fun course and I’m hoping to break that bad luck spell this year and every year after.”

PCI Race Radios was a busy stop on contingency row.

The course itself should be pretty brutal. The unlimited racers will tackle it after it has already been torn up by the limited racers. And, considering they have to travel the rugged loop four times, it’ll be a true test of man and machine. 

“For those of your who don’t know, we’re doing four 100-mile laps in the unlimited classes,” Mad Media’s Matt Martelli, the Mint 400 race owner and promoter, said. “I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve traveled pretty much all over the world and seen different terrains of off-roading, and this particular loop has a little bit of everything and probably the worst, nastiest of it all.”

Ready or not, the limited racers will be leaving the starting line tomorrow morning at 6 a.m., just before sunrise. The unlimited racers won’t be leaving the line until 1 p.m., and they are expected to finish sometime after sunset. It’ll be a long day in the desert for all the teams, but nobody said winning “The Great American Off-Road Race” would be easy. The course will only get tougher and more torn up as the day wears on, and only the drivers with enough toughness and tenacity will make it to the finish line.

Let the games begin.

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