The Mint 400

by Michael Satterfield

When I first got the email inviting me to cover The Mint 400 with title sponsor BFGoodrich, I couldn't help but think of Hunter S. Thompson's novelization of his own experience, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. While my trip to the desert wouldn't be drug-fueled or involve portraits of Barba Streisand, the actual racing hasn't changed all that much. Racers bring their best to the desert, try not to break, and if they are skilled and a little lucky, get to join an elite group of competitors stretching back the late 1960s.

The race started out as a way to promote the now long gone Mint Hotel and Casino back in the golden era of desert off-road racing, attracting stars of motorsports like Parnelli Jones, Al Unser, and Mickey Thompson. Celebrities like Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Mort Sahl also competed in the original Mint 400. The first races were in the spirit of the Baja 500, with starting at the Mint Hotel in Las Vegas and ending at the Sahara Hotel in Lake Tahoe.

Today the race is held just south of Las Vegas near the California/Nevada state line. Racers take on four laps of a 100-mile course laid out on a stretch of the desert controlled by the Bureau of Land Management. The grueling race is considered one of the premier events in off-road racing drawing entries from stars like Luke McMillin, Ryan Arciero, and Sara Price.

Title sponsor of the Mint 400 is BFGoodrich Tires which is one of the leading brands in the off-road racing industry and more competitors at the event were running BFGs than any other tire brand. To better understand the race, we headed over to SpeedVegas were I was one of the first people from the general public to get to drive an actual trophy truck, jumps and all. After a few laps with Baja 500 winner, I was launching the truck, sliding through turns, and enjoying every minute of it. In the near future, anyone will be able to walk into SpeedVegas and book some laps, be it behind the wheel or riding along in the passenger seat with a pro-driver. After racing around the track we headed back up to Freemont Street in North Las Vegas, the former home of the Mint Hotel and Casino to take in all the festivities, the driver parade, vendors, and to get our media credentials.

Approved media is given broad access to the event, so long as they are willing to make their way around the 100-mile course to capture images. Thankfully, I was able to hitch a ride on the BFGoodrich helicopter to get a birdseye view of the race and take in just how rough and challenging the course is. Having driven in a Baja challenge car, a Trophy-Lite Truck, and now a full-scale Trophy Truck, I can appreciate the stamina it takes to spend hours behind the wheel of an off-road machine as it bounds across the desert at speed.

From the chopper, we could see the starting grid with it's set of banked turns and jumps designed to give the spectators maximum enjoyment, but the bulk of the course is unimproved dirt roads that wind across the Mojave Desert. After landing, we jumped in an SUV to head out to the course so I could snap some pictures of the course. Making our way to several different points the sun starts to set and the course gets more challenging, not just due to visibility, but with each passing vehicle, the ruts get deeper forcing the drivers to find new ways through the corners.

The race pushes on long after dark, the lights of trucks and buggies illuminate the dust cloud and off in the distance flames shoot up at the start/finish line as each vehicle completes a lap. While the Mint 400 has a similar feel to the Baja 500 or Silver State 300, it is a unique experience every motorsport fan should add to the list of must-visit races. 

Check out more about The Mint 400 or plan your trip to next year's race at