The 2020 Mint 400 Success or Sh*t Show?
TO THE AVERAGE RACE FAN… it probably seemed like any other Mint 400, a whole lot of cool off-road vehicles parading down Las Vegas Boulevard, then hanging out down at Freemont Street, and then racing out in the desert and a few months later the cool TV show comes out. What was going on behind the scenes though was something new, something revolutionary.
First off I want to say we are extremely lucky to have been able to have that race this year. If you remember, in early March 2020 there was a little thing called the Corona virus and it was starting to make the news and people were about to go into full toilet paper warrior panic mode. Many subsequent races were postponed or cancelled altogether. Also, in full disclosure, I own a small off-road media company, you may have heard of us (you are on our website), SkullRush. My name is Cary Jones and I have been pretty heavily involved in off-road desert racing since 2009, first as a co-dawg, then as a driver and team owner, and then as a media and video production guy.
So back to the first paragraph, while most people really didn’t see much of a difference, what took place behind the scenes was very different from any other Mint 400. Ever. The Martelli brothers, who have owned the trademark “Mint 400” for some time, and also own Mad Media (a media company), have traditionally used a race sanction to actually host the race. The first Mint 400 I raced in was put on by SNORE (Southern Nevada Off-Road Enthusiasts), which I believe was the host for a few years. Later the event moved under the direction of the BITD (Best in the Desert) race sanction. These race sanctions host multiple desert off-road races throughout the year and have been doing so every year for upwards of 50 years. They are experienced and put on some great events. I have raced and produced videos in both SNORE and BITD races for eleven years now and I can tell you these are both top notch organizations.
The 2020 Mint 400 was just a bit different though… the Martelli brothers decided to break away from using a race sanction and host all aspects of the event themselves. As a growing media entity I was honestly rooting for them to knock it out of the park. I think they are quite possibly blazing some trails that I want to go down someday, hell I want to make 6 lane freeways out of them! But I digress, that is a story for another day.
What follows is purely one guy’s opinion and summation of the event. I won’t pull any punches and I also won’t mention any names because everyone I talked to and polled opinions from (racers, fans, and media), I consider friends. I am not treading lightly and don’t care if anybody’s feelers get hurt. I call them as I see them.
So first, some of the technical stuff. Because the Mint 400 was not a sanctioned event this year, there were no points involved for any of the participants working on any sort of season championship. This year’s Mint was a one-off event. Preceding the race I heard a lot of teams lamenting about this as well as over their decision on whether or not to race it. Let’s face it racing isn’t cheap and if you are working on season points and another race is coming up right after the Mint, you might not want to risk breaking your vehicle if it could mean taking you out of an upcoming points race. I also heard a lot of flak about the cost of entry which was easily one of the most expensive entry fees ever seen stateside.
From a small media organization standpoint, one of the most poorly planned aspects of this year’s Mint was how they scheduled races simultaneous with tech inspections. I’ll give you a brief explanation of what that means… Tech Inspection is when the race vehicles are paraded through a line and all the safety gear is inspected and the vehicles are tagged by the race organization as ready for that particular race. The Mint 400 has one of the largest tech inspections in all of off-road racing with hundreds of vendors covering several blocks in downtown Las Vegas. It is usually quite the party where teams and race fans gather to hang out, look at all the world’s greatest off-road race vehicles up close and personal, check out the coolest new off-road gear, and snatch up a sweet Mint 400 hoodie. For media guys like me, it is a chance to get in front of race teams and sign them up for race team video packages. So this year, tech inspection (now called the Off-Road Festival) was Thursday and Friday. So Thursday also had qualifying taking place (out in the desert), plus media registration and mandatory safety meeting so there wasn’t a lot of time to mingle with race teams and get those video packages sold if you know what I mean. Friday, there were actual races going on all day so it was either film the race or hang out at the Off-Road Festival day 2. Filming comes first and you can’t be in two places at the same time so goodbye potential new sales.
The sheer prestige of racing the Mint 400 is phenomenal, thus the crowded entry lists at any cost. But in my humble opinion, there were WAY too many vehicles on the course for the Friday limited classes race. It took nearly two hours to launch everybody from the start line and I would argue course safety was highly compromised. I think there should have been a separate heat for all the UTV classes and another for all the limited trucks and buggies. This would have been more fun for everyone.
They brought back motorcycles and ATV’s at the 2019 Mint and I thought that was great! This year the tradition continued and there were a record number of entries. They even brought Mini Mint youth classes in which is super cool… but Motorcycles should have their own independent race day where they run all motorcycle class heats throughout the day with no race cars and trucks. Trust me, I listened to my radio throughout the event while out on the course filming and there is nothing more ridiculous than launching race cars onto a track where bikes are still out racing. Especially bad when 900hp Trophy Trucks are starting and the youth class motorcycles have not cleared the course yet, as was the case during Saturday’s race.
For the race, the Mint 400 always does a pretty good job of making things exciting for the spectators and this year was over the top. They literally create a midway out in Primm Nevada where the start of the race is held. There are food vendors, a VIP area, Grand stand seating, product vendors, and of course beverages. This year there were also RC car obstacle courses, demo rides from UTV manufacturers and Monster Truck & freestyle motocross demos. I think that is pretty cool except for while they are launching vehicles for the actual Mint 400 race which I’m pretty sure is the reason people came out and shelled out money for an entry ticket. In my humble opinion it was distracting to hear burnouts going on behind the grandstands while racers were lined up and going off the start line. I understand putting on some exhibitions while waiting for the racers to come back around to the infield but how about putting that show on pause while the main event gets rolling off the starting line.
Through registration, signup, and getting oriented and set up to cover the events that I was able to cover, I could not help but notice the blatant lack of organization. Even staging before the race, where all the vehicles take their places in line to wait for their start, was a tragic sh*t show. On Friday I was in the staging area before the start of the limited race and did not hear a good word from any of the teams I talked to about the mayhem taking place. Throughout the entire race day, listening in on the race director’s radio channel it was only more and more of the same.
I can understand that there is a learning curve and I certainly hope that things will get better and better as they continue but there were real and unnecessary dangers to racers and course workers that should have been avoided. As I mentioned before, on Friday afternoon there were entirely too many vehicles on that course at one time. There were youth motorcycles still out on the course when the trophy trucks began launching on Saturday and that NEVER should have happened. There were also several safety issues I heard about over the radio that I won’t discuss here that just simply do not happen at other races put on by other organizations.
In summary, the event likely came off to the audience and fans like any other Mint 400 except maybe a little more “Hollywood”. From the feedback I got on the ground from several race teams, the event had a serious lack of organization and the phrase “sh*t show” was pretty much universal language. From my humble perspective, I wish the Martelli brothers well, I have great respect for what they have undertaken, and I honestly hope they continue to achieve more and more success. After all, if they do well, our beloved sport does well. I do not want to see race teams and course workers placed in danger however so my hope is that they are able to fix a lot of broken stuff before the 2021 Mint 400 rolls upon us.
Please feel free to comment below with your experience of this year’s Mint 400.
Thanks for taking the time to read this.