Since the Martelli Brothers and Mad Media took over the reins of The General Tire Mint 400 presented by Polaris, they’ve made a determined effort along with Best In The Desert’s Casey Folks to bring the race back to its former glory. Their hard work is born out of a deep respect for the original Mint 400 race and those who built it, raced it and experienced it. At its peak, the race was pure Las Vegas and had a bit of everything that made Vegas so special. The parade through the streets is now back, the Mint girls are back, Contingency on Fremont is a humongous party and all the hype and excitement leading up to the race has also returned. Most importantly, the reputation of being one of the toughest races to win is also back.
A massive field of 57 Trick Trucks and 28 unlimited open-wheeled class 1500 cars would take the green flag on race day. It was a record turnout for the big trucks and the UTVs set a record for entries as well. Dale Dondel took the top spot in qualifying netting him a solo starting spot out front. Bryce Menzies and Robby Gordon started side by side in row two. Next up, in row three, were the fastest open wheeled cars of Harley Letner and Justin Lofton who, along with Pat Dean in the ninth spot, were the only 1500s to break into the top ten during qualifying. The balance of the top ten was Andy McMillin driving for Steve Sourapas in sixth, Derrick Sproule in seventh, Tavo Vildosola eighth and BJ Baldwin in tenth.
At the drop of the green flag, Dondel quickly checked out in his Racer Engineering Trick Truck like many thought he would. He was out front by almost ten minutes until his engine let go on the second lap. As soon as the mechanicals are sorted out on this truck the field is in for some trouble as it has been very fast in qualifying of late. Dondel was not the first to suffer catastrophic problems. Robby Gordon made it only two miles before his torque converter was toast. Robby is known for pushing his equipment hard, but there had to be something strange going on to have a problem so soon into the race. Also suffering from the pace was BJ Baldwin who scattered his usually stout engine in the Monster Energy Chevrolet on lap two. As the laps progressed, the field started shrinking.
Justin Lofton hit some braking bumps so hard on the first lap that it broke his steering. He had to top off the fluid at each pit along the way until lap three when they stopped to swap it out. This course was demanding enough on the drivers, but it took some real strength to do it without power steering. His toughness and perseverance paid off with a top ten finish. Pat Dean was running strong at the start, but as the laps clicked off the punishment was taking a toll on the LVDC car. He moved up into the top five on lap two, but third gear went out in the transmission and the motor started to head south. On lap three, they knew it was only a matter of time before the engine would be gone so they made the tough choice to park it and save what they could.
Jason Voss was fresh off a championship season and two race wins in a row but none of that seemed to count. He started tenth but had an electrical gremlin that forced a stop early in the race. The crew got it figured out returning them to the fray where they worked their way back up to the top five. Crossing the dry lakebed at 130 miles per hour their engine suddenly locked up. “We thought the engine was blown,” says Jason. “We pulled the plugs and found the cylinders full of fuel. Kevin Kroyer came to our pit and diagnosed the problem. A diaphragm failed in the fuel regulator flooding the engine with fuel. We drained the fuel, changed the regulator and the engine re-fired. It’s not what we planned, but we crossed the line around 10:30 pm for a finish. It was important to get as many points as possible with so many trucks entered and so many with problems. Every point is huge at the end of the year.”
Both Mark and Gary Weyhrich were in the mix until Gary rolled in the Rigid Industries Quarry section. Mark, who was right behind him at the time, also lost a couple of seconds when he stopped to help his stricken brother. Gary told him to “just go” so he took off. Apparently, blood is thicker than champagne for the Weyhrich Brothers.
Also tangled up in the Weyhrich roll was Tavo Vildosola. His BraNix team had their share of bad luck, but fought through it till the end. They started ninth but battled up to the front to dice with Bryce Menzies until he had to stop for a busted driveshaft. “We had some issues,” said Tavo. “We flattened a tire and broke two jacks in the pits but the guys never gave up. We fought hard all day and were rewarded with a second place finish. Despite a difficult day we think Lady Luck was on our side. It shows what’s possible when everyone works as hard as they can for a common goal.”
One of the many unknowns going into the race was how Travis Pastrana would do behind the wheel of his Red Bull Trick Truck. To add to his lack of familiarity with the truck, he was also driving with a broken left leg. “The strategy was to not push too hard in the dust so I got nerfed a lot in the beginning,” said Travis laughingly. “It was really fun for me learning the truck. We didn’t get any flats and the BFG’s were awesome. The truck was prepared amazing. We really had no issues, which tells me that either “A” we got really lucky or “B” didn’t push hard enough. For us to get a top five is quite honestly a dream come true. I realize others had some trouble but I’m confident with a little more practice I could be on pace. The leg was fine but the rest of my body felt like I was in a spaceship that hit a speed bump every ten seconds.”
First in class 1500 was defending Champion Jon Walker. He started way back in 45th position but clawed his way to the front to take the unofficial class 1500 victory. “No flats, no breakdowns, no nothing,” said Walker. “Starting in the back gave us something to do all day. The first lap was cool you know, but it just got wilder and wilder.” His laid back demeanor and understated remarks don’t reveal just how difficult it must have been to pass all those cars and trucks to get to the front.
Through all the carnage it was Andy McMillin who sailed through unscathed. He quietly qualified the Number 6 Corona Extra Trick Truck of Steve Sourapas in the sixth spot and had a flawless drive to the checkers. “It was the best kind of race day you could ask for in that it was uneventful,” said Andy. “We never got out of the truck and never did anything but sip some water in the pits. It was just a flawless day and it was pretty awesome. We had some lapped traffic, especially on the last lap. I got behind some 6100 guys that are fast but I knew the guys behind me wanted to make up time so we took some chances in the dust. I really hurt my thumb getting around someone when the steering wheel got ripped out of my hands, but other than that it was uneventful.”
Not only did Andy McMillin take the $10,000 winners bonus from FOX shocks but he also gets another $10,000 from Denver Bronco Demarcus Ware who matched FOX’s offer. Ware was teamed with Sal Masekela in a Zero one car that raced in the morning. He generously put up the money at the driver’s meeting. His run and the rest of the race will be part of the Red Bull Signature Series TV show that will air on ESPN July 6th at 2 pm EST.
That’s another thing that the original Mint 400 had; it was a magnet for celebrities who wanted to get in on the action. Chuck Norris wasn’t behind the wheel on race day, but his son Eric was. Eric competed in the Trophylite series race in the morning. I guess if the race is tough enough for a Norris, the Martelli Brothers have indeed reached their goal of bringing back the Mint 400 to what it once was.