The MINT 400: Chapter 1 “Wake Up!”

The MINT 400

Chapter 1:  Wake Up!

“In some circles, the Mint 400 is a far far better thing than the Superbowl, the Kentucky Derby, and the lower Oakland roller derby finals all rolled into one. This race attracts a very special breed.” ~ Hunter S. Thompson

It’s 3 o’clock in the $%#^$&% morning! Now, this is not my first time to see 3 o’clock in Vegas. This is not even my first time to see 3 o’clock in Vegas on this trip for that matter… but it IS my first time to wake up at 3 AM in Vegas on purpose. Normally, I would be pissed, but today is different. Today is the MINT 400…

Billed as “The Great American Off-Road Race”, the marketing machine and build up to the current MINT 400 is as shiny, flashy, and fake as Las Vegas itself… and that’s part of the allure. Everyone is a willing participant in the gag. It’s a mirage of times past when such legendary figures as Parnelli Jones, Mickey Thompson, Ivan Stewart, Steve McQueen, and Walker Evans manned up and raced at top speed across the barren wasteland of Southern Nevada. Today’s MINT is filled with smooth million dollar trophy trucks, well built energy drink girls, and a distant echo of days gone by…

buggies

… and that’s OK. The new face of this off-road racing monolith has its place in the modern off-road racing scene of big money, chase helicopters, and rock star drivers. For a few moments… at this race… we all get to be time travelers and walk in the imagined footsteps of our heroes. The Martelli Brothers have done a good thing. You can almost hear Frank Sinatra as you walk by the broken down casinos and tired old sideshows. The event has the feel of Christmas Morning… not really “real”, but for one day each year, reality is suspended and stories of yesterday are fresh and new again.

1035x807-20140220-hunter-x1800-1392923348

Hunter S. Thompson is another name the MINT 400 culture embraces, as his first series of articles for Rolling Stone (which became “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” eventually) are based upon his assignment to cover the MINT 400 for Sports Illustrated. But just as “Fear and Loathing” was more of a social commentary on the failed counter culture of the 60’s instead of an actual report of the race (and is a great example of “gonzo journalism”, a style popularized by H.S.T.), both the truth and the myth of the MINT 400 get swept up into a larger chronicle of experiences and personal challenge as you lose yourself in the vast emptiness of the open desert.

All of these things are my mental backdrop as I leave the hotel and weave my way through the discarded collection of freaks and travelers that are still hustling and shuffling on Fremont Street at 3:15 in the morning. The artificial sky of the Fremont Street Experience is lighting the night as a sort of pulsating sun, driving on the late night revelers in their quest to escape life for a while. The actual race itself is 45 minutes south of Vegas in Primm, NV.

Blowing down I-15 with the cruise set, I can’t help but think – as I start to chain smoke cigarettes and crack open the first of many Monsters for the day – that it would have been a better idea to stay at a hotel next to the course, instead of the “strongly suggested” team hotels on the Strip as encouraged by the promoters. There is a price to pay for community, I suppose, and for this trip, that price was convenience. I do understand the business side of things: having teams stay at the Fremont hotels in return for being able to do tech and contingency there, but here… in my truck, at this hour… I really could care less about the “business side of things”.

morning

Arriving at the course just after 4 AM, I immediately get lost in the maze of pits and manic activity as teams from all classes jockey for pit spots. A course worker screams at me as I’m trying to turn my truck around… evidently, I am on course (does this mean I can now say I raced in the MINT?). I don’t bother to take the time to tell him the race doesn’t start for another TWO HOURS. He’s probably a good guy just doing his job, cranky from being up so early, and I’m probably an asshole. I light another cigarette, smile, and wave like I don’t speak English.

Eventually I find my friends with Goodall Racing. I ditch the truck and hustle off to the starting line to figure out my shooting plan for the day and to get some starting line shots of Logan Goodall. Logan is an up and coming UTV racer and son of my friend Ken Goodall. Logan, incidentally, ends up winning his class on this day. I like to think I might have had something to do with that, as I was the last one to wish him “Good Luck”. We all know that last person who wishes you “Good Luck” is the one who influenced your race…

cotton candy

Awash in the cotton candy glow of taillights and anticipation, I get my first real glimpse of the scope of the field. Over 150 cars are lined up side by side around an overflow pond, waiting for the heart-pounding countdown to begin. This is only the first race of the day; the opening act, if you will. The Trophy trucks, chase helicopters, and energy drink girls don’t take the course until after lunch.

Miss MINT 400 stands dutifully, if not a little bleary eyed, at the starting line, diligently waving pair after pair of adrenaline junkies off the line in her short shorts and beauty pageant sash, as if in some twisted re-enactment of the animals heading towards Noah’s Ark. After winding their way through a spectator friendly short course, the cars scream off into the dusty wasteland of open desert to the east and a startling silence settles over the start / finish line. Sometimes the absence of noise is the loudest.

With the boys off and away into the hesitant sunrise, I pack up my gear and stumble to the truck. Having fallen in love with the lakebed panning shots Michael D’Avy created at KOH, I head to the lakebed near RM 75 armed with smokes, Monsters, and a desire to see what the MINT 400 is really all about.

~ The Dusty Gnome

(Also read:  Chapter 2 “The Morning Lakebed”)

Dusty

More info on Hunter S. Thompson:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunter_S._Thompson

More info on The MINT 400:  http://themint400.com/race-information/history/

More info on The Martelli Brothers:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Martelli_Brothers

Follow on Twitter:  @thedustygnome

©2015 The Dusty Gnome

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