– Las Vegas, Nevada
“In some circles, the "Mint 400" is a far, far better thing than the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby, and the Lower Oakland Roller Derby Finals all rolled into one. This race attracts a very special breed…” - Hunter S. Thompson
As I bounce along the single-track dirt path in a van packed with several other automotive writers, I feel like a kid rolling up to Six Flags for a friend’s birthday. I’m about to get into the passenger seat of a 450-horsepower pre-runner buggy with BFGoodrich Performance Team Member Rob MacCachren. It’s a little past 8:00 a.m. and the hot Nevada sun is already beating down on the two E-Z Up canopies that BFGoodrich has set up next to a handful of off-road vehicles. The canopies are smattered with branding that reveal the awesome nature of our destination: The Mint 400.
The Mint 400 is a race that’s outlived its original purpose and morphed into a spectacle all its own. In 1967, two dune buggies raced across the Nevada Desert from Las Vegas all the way to Lake Tahoe to promote the Mint Hotel. Today there is no more Mint Hotel, but despite a 20 year hiatus (from 1999 all the way to 2008), the Mint 400’s 115-mile loop plays host to the “Great American Off-Road Race” every year in March.
Rob MacCachren has been racing (and winning) on dirt since he won the 1973 Nevada State Motorcycle Championship at the age of 8. Rob has four Baja 1000 wins under his belt, three consecutive Borg-Warner wins, and well over 200 other career wins. Rob just claimed his first Mint 400 victory this year, which has to be doubly satisfying given he is a Vegas local.
I get my GoPros stuck on the pre-runner truck and hop into the passenger seat. Rob walks around and makes sure I’m properly fastened before lifting himself in. The Alumicraft Buggy has 21 inches of suspension travel and big, meaty 37-inch tall Mud-Terrain BFGoodrich KM3 tires. Out back hangs a 450-hp LS6 V8.
Like nearly all vehicles used to scout and race Baja, this pre-runner is rear-wheel drive. As we take off the rear end squats down and the tires find grip immediately. Seconds later we’re barreling down a path filled with rocks and washouts, and I’m scrambling to ratchet down my harness even further (even a millimeter of give seems like enough to fracture your sit-bones.)
Rob explains that we’re going about half as fast as his trophy truck, which sounds about right to me given the race truck has about 5 extra inches of suspension travel, 3-inch larger tires, and 400-500 extra horsepower.
With each new section of track it becomes clearer why a tire company would want to sponsor Rob and this form of racing: Every single corner could hide a puncture-causing obstacle. Fortunately, Rob is preternaturally calm no matter what the terrain.