Recapping the Mint 400 with the Guys from GGTR
Last time we checked in with the folks from the Gentleman’s Guide to Racing, our friend Michael “Skiny” Power was gearing up for a great feat of motorsport; the Mint 400. A resurrection of the 1970’s Vegas-area desert race, the Mint was the backdrop and inspiration for Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Prior to the race, Skiny conceded the size of the task that lay before his team, but it was not until undertaking the event did he fully grasp what he had gotten himself into. Incredibly, the GGTR team finished seventh, and Skiny was jubilant when we caught up with him last week. I could feel the excitement swelling through the phone. This was a man that exceeded his expectations… “Incredible amount of effort that goes into preparing an indestructible car” explained Skiny. “Other kinds of racing focused on the engine. In desert racing, you spend most of time on the chassis welds steering…Weeks went into preparing the car.”
Aside from the time, effort and resources that go into preparing for a race, there is the psychological aspect, and that hurdle can be larger than some of the jumps on the race course: “There is a big leap from saying yes to a race, to the first morning you wake up riddled with anxiety, in your mind, playing all the possibilities.”
Skiny had just cause to be concerned. For the 2013 running of the Mint, there was a 66 percent attrition rate. Out of 280 teams entered, only 80 managed to finish the race. “I knew it was going to be a tough race, but I had no idea that it was going to end up like that!”
Skiny thought it would be wise to get an early peak at the course in a Sportsman Class vehicle, but even their team’s attempt at preparing proved hazardous: “I thought it would be smart to sit in and take in the course,” explains Skiny, “but in the second turn we flipped the second car. After seeing that, I realized wow, this is going to be serious– I felt like there was a lot on my shoulders.”
When it was finally time for Skiny and the GGTR team to run their Class 1 Ulimited, things did not go as planned: “The second co-driver was hit with food poisoning. So Damon Way, (former owner of DC Shoes) took the first shift.”
Damon left at about 1:15 in the afternoon. Skiny hopped in the car at 4:30. Each lap was about an hour and 40 minutes. As a result of the food poisoning, Skiny took on Damon’s co-driver, with whom he had never previously ran before. “The co-driver Sean, had broken his back in November,” said Skiny, “This guy soldiered through all the bumps.”
According to Skiny, the first half of the course was manic, bumpy and scrambling. The second half was broken up a dry lakebed. An Unlimited-class buggy can top out at 130mph, but speed and ability to pilot that vehicle are determined by visibility. If a car is in front of you on that lakebed, it is impossible to see. You are essentially in a dust storm.
“If there is a sandstorm, you are keeping the pedal floored and looking at the nav screen. Driving in blinding dust for 3-4 minutes. It is something that I’m going to get used to.”
Things brightened up for Skiny once the high-speed section had been completed: “The second part of the race was suited to my style of driving which was more like rally driving,. Dried up riverbed with a lot of rocks. We saw a lot of teams swapping out their Toyos and Yokohamas, we had BF Goodrich All Terrains, and never had to swap them out.” (ed. note, a personal favorite tire choice!)
Both Skiny and Damon are alums of Team O’Neil Rally Racing School in New Hampshire. When it comes to rocky, grinding-yet-fast trails, you can count on us New England-trained boys to get it done! And get it done they did:
“We ended up finishing in seventh place– I had to call the race organizers to confirm!” Skiny was amazed, but also impressed with the rubber that his team ran: “We never changed tires, and there is always that bullshit about teams naming their tire company and whatever, but we never changed tires.”
Skiny believes that 50% of the finish could be attributed to the lack of a tire change, and the other 50% to their understanding of the terrain of the back half of the course. But Skiny’s ability to analytically look at the course did not deter from his ability to step back an appreciate the wonder of a race like the Mint, “When you have 600 horsepower tricks all piled together, all with engines turned on. From the Red Bull and Corona guys to privateers like us…there is nothing like that anywhere in the world.”
So what’s next for the GGTR guys? There is talk of a London-to-Monte Carlo Speedboat race, as well as fielding a Ford Fiesta at WRC Argentina. Then Skiny mentioned something that blew me away: “We’re looking at CARERRA PAN AMERICA IN A CLASSIC MERCEDES. We will not be defined by our tread pattern- only by our desire to measure ourselves amongst other men.” Umm…hell yes.
For the WRC race, Skiny may be back up in NH training. If so, that’s not too far from yours truly, so you can bet we’ll be charting their progress- hopefully in person!
Image Credit: Zach Benge