It’s been just over a week now since the desert landscape outside of Las Vegas finally returned to its quiet place. The roaring V8s, buzzing four-strokes and the whirl of helicopter blades churning up the Nevada sky are gone now, and the 2019 BFGoodrich Mint 400 has become another chapter to desert off-road racing’s still-developing story.
Like every Mint 400, there was a long list of losers whose fate, preparation or machinery failed them, dashing every desert racer’s first objective of just finishing. The Mint’s long-established foundation is throwing its competitors the toughest, roughest course possible. In that regard the team behind the race, a combination of Mad Media as ownership and marketing/promotion and the Best In The Desert (BITD) series crew that handles the nuts and bolts of putting on this massive effort did their jobs – and did them well.
There are classes for everyone and anything, ensuring that there is a long list of winners (see below) out of the staggering final count of 543 entries. Not all of the categories had the time or ability to complete three of the 119-mile laps, but that doesn’t diminish their victories, or that of many finishers that can find satisfaction in just seeing that Mint 400 checkered flag.
For race fans watching live or via the event’s live stream, there was close racing in myriad classes, including Sunday afternoon’s finale for unlimited Trick-Trucks, open-wheel buggies and the limited Trick-Trucks (Class 6100)
After setting yet another blistering qualifying run in his No.7 Red Bull/Toyo Tire-backed all-wheel drive truck, Bryce Menzies led the way for much of the race until a rear tire puncture led to a further mechanical issue, which dropped him to 19th place. Having put himself into a perfect position all race long was the No.41 Jimco-built, Fox Shox/BFGoodrich two-wheel drive truck of off-road and NASCAR racer Justin Lofton.
Lofton, who lost the season-opener at the King of the Hammer’s Toyo Tire Invitational to first time unlimited truck winner Luke McMillin, became the Mint 400’s first three-time overall race winner. In the process he also collected a cool $35,000 in bonus money from BFGoodrich Tires and Fox Shox. Second overall went to Brett and Cristian Sourapas in their Coors Light/BFGoodrich Ford, with Jason Voss and his Ford rounding out the top three overall.
“This is awesome,” Lofton said. “It takes a whole crew, and we’ve got some great partners. They won this race. These big checks look good in the shop, but we’re going to get ready for the next race after this. We have more races to win.”
But the biggest winner was the sport itself. Since the Martelli brothers and their Mad Media group took over promotion of the historic Mint 400, there has been a constant uptick in presentation, promotion and substance. If anything, the 2019 version has finally taken desert off-road racing to the promised land the community and industry long aspired to reach. Yes, there were grumblings about this year’s increase in participation costs from some race teams, sponsors and exhibitors, but there was still little doubt that this Mint 400 set a new standard for the event.
Bikes made a popular return after a long absence.
The numbers tell it all. The reemergence of the motorcycle culture after more than 40 years, along with a huge turnout of UTVs, Trick-Trucks and Class 6100, all contributed to the record entry for the modern Mint 400 era.
There were 168 bikes for their first appearance at the race since 1976. An estimated crowd of 35,000 flooded downtown Las Vegas for the two-day Mint 400 Off-Road Festival, all visiting 180 exhibitors. This does not include another estimated 40,000 spectators watching two days of racing, which was captured by more than 200 professional media guests.
Not the all-boys fraternity of the old days, the Mint even managed to attract 22 female racers across several four and two-wheel classes.
One of the things we can now collectively ponder was the impact of the massive live-stream effort created by the Martelli brothers with the aid of longtime off-road producer Jason Markham. For Sunday’s afternoon finale in particular, the team integrated live helicopter, drone and ground footage with live, in-studio commentary, pit reporting and a complete graphics and tracking package.
It was a live, television-worthy production eclipsing anything seen before, and a huge technical victory considering the challenging logistics involved. The stream reached 300,000 unique viewers according to Mad Media, generating a total of $6,000,000 in digital value. With that, a six-figure investment to bring live streaming to this level seems to have paid off.
“It was a huge success, shared Mad Media CEO Matt Martelli. “Our first goal was the bikes and bringing in the bike culture to the Mint. There were a lot of little moments I got to enjoy, plus all the women who raced with us. I want more women racing; less in the pits, more in the driver’s seat.
“With the live-stream, we are now controlling our destiny,” he added. “When we are on television we are marginalized – now, it’s not viable way to reach more people. It’s time to evolve it all again. We want to showcase the talent, the field and the culture, which allows people to see the value here instead of what it has been in the past.
Indeed, desert racing in 2019 has reached another golden era. The recent past now seems so antiquated and simplistic in many so ways. All along, the promise of bringing this form of motorsports to the masses has been a faraway dream. Now it has finally arrived, in eye-opening fashion.