Glenn Pinkerton/Las Vegas News Bureau
Wednesday, March 20, 2013 | 4:18 p.m.
It’s not only the first day of Spring, but also the start of the five days of The Mint 400 race events with this year’s expansion from Fremont Street to the Strip. It all begins this afternoon with the first-ever parade of 80 off-road vehicles along Las Vegas Boulevard from Circus Circus to Mandalay Bay. The kick-off party is tonight at Hussong’s Cantina at Mandalay Place.
Tomorrow, time trials for the races get under way, with all the action centered on Fremont Street East. Fans can get up close and personal with the vehicles and drivers during the contingency and technical inspections along Fremont Street. Last year, 25,000 fans turned out for the events.
The highlight Thursday will be the General Tire-sponsored Miss Mint 400 beauty pageant crowning. The VIP invitation-only party is at Gold Diggers in Golden Nugget, while the KMC Wheels Pit Crew party is nearby in Downtown.
Friday will not only feature the world premiere of “Bragging Rights 2” at Dirt Theater, but also a Mint 400 press conference at the El Cortez Founders Room will reveal more exciting expansion news. Saturday is race day from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on the dry lakebeds at the Jean exit on I-15. The Victory Party follows at Hogs & Heifers, and Sunday’s events wrap with the awards brunch.
As of Tuesday night, there were 256 entries from 14 countries, including trucks and cars in the 1500 and 1000 Class with hundreds of race teams competing in 21 classes. Actor Patrick Dempsey has signed on to compete in a Zero One Odyssey racecar, and expect to see the world’s top off-road racers, including hometown stars Rob MacCachren, “Ballistic” B.J. Baldwin and Bryce Menzies.
Believe it or not, but 94-year-old Paul Dohrman will be the oldest racer to ever drive in The Mint 400; actor Paul Newman held that record when he was 72. Hosts this year include TV personality Cameron Steele, radio star Jim Beaver and media legend Bob Bower, who will be piloting their Trick Trucks.
They describe the four-time, multi-run, 92-mile course as brutal over suffocating silt beds, rough rock gardens, giant rolling jumps, rocky washes and high-speed graded roads. Drivers start in a two-at-a-time, side-by-side configuration. Four free spectator-viewing areas have been set up. It also will be broadcast live on the world’s largest off-road racing website Race-Desert.com and with a 2-hour TV special on Speed.
Said Mint 400 CEO Matt Martelli: “It will be an epic battle. The Mint is one hell of a cage match because off-road desert racing is the UFC of the racing world. When the green start flag drops, it’s all-out war. Less than 50 percent of the vehicles that start out will finish.”
The Mint 400’s history is steeped in celebrity, drama and excitement. It has held the title of the toughest, most spectacular off-road race in North America. It was first run in 1967 and by its second year attracted entrants from around the world. Back then, the prize purse was $30,000, but this weekend, it’s risen considerably, and every team receives a limited-edition Azunia Tequila bottle and hand-screen-painted custom art poster.
The Mint 400 has attracted Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, James Garner, Mort Sahl, Parnelli Jones, Al Unser, Rick Mears, Rodger Ward, Mickey Thompson, Ivan Stewart, Jack Flannery, Walker Evans, Rod Hall, Bill Muncey and Gordon Cooper.
The Girls of the Mint 400 began in 1972 with the pageant adding glamour to the grime. That’s where the world first met Lynda Carter, who went on to become “Wonder Woman,” and “Wheel of Fortune’s” Vanna White. Others went on to movie and TV appearances and Playboy cover and centerfold layouts.
Economic changes and the sale of the original Mint hotel in 1988 brought the race to an end, but two decades later, The Great American Off-Road Race was revived. Since 2008, it has become bigger, badder and better than ever.
Off-road enthusiasts, beauty pageant admirers and race fans are expected to pack Downtown streets for events and then head out to Jean for the races. For more details, go to TheMint400.com.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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