Desert Dingo Racing campaigns a 1969 VW Beetle in off road races in the U.S. and Mexico. We've covered them in the past a couple times before. As you can imagine, Beetles doing crazy, dirty things is very appealing to me, so I asked Jim Graham to write up his experience in the Mint 400, in which he gets run over by a "macho shithead" in a truck.
"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." - Raoul Duke
(Full disclosure: The Mint 400 folks liked us so much they made us trailer our race car 12 hours to Las Vegas and pay for our own hotel rooms, only to be run over by a macho shithead in a truck and left in the desert for 12 hours).
Ok, that's not entirely true. We received tremendous support from our primary sponsors - Mad Media and Rugged Radios - and Best in the Desert is the most professional racing series we've ever competed in. We still got run over by a macho shithead and spent half a day and night in the desert awaiting retrieval.
We arrived in a caravan Tuesday night. I was up at 5 a.m. Wednesday to drive to the pits outside Jean, NV, to claim a good pit spot. I arrived at 6:45 a.m. it was pretty much just me and one Best in the Desert worker.
After confabbing about which pit was best, I loudly announced "I claim this land for Desert Dingo!" and taped off Pit 6 with wooden stakes, yellow caution tape, a rock and two pieces of wood. Then it was back into town for breakfast.
The majority of races we do take place in the middle of nowhere and the only people watching are friends and family. The Mint 400 is not that. It's the biggest off road race in the United States and organizers kick it off with a parade of race vehicles down the Las Vegas Strip.
Racers aren't the most patient bunch, so the Mint folks arranged for a BBQ lunch and machine guns to keep us occupied until everyone was staged for the parade.
100 race vehicles participated in the parade. They paired us up with Sam Berri, who's won more races and championships than any human should be allowed to. Berri was driving his 470hp LS 2-powered Class 1 buggy. I told our driver, Brian Wallentine, "If he tries to crowd you, nerf him. It's the only way he'll learn." Brian promptly ignored me.
That's what a million horsepower looks like.
With the parade wrapped, we trailered 1858 back to the Plaza Hotel overflow parking lot, where many of the teams had set up shop, and team members headed off in different directions for the night.
Things started picking up Thursday with midday time trials for the fast vehicles (not us). We made final tweaks to the car in the Plaza parking lot and drove it to the Rugged Radios merch trailer on Fremont Street where the team was scheduled to autograph hero cards from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. The crowds kept coming so we took turns at the autograph table, wrapping up at 10 p.m. and driving the car back to the Plaza.
The car is pretty much indestructible, so we let people sit in it and have their picture taken.
Friday morning kicked off at 9 a.m. with everyone lining up at the Golden Nugget for registration, which involves paying membership fees, signing liability waivers and picking up awesome schwag bags courtesy of the Mint 400 organizers (contents included hats, shirts, pins, hoodies, stickers and a bottle of tequila).
With registration done, we headed back to the Plaza, retrieved the car and lined up for Contingency and Tech, which is another opportunity to sign hero cards and chat with race fans while pushing the car down Fremont Street past all the merchandise booths and race product displays. Eventually we got to tech, where the car undergoes a safety inspection, helmets and race suits are certified and wraps up with the wheels being stamped with our car number. (You get an hour penalty if you leave a wheel on the race course).
The one moment of panic happened Friday afternoon when the race fuel provider called, asking whether we still needed the 35 gallons of 110 octane race fuel we'd ordered.
"I was going to pick it up tomorrow morning right before we start the race. You're there til 5 a.m., right?"
"No, we close in 45 minutes." I'd misunderstood how long the fuel truck was on site and realized we'd be fighting rush hour traffic to get to the pits in time to fuel the car and the fuel jugs.
"WE'RE ON OUR WAY!" I yelled. "LOAD THE CAR ON THE TRAILER RIGHT NOW."
Made it with minutes to spare.
The team called it a night early Friday. We needed to be wheels up at 4 a.m. to drive to the pits for5 a.m. staging and a 6 a.m. start for Sportsman class (us) and the other slower vehicles. Slower is relative because a number of Trick Truck and Class 1 teams entered pre-runners in Sportsman class to pre-run the course in the morning to be prepared for their afternoon race.
Driver Romy Frederick and co-driver Brian Wallentine went off the line at 6:20 a.m. and pretty much immediately pulled over to let the faster vehicles go around.
They swapped seats at the 45 mile mark and took a splash of fuel from our chase team (Chase 3) and completed the first lap with nothing worse than a sticky throttle, fixed with a couple of zip ties.
Things started going south shortly after the start of Lap 2. Driver Toby Fray reported the car popping out of gear and a loose driver side front wheel, which Chase 3 at Pit 1. About a half mile past the pit Toby and co-driver Rosh Edwards pulled over again and, after radioing back to Chase 3, decided to loosen the pinch nut on the front wheel a bit.
Passing through the Joshua Tree Highway area in a narrow sand chute, the team heard another car signaling to pass. Rather than wait 'til we exited the chute, the truck decided to drive over our left side rear bumper and fender.
A couple hundred yards down the course we caught the truck again, stalled behind another buggy stuck in the silt. The truck eventually drove around the buggy, but by that time we were stuck in the silt on a blind turn with a lot of faster vehicles headed our way. We blew the transmission trying to drive out of the silt.
Concerned that our car would be hit by Trick Trucks or Class 1s, Toby and Rosh grabbed our bright orange Maxtrax sand ladders and hiked back up the course to warn oncoming vehicles that two cars were stuck in silt just around the blind curve.
This from Rosh:
"At that point Toby and I argued for awhile whether or not to walk out or stay put. I wanted to walk out, Toby wanted to stay put. I broke my foot in a motorcycle accident about five weeks ago, so in the end decided Toby was right. We reconciled the fact that we were there until at least 10:30 p.m. and started talking about pizza and beer. We were in the absolute worst possible spot for a rescue, but we knew Chase 3 would be doing everything in their power and we appreciated that immensely! It was mentioned over and over during the pre-race driver's briefing, but we also knew there was no way in (to retrieve us) because I'd walked up the mountain and viewed the entire area."
A recovery vehicle arrived at 1 a.m. and towed them to a point on the course where our Chase 3 was waiting with the trailer. They got the car loaded, got some food and sleep and everyone began the long drive home Sunday morning.
We'll be back.
The Mint 400 airs 2 p.m. ET July 6 on NBC.
(Photos courtesy Mad Media, George Krieger, Shilynn Milligan and Jim Graham.)