The 2022 Mint 400 is done. My first trip to America’s Playground is done, too, my journey undertaken for sole the purpose of covering my first real race. And what a race to cover first! The Mint 400 is steeped in infamy, is recovering from a decades-long hiatus, and is now growing through the use of modern tech that brings the race directly to a growing fanbase via streaming.
I learned as much about the Mint 400 as I did about the machines that run it, and about the men and women who compete — even how they pee during the race. But mostly, I learned something surprising about motorsport: that the fastest don’t always win.
(Full Disclosure: BFGoodrich invited me to the Mint 400. The company paid for my flight from Texas to Nevada, put me up in a nice hotel just off Fremont Street. BFGoodrich fed me, and even let me do my own off-roading in a UTV. [Ed. note: BFGoodrich also flew me to the Mint 400 in March 2020, but I did not write about it then for reasons related to the fact that, at the time, a terrifying global pandemic was beginning to unfold and no one was much in the mood to hear about truck racin’. I had flown to Vegas on March 5, 2020 for the race on March 7, and flew home on March 8; three days later, the NBA canceled its season and, for America, All Of This began. Before that, when I was in Vegas, the main precaution recommended by public health officials was to wash your hands and/or use hand sanitizer frequently, which I did. Still, it was hard not to feel a little weird at poker tables nestled in among strangers with casino TVs tuned to CNN, which was reporting about a fearsome new virus. Did I think that the world was possibly ending, and did I use this as an excuse to bet way too much money playing poker? Possibly, though my memory is a little hazy on this exact point. I definitely did not lose a four-figure amount of money. Definitely not. In any case, everyone from the Mint and BFGoodrich was lovely and I regret that no content resulted. I would also like to apologize to you, the readers. It is two years on now, so no one really cares anymore, but the race, as José has seen, is incredible, and I recommend going if you can. BFGoodrich also had us drive a race truck with an instructor at Speedvegas while we were out there, during which I only spun out once. Foolishly, I mentioned to an actual race truck driver a few months ago that I drove a race truck once at Speedvegas, and thereafter he introduced me to people as a guy who drove a race truck once. I deserved it. Anyway, as you were. — Erik Shilling])
The View On Approach
The Mint 400 does not run in Sin City. All the ink Thompson spilled about fear and loathing in Las Vegas is accurate, but the Mint 400 is run in Primm. That’s a dry patch of unincorporated land on the state line dividing Nevada and California, the proper expanse for a desert race. The BFG folks woke us early for the 40 mile or so drive south from Vegas to Primm.
When we got to the start stage the morning of race day, people were milling about. There were vendors, fans, security. Car bloggers, photographers, race officials. Tailgaters galore. And me in the middle of the throng, trailing my hosts as we walked into the big tent that was BFGoodrich HQ. A kind of FOB in the war for the hearts and minds of the off-road community.
My immediate takeaway is that BFGoodrich is surprisingly (or, unsurprisingly) dominant in off-road. Whether it’s motorsport, or the aftermarket or as an OE partner, BFG is a major off-road tire supplier. To an almost unfair degree. I say almost because the company’s reputation precedes it among off-roaders. BFG is famous for its all-terrain tires (T/A KO2) and mud-terrain tires (T/A KM3.)
BFGoodrich is the title sponsor of the Mint 400; the full race title includes the tire maker’s name. That’s suspicious until you learn that most trucks in the Unlimited class, or the main event, run BFG tires. Competitors use variants of the T/A KR3, BFG’s motorsport tire. Not all the racers use them, but most do. Make of that what you will, but for reference, BFGoodrich has the most podium sweeps of any tire maker at the Mint 400, and all three top spots this year went to trucks wearing BFGs.
Them’s the breaks for you Nitto die-hards, or all you Toyo fans. I wanted to poke fun at BFG and said that I’m a Michelin man, myself. It’s all Pilot Sports, all the time in this house. Except that Michelin is the parent company of BFGoodrich. What a way to tell everybody you don’t know tires, without telling them you don’t know tires. Didn’t I say this was my first rodeo, err, race?
BFG kept repeating that the Mint 400 was unlike other races because of the interaction between racers and fans. I figured there’d be a short parade, racers waving and fans whooping at arm’s length. There was a brief procession, after which racers parked their trucks and security swung open a gate. Fans rushed down from bleachers and VIP boxes to greet the racers.
I jumped in, walking between two rows of trucks whose drivers stood in pairs next to the machines. Fans took pictures and shook hands with racers they’ve maybe idolized for who knows how long. I’ll admit, it was a nice surprise to see racers and fans standing in the dirt together. So many people, well-wishing and eager. But the race hadn’t started, and the surprises were hardly through.
The View At The Start
After the meet-and-greet, fans returned to their seats and racers climbed into their cockpits. The trucks rumbled to life. I respect forced induction for what it is, but nothing beats the sound of naturally aspirated engines. Two rows of naturally aspirated V8s, each making over 1,000 horsepower like those of the Unlimited trucks, is something else.
The race organizers approached and gave us the spiel about the historic race and its comeback. The current owners of the Mint 400 want to reach a wider audience than ever by live streaming and by giving fans new vantage points. Live race footage from inside the trucks or at pit stations, for example.
The Mint’s owners have updated its tech and equipment, but the bottleneck is telecomm. There isn’t enough signal in the desert to transmit all the action. The organizers then asked if we’d like to stand at the start line, right up close to the trucks as they took off. Why, yes.
The trucks launched in twos, except for the fastest qualifier from the day prior, who launched alone. That was Justin Lofton this year, but among the other favorites to win were Kevin Thompson, Rob McCachren and Ryan Arciero.
The View From Above
The trucks having launched, the race was on. It didn’t take long for the frontrunner to appear, but it wasn’t the lone truck that shot out first. Ryan Arciero passed Justin Lofton early on and picked up a three-minute lead even before the second lap was through. Still, there were two (95.7 mile) laps to go.
It was clear who was going to run all four laps first, I thought. I settled into an easy vibe, watching the feed from the tent because the trucks were miles out now. I wouldn’t see them again until the end of the race, or catch them now and then when they completed a lap.
But BFG offered to take us into the air four at a time aboard a helicopter so we could watch trucks bombing down the empty desert. Wide open spaces, wide open throttle. All seen from a bird’s-eye-view. Yes, please.
The trucks can get up to 125 MPH, easy. The pilot said in places out there, even the chopper would lag behind. And he was right. The helicopter flew us around the foothills of Primm as we chased trucks that flashed in and out of sight.
Off in the distance, dust hung over the trails. The dust was falling, but its direction was lost from afar, so it looked like the dust was rising instead. You’d swear the trails were cooking, but the only things cooking were the trucks.
The View At The End
By the time the helicopter skids touched back down, the race order had turned. Arciero lost about a third of his lead to a flat tire. Then, Arciero suffered engine failure on the third lap, forcing his team to bow out. Rob MacCachren had been on Arciero’s heels but engine belt failure pushed him down to fifth place on the fourth lap. Rob’s truck was also leaking oil. Maybe those hard shoves through open ground had undone his chances at winning.
And it’s shocking how the race played out, at least to me. Before the flat tires, engine breakdowns, belt failures and oil leaks, Arciero and MacCachren had been the fastest on the trail. On the fourth lap, Kyle Jergensen and Tim Herbst dug into lead places, both moving up from a seventh-place start.
Jergensen crossed the finish line first, behind the wheel of truck 127. He drove the whole Mint 400 in 6:43:49. Herbst then came in three minutes and change behind Jergensen, with a time of 6:47:09. Rounding out the top three was BJ Baldwin, who came in seven minutes after Jergensen, with a time of 6:51:09. If you want to know the rest of the results, click here.
I’ll conclude with an observation, mined from the finish times and placements. Ryan Arciero sits in the 38th position, down in the DNFs — the abbreviation for “Did Not Finish.” Arciero did finish two laps of the Mint. Before bowing out, Arciero ran the fastest lap (00:96:43,) which even Jergensen couldn’t beat (00:97:28.) Arciero also ran the fastest average lap by a healthy margin. But these were short lived and pyrrhic victories.
His average time would probably — if not certainly — have grown as the race wore on, but it’s impossible to know by how long. Or how not long. The 2022 Mint 400 taught me that the fastest don’t always finish first. But what’s worse, I think, is that the fastest don’t always finish at all.