Best in the Desert (BITD) teamed up again with host partner Mad Media for the 2017 edition of the Polaris RZR Mint 400 Presented by BF Goodrich Tires, and nothing about the race fell short of the expectations. Whether it was the star-studded lineup, including auto enthusiast Jay Leno and entertainment reporter Robin Leach, or the sheer numbers of race teams in attendance, the Mint 400 boasted the perfect fitting for a Las Vegas extravaganza.
A Week Worth Of Events
The Great American Off-Road Race kicked off with the annual 4 Wheel Parts Procession Powered by Odyssey Battery down the Las Vegas Strip on Wednesday, which was immediately followed by a kick-off party at Atomic Liquors on Fremont Street.
Thursday was highlighted by the Method Race Wheels Time Trials held north of the Vegas Speedway in the desert at Apex, Nevada. Jason Voss cleanly finished the five-mile course in 4:00 flat, just one second ahead of Harley Letner whose style of racing can be summarized as aggressive, if not acrobatic.
Letner nearly flipped his Alpha buggy in front of the energetic crowd which had assembled on an overlook, as he earned a crucial second starting position for the main event. Pat O’Keefe, in his Safecraft Chevrolet, flipped his truck, then stunningly landing upright, and gunned it for the finish. It showed just how durable and technologically developed these Trick Trucks are built.
All day Friday was the Odyssey Battery Mint 400 tech and contingency on Fremont Street which saw some 380 race teams and thousands upon thousands of fans mingle together in the Nevada sunshine. This year’s festivities easily outsized previous years’ crowds along the stretch in front of the old El Cortez Hotel and Casino.
The activity was bustling as the most popular of the race vehicles were on full display. Revelers and fans could meet their favorite racers, or observe race teams while sponsors assisted in last-minute adjustments that were being worked on right there on the street.
The Limited Race
The format that BITD uses is three 119-mile laps around the course. This allows the slower Limited Class racers that start at 6:00 am to have time to get their laps in before the bigger and faster Unlimited Classes catch them on the track after their start.
One of the more compelling race stories coming out of this year’s Mint 400 has to be Brock Heger’s victory in Class 1000 over TJ Tuls. While most high school juniors are concerned about school dances and wearing the right brand of pants, the 17-year-old rookie from El Centro, California is putting on a race clinic in the highly-competitive BITD Class 1000 in his Alumi Craft race car.
After winning the Parker 425 out of nowhere, Heger’s Mint 400 win speaks to his skill and the abilities of his team. “Coming out in the 2017 season and having such a great start is something everyone dreams of,” Heger explained. “Being a 17-year-old kid and the racing in the Best In the Desert series as my first experience racing in the desert and being my first year in Class 10, I could not ask for better results.”
While Heger’s win in Parker earned him the choice first starting position, he has already proved that he’s got what it takes to work a race from back in the pack. “Going into Parker I started 27th and knew I had lots of work to do and was nothing but charge mode from start to finish,” Heger continued. “Going into the Mint 400 after my Parker 425 victory I knew I had to back it up and show people that Eric Delente and myself have what it takes to be running in the front of the super competitive class.”
Heger has had the rare chance to live out a “childhood” dream by winning the Mint 400, but he has his sights set on continuing with his success. “The Mint 400 has always been one of the races I have always wanted to race,” Heger continued. “To come out and have another successful run, battling with the top five all day, and coming home with the victory is amazing! I have only raced a Class 1000 car three times and so far the team and I are three for three. Hopefully, we can keep the ball rolling and be super consistent with the results throughout the season.”
Heger’s example shows that preparation and support are key to establishing and maintaining a winning race program. “To prepare for races I always try to stay behind the wheel of something whether it be a razor, my short-course Pro Lite, or my dirt circle track car,” Heger finished. “This whole program would not be near possible if it wasn’t for Jake Velasco and all his guys behind it. My parents are super supportive of what I do and love racing. Racing is a huge family sport which makes it fun for everyone. I have to give a huge one to Eric Delente for giving me the opportunity to drive his car.”
Last year’s points Trophy Lite Champion, Todd Jackson, won this year’s Trophy Lite, Class 6000, in a time of 7:09:26 ahead of Parker 425 Champion Jeff Mortis’ 7:20:28. Tony Sato and Josh Cobb rounded out the top four in this class which is looking to be a highly competitive class again this year where five or six racers could easily prevail on points in the end.
In the UTV Pro Turbo Class another youngster has taken two in a row with his big win at the Mint 400. Mitch Guthrie Jr., only 20-years-old, in his Polaris finished in a time of 7:09:49, a full 22 minutes ahead of Jason Murray 7:31:46 in his CanAm Maverick. The Murray Brothers racing program is an experienced, skilled team and to beat out Team Murray, shows how good Guthrie Jr. is running right now.
Another young winner in the UTV class is showing that the future is certainly bright in this growing off-road sport. Dodge Poelman, only 16-years-old, took his Ready Gunner, Supercross.com sponsored Polaris and beat a huge field of veteran racers with a time of 7:34:26 in the UTV Pro Class.
Dodge Poelman won the race despite rolling at the start trying to beat his dad, Ryan, off the line. Kristen Matlock took second place less than two minutes behind Poelman with a time 7:36:21.
Greg Adler in his 4 Wheel Parts Ultra 4 racer won the Class 4000, and Travis Chase was the Class 5000 winner with a time of 6:39:06. John Hsu was the Class 2400 winner with a time of 6:41:04 and Jay Leno won the Class 7300 in his Camburg-built, slightly-modified Toyota. Leno plans on featuring his Mint 400 experience in an upcoming episode of Jay Leno’s Garage.
The Unlimited Race
The Unlimited Race began at around 12:45 pm in the shadow of the rollercoaster at the Buffalo Bills Hotel and Casino, in the slight breeze of the Primm, Nevada desert. The 2016 Best In the Desert Points Champion, Jason Voss, had the honor of starting first with Harley Letner starting second.
In a post-race interview, Letner conceded that he did not want to push too fast at the start and that he would let Andy McMillin, Rob MacCachran, and Voss get out front so that he would not feel forced into making early mistakes by pressing too much, too early. This is the type of restraint that you do not see when you watch Letner drive.
Voss was able to take advantage of his poll slot and lead the race throughout the first lap and into the second lap with the benefit of clean air and few Limited racers on the track to pass. Andy McMillin and Justin Matney, in his four-wheel-drive RPM Offroad Truck, both took the lead at different times during the second and third laps. Rob MacCachran, racing for Rockstar Energy in his Ford
Rob MacCachran, racing for Rockstar Energy in his Ford Geiser truck, battled with McMillin and Voss late in the race and took the lead with around 50 miles to go. RobMac, who started fourth, ran clean and flat free on his Bf Goodrich Tires the entire race which proved to be the difference. RobMac’s flawless run allowed him to get close enough to Voss as the sun went down to earn him his first overall Mint 400 win. MacCachren’s time of 5:37:35 gave him a 44-second victory over Voss.
Rob MacCacheran has been racing the Mint 400 outside his native Las Vegas since 1984. While he has won his share of at the Mint in several of the lower classes, RobMac has never been able to capture that precious Trick Truck overall victory that, for one reason or another, would slip beyond his grasp. Andy McMillin took third place with a time of 5:41:36 and Las Vegan, BJ Baldwin, finished an impressive fourth with a time of 5:44:57.
Harley Letner, racing for Youththeory won his second straight BITD race for Class 1500, easily outpacing the rest of the class in his “#TTDestroyer” Alpha buggy with a time of 6:18:29. Letner’s time was good enough for ninth place overall. Pat Dean finished second 6:55:15 in his Bunderson buggy and Dustin Miller ran third in his custom rig with a time of 6:59:15. Letner’s 37-minute win is likely bittersweet as he seems determined to prove that his buggy can beat the Trick Trucks, even on a long, rough, and brutal race like the Mint 400.
Jonathan Swift in his Sway-Away, Racer Eng. Spec. Trick Truck (Class 6100) also followed-up his Parker 425 win with a Mint 400 trophy with a time of 7:01:06. Ryan Hancock took second place in his Alexander Ford & Lincoln-sponsored Ford Geiser Truck with a time of 7:14:07.
Off Road Xtreme will continue to bring you event and race coverage from the Best In the Desert Series for 2017. We plan on being there for the Polaris RZR UTV World Championships April 14-15. We also will also be there for the Method Race Wheels Laughlin Desert Classic on May 11-14. Be sure to check out the massive gallery below with pictures from the entire week!