Mad Media And Best In The Desert Take Separate Courses In 2020

The off-road racing world was shocked to hear that the successful collaboration between the Best in the Desert series, and Mad Media, the owners of the Mint 400, had come to an end. After all, the Mint 400 is a huge success. It has blown up since the two entities put on their first race together in 2012.

Mint 400 contingency on Freemont street.

Not only have the pre-race activities necessitated continued expansion at its traditional location on Freemont Street in downtown Las Vegas, but the entries blow right past the maximum amount allowed by the BLM; which creates a waiting list of teams wanting to race. That level of success didn’t come easy; it had to be earned step by step.

After acquiring the naming rights to the race, Mad Media put a plan in place to resurrect the legendary event. It had run for several years under the leadership of the SNORE series (Southern Nevada off-road Racing Enthusiasts). SNORE is a racing club that puts on races for its members.

Bekki Wik explodes out of a hole at the SNORE Mint 400.

Mad Media had a much more ambitious plan; one that was in the spirit of the original event. They would do what they do best; the promoting, and marketing, while Best in the Desert took care of race operations. It worked to perfection because they both were able to focus on their strengths.

Matt Martelli filming a Best in the Desert race in 2009.

The Best in the Desert series started out as a small motorcycle racing series but continued to grow over the years to become the premier off-road racing series in the United States. After years of experience putting on their own events, their race operations ran smoothly, and their events attracted many of the top names in the sport. It was the type of help Mad Media needed because they didn’t have to start their new endeavor from scratch.

The Letner Racing Team has competed in desert races for three generations.

The rules were in place, the competitor’s vehicles were already built to fit in the class structure, and as part of the Best in the Desert series, it was guaranteed a good turnout of racers. Once the plan was put into action, the race exploded into an event that in fact rivaled the original Mint 400.

The Mint 400 Of The Past

Multi-time Trick Truck champion Jason Voss.

For those of you who did not have the opportunity to attend a Mint 400 race during its early years (1968 to 1988), the race was epic. It came to be known as “The Great American off-road Race.” It was world renown for two things, the party at contingency and the incredible terrain the race covered.

Pike racing Dodge Ramcharger on the north course.

Contingency had all the trappings of Las Vegas; booze, women, gambling, and revelry. Once the racing started, competitors got a dose of the gnarliest terrain known to man. Silt, rocks, and rocks mixed with silt made up the course. It was downright brutal. Packed with race cars, and fans from all over the world, they all came to “the Mint” to celebrate desert racing.

Created by Mint hotel Owner Del Webb, and hotel executive Norm Johnson to promote the casino, the event came up with new marketing ploys every year. That’s what made it so much fun, and the entire town was in on it. Movie stars, TV celebrities, dignitaries, and politicians all wanted to be seen at the Mint.

There were contests, food and drink specials, you name it. Mint Hotel executive and longtime Mint 400 Race Director K.J. Howe came up with “The Girls of the Mint 400” in 1972 to add a touch of glamor to the race. It attracted beautiful and talented women from around the world including Miss Mint winners Vanna White from the “Wheel of Fortune” TV show, and “Wonder Woman” Lynda Carter.

K.J. Howe still competes in the vintage class at the Mint 400

They even had special rates on truck rentals during the race. You could fly in, rent a truck, and hit the course to spectate. Somebody probably lost their job over that one. The last thing you would want is to have your rentals out exploring the course. Some of the rental car debauchery stories are legendary.

The festivities were amazing, but the torture that existed on the course gave the Mint its significance in the racing world. The race attracted icons like Parnelli Jones, Mickey Thompson, Al Unser, Roger Ward, the Mears gang, Bobby Ferro, Walker Evans, Rod Hall, and Ivan Stewart. Celebrity racers included Ted Nugent, Chuck Norris, Astronaut, Gordon Cooper, and serious racers who were also actors like James Garner and Steve McQueen. It was a special time in off-road racing history.

The Mint 400 Of Today

Fast forward to today, and many of the same metrics exist. The Mint 400 is a huge success, so why the split? It comes down to a difference in philosophy. Best in the Desert founder Casey Folks was a successful racer long before he took on the role of race promoter. He worked extremely hard to bring in sponsors to the series, and to provide a platform for teams to shine, but his number one goal was always to provide a great experience for the racers.

He was never too keen on the media intrusion, or spectators. To him, they were a nuisance. They created the biggest threat to his series as they were not under direct control. Casey’s efforts were focused on making his races great for racers, and to that end, he was extremely successful.

The media scrum during time trials at the Mint 400

The Martelli Brothers Matt and Josh, owners of the Mint come from a totally different perspective. They are long-time members of the media and prolific content creators. The enjoyment of the racers is just as important to them, but they aim to share that experience with the world.

There is a saying that questions if a tree falls in the forest, and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If mass media is your goal, the answer is no. The tree fell in obscurity, and that’s where it will stay. The Martelli’s don’t want off-road racing to suffer that fate.

Like many of us, they were instantly captivated with off-road racing once they experienced it. They want to increase exposure, build sponsorship opportunities, and provide safe, family-centric entertainment for the masses.

Mad Media wants to put more focus on bringing off-road racing to the world, while Best in the Desert wants to cater to the racer. Going in their own directions does not diminish either party, it just signals that there is room to expand the off-road racing world. The Mint 400 will continue to flourish, as well as the Best in the Desert series.

They collaborated on scheduling so that racers who were competing for a BITD championship could also race the Mint 400 without impacting their championship aspirations. Best in the Desert recently released their 2020 schedule which includes six races for cars, and trucks, six races for bikes and quads, and seven events for UTV’s. Sadly we lost Casey in 2017, but his legacy continues on thanks to the team he put together, and the popularity of his series.

Mad Media will be building a series off the strength of the Mint 400. They want to bring off-road racing into the future. They have big plans to use some of the emerging technology available to enhance tracking and scoring.

They want to provide racers with the exposure they need to attract substantial sponsorship dollars to their programs. Sponsors will have new avenues available for branding and marketing. They will be able to justify off-road racing sponsorships because the audience will be there.

The fans will be able to experience off-road racing as they did in the old days. Thousands of people used to flock to the Mint 400 to spectate. That tradition has all but disappeared.

During a conference call with Matt, and Josh Martelli they were quick to point out some contrasts between the original Mint 400, and the race today. Race promotors like Mickey Thompson achieved great success without any of the technology we have today; the internet did not exist. There are so many opportunities to bring eyeballs to off-road racing.

The huge influx of new off-road enthusiasts due to UTV’s has created opportunities like never before. Content is king, and Mad Media knows how to capture every bit of action on the course. They are committed to growing the off-road culture in a responsible way. They look at the Dakar Rally, an event that is much younger than off-road racing, and see a race that has a global reach.

There is no reason why off-road racing can’t do the same. The Martelli’s envision the same mass appeal as a rock concert or a baseball game. Then the big companies will come back.

Mad Media is focused on growth, but they are working just as hard to make it a great experience for racers. They are consolidating the fee structure to make it simpler to budget the race weekend. They want to provide a fan-friendly structure so your family and friends can watch you race. They have and will continue to implement feedback into their program so that everyone will have a great time at their races. That’s right, they will be expanding into a series of races that will be held at different venues in the west.

About the author

Mike Ingalsbee

For more than two decades, Mike Ingalsbee has worked as an automotive writer and photographer and covered just about everything that burns fuel or throws dirt. His writing and photography has been published in over 20 magazine titles and websites in North America, Europe and Australia. He has worked as a design engineer for several manufacturers in the automotive aftermarket and is a founding member of the Association of Motorsports Media Professionals, (AMMP), an organization that consults with racing sanctioning bodies on safety and media issues.
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