They call it the Great American Off-Road Race and I don’t know if there is a better phrase that describes The Polaris RZR Mint 400 Presented By General Tire. Its history, its pageantry, its attendance, everything about this race is bigger and better. You can make an argument for the Baja 1000 and Dakar Rally, of course King Of The Hammers, but if you actually attend The Mint 400, I don’t think you can deny that it is in fact one of the most amazing race events in the world. What The Martelli Brothers have done over the past 4 years since owning this event is nothing short of remarkable. They have not only raised the bar from an off-road promotors standpoint, they also have set a standard that few promotors in our sport today can match.
Las Vegas, NV is the host city of the famous Mint 400. The Mint 400 was started back in 1967 and there has been a few small gaps since then when the race wasn’t held, but overall its a yearly event and most recently had brought back the days of old when glitz and glamour accompanied the grit and roughness of off-road racing. The Mint 400 is much more than just a race, its a spectacle. Complete with celebrities and the sports biggest names, the industries biggest brands and of course the worlds biggest stage, the Mint 400 is the Daytona 500 of off-road racing.
330 total vehicles would pre register to stake their claim on racing the biggest race of the year. A waiting list of almost 100 racers would soon form. Pro tip: If you plan to race The Mint 400 next year, get your entry in ASAP! Do not wait! Racers and Teams began arriving as early as last Monday. Many came in Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning as they did not want to miss out on being part of the Mint 400 vehicle parade which took over 100 of the events race vehicles and paraded them down the Las Vegas Strip. I was fortunate enough to be able to drive the 1948 Monster Energy / SXSPerformance Polaris RZR in the parade with our friend Mike Lasher. It was an amazing thing to be a part of and a memory I will not soon forget.
Thursday gets rolling with unlimited race qualifying out at Primm, NV otherwise known as State-line. This is where the race will actually start and finish on Saturday, but for qualifying Best In The Desert (BITD) who sanctions the event, has laid out a 3 mile qualifying loop where Trick Trucks and Class 1 buggies will compete to determine their starting positions for Saturdays main event. It takes a few hours to run the 100+ vehicles through the 3 mile loop. Its action packed and due to the way The Martelli’s have designed their new Start / Finish area, more spectators were apart of this qualifying session then ever before. Once qualifying was complete, racers and their teams headed back to downtown Las Vegas where the evenings events consisted of announcing the qualifying order for the race, the famed Miss Mint crowning, and the coveted Mint 400 Pit-Crew Challenge! It all culminated with an epic party surrounding a stage that rivaled any major musical performers stage. The Mint 400 was well underway and it wasn’t even the weekend yet!
Contingency and Technical Inspection is held on Friday in Downtown Las Vegas on Fremont St. This to me is what The Mint 400 is all about. You have the backdrop of one of the most iconic streets in American Culture, mixed with the worlds most advanced off-road vehicles all wrapped up into one of the sports most historic and well publicized events. There is something special about bringing off-road racing to such an epicenter for tourism and vacation. It is one of the few events where worlds literally collide as you bring in the bulk of the off-road racing community from racers and teams, to sponsors and fans and then thrust them into an area that is already exploding with people who have flocked to Las Vegas for a little fun in the sun. These people with their beaded shamrock necklaces holding a 2 foot long daiquiri intertwine with the off-road regulars who are not only soaking up the fun but also preparing for one of the most grueling races they will compete in all year. However, the risk is always worth the reward as it pertains to The Mint 400, as their slogan this year has been “To The Victor, Go The Spoils”. For the entire day on Friday racers will push their race vehicles a mile down Fremont St. where the sports biggest brands and companies line the route. Its a site to see and its definitely one of the most recognizable parts of The Mint 400. Friday ends with a drivers meeting back at the Golden Nugget.
Just being a part of the event as a racer makes attending worth it. Of course everyone wants to do well on race day, but its hard to deny the fun you and your team as well as the exposure you receive from being a part of The Mint 400. Over 200 media outlets descend on Las Vegas to cover The Mint 400. From local radio and television to major sporting outlets like ESPN. Of course the who’s who of off-road journalism and media are in attendance but so are some very main stream publications and production companies like TIME and NBC. Mad Media, owned and operated by The Martelli Brothers was on hand with over 100 production staff to shoot and produce a total of 4.5 hours of television surround this years race alone! A 2 hour show for the Red Bull Signature Series on NBC which highlights the event and the Unlimited Race, a 2 hour doc style show which will showcase the event and give a more in depth look into racers and what it takes to compete and take on an event like The Mint 400. This shows air date and location is still TBD. Lastly, Mad Media also worked with us here at UTVUnderground.com to produce a 30 minute show for Destination Polaris which airs on Fox Sports 1. Yours truly plays host and takes you through the weeks events. I had a blast doing it and working with Mad Media is always fun. Outside of television the race is covered live on the web via social media and our sister site Race-Dezert.com.
Saturday is when the business side of things kicks in. Limited race classes begin to stage at 5am before being paraded to the start finish line. The first limited vehicles, which this year was Class 10, took off into the dark to kick off this years Mint 400 promptly at 6am. 2 by 2 vehicles raced through the existing short course off-road track and out into one of the most brutal race courses in our sport. For us, we are there to cover UTVs. We have worked hard to get UTVs into The Mint 400. This is year 3 that UTVs have been included in this race event. In these short 3 years the UTV class has grown into the biggest class in the race with over 60 total UTVs competing. The 56+ Pro UTVs make up one of the most competitive classes in the sport and in this race. With Polaris RZR as the title sponsor of The Mint 400, its hard to deny the impact this class is having not just on this race but on the sport in general. We are proud to be part of this movement and have been thrilled with the way racers, sponsors and fans have responded to the opportunities presented to them.
As UTVs left the start line you could see the sun begin to rise over the horizon. With the lifting sun in the distance you could also see the settling dust that covered the course. Flashing blue lights and the bright glow of headlights bounced around as racers set off onto their long 300+ mile journey. Before the last UTV was even off the line, some in front were already calling in for extraction. The race course was already beating many of the races valiant competitors into submission, but for some, the battle was just getting good and they intend on finishing what they started!
2015 UTV World Championship winner Branden Sims in the 1913 Polaris RZR was their first UTV into the desert. Johnny Angal in the 1921 Polaris RZR was not far behind and it did not take Angal long to make his way up to Sims. The 2 would battle it out through the first lap arriving into the main pit near the end of lap one running nose to tail. Johnny would exit first as Sims crew worked to replace a severely broken rear exhaust. Ironically the team was told to grab a stock exhaust system from a stock RZR XP1000 which sat in front of the teams pits. It was later realized it was one of our Media UTVs that they tore apart to get their machine back in the race. We laughed it off as they replaced it with another stock exhaust but it wasn’t long after before another team was asking to borrow an axle from this same machine. We quickly realized that one of our RZRs had turned into a pit parts car and we had to get it out of there before someone needed an engine!
As Angal headed out onto lap 2 he was enjoying a massive lead. Nothing but time was between him and the second place machine at this point. Multiple vehicles would begin their chase of Johnny Angal before Branden Sims would finally make it out of main pit. The stop all but ruined Sims’ chance at winning this years race.
While enjoying a physical lead is nice and beneficial, it doesn’t always mean you are the actual race leader. Due to the size of the class and the way BITD handles their tracking, a racer leaving the line way back in 50th position could actually begin to lead the race while still actually running in the mid pack physically. After lap 2 we would realize that Branden Schueler in the 1919 Jagged X Polaris RZR was actually the race leader even though he was somewhere around the 10th vehicle on course. Running neck and neck with Schueler and Angal on time was RJ Anderson who was driving the 1934 Coastal Racing Polaris RZR in place of Scott Kiger. Keith Redstrom was filling in the 1931 Jagged X Polaris RZR for an ill Craig Scanlon and he was doing fantastic as well. A mechanical would end the chances of the 1931 placing on the podium but at one point they had moved into the top 3 on time and were making up ground.
While everyone at the start/finish line and in the pits was talking about these teams mentioned above, their was one team that was quickly making a run to the front and was doing so without any attention being paid to them. The 1978 S3 Powersports Turbo Can-Am Maverick of Dustin Jones was running fast and strong. With each lap they got quicker and this team from Louisiana who was running in only their 3rd desert race ever was quickly opening the eyes of the competition and those of us following the race with intensity. As they barreled out onto the course for their 3rd lap people began to wonder, did they have what it took to bring that new race machine to the front and could anyone catch Angal who was absolutely checked out? Only time would tell.
While the race was heating up, for some it was ending in total failure. While racing with The Mint 400 television helicopter hovering above them, the 1906 Polaris RZR would collide with the 1911 Polaris RZR of Brian Bush. Both racers were running wide open, helicopter above capturing the moments when the 1906 tried to make a pass but instead clipped the 1911’s rear driver side tire sending the 1906 into a violent and scary tumble. The pass was made while rolling stated brian Bush who struggled to get the 1911 back to the pits for repair. The collision not only took the 1906 out of the race, it wounded the 1911 pretty bad. While Bush was able to get back out on course and finish the race, the 1906 would succumb to the dreaded DNF. Fortunately we were told both driver and co-driver were ok but it should be mentioned that Bush who pulled over following the incident, exited their own vehicle and ran to assist the 1906 who looked to possibly be catching fire. This sportsmanship caused further delay in their return to the track but showed what this class and what these racers are all about.
With less than 20 miles to go in the race Johnny Angal in the 1921 Polaris RZR had now led for almost the entire duration of battle. He was enjoying a comfortable lead both physically and on time despite the hard efforts being made by RJ Anderson in the 1934 Polaris RZR and Brandon Schueler in the 1919 Polaris RZR. At the finish line the talk was who would be 2nd and 3rd place, we had all but given the race to Angal considering just how much he was dominating the race. But then disaster struck. With only miles to go, Angal would be stopped for a brief stop / check on the race course by officials at a road crossing. There his RZR would stop and it would be hours before it would ever move again. The seemingly un beatable 1921 Polaris RZR would suffer catastrophic transmission failure which would force Angal to repair the vehicle to finish, which he did, but would also force him to relinquish his lead.
RJ Anderson quickly jumped into the race lead on time with Branden Sims, Ryan Poelman and Dustin Jones all battling it out. But before we could even see RJ near the finish we would hear that he had suffered a rear tire puncture. He wasn’t stopping to fix it, he was going to race on it to the finish but this was not going to be enough to hold off the now hard charging Dustin Jones on time. Jones who was now the first physical UTV course would come flying across the start / finish line jump just praying that his time was good enough to hold off the still moving RJ Anderson, the fast Ryan Poelman and the returning champion Brandon Schueler.
It would be the Polaris RZR of Ryan Poelman who would cross the line next, quickly followed by RJ Anderson and then Brandon Schueler. These drivers all sat in line, intensely waiting for news on time. I ran back into the tent to see what I can calculate. Race-Dezert’s Klaus Rasch worked quickly to help me determine what the unofficial timing order would shake out as. It was then we realized that Dustin Jones in the 1978 S3 Powersports Turbo Can-Am Maverick had held off RJ Anderson by 2 minutes to claim victory of the 2015 Polaris RZR Mint 400 Presented by General Tire. RJ Anderson who started deep in the back of the field put on a clinic and made everyone wish we could see more of RJ in the desert. What he did with that Polaris RZR was nothing short of remarkable considering how many vehicles he had to pass and how much dust they all were contending with. Ryan Poelman, a young kid from Las Vegas who’s dad is no stranger to the Trick Truck Class also put on a hell of a performance in his Cognito Motorsports built Polaris RZR. The kid with Supercross.com on the side of his RZR made a lot of people realize that they are not a team to be overlooked. Their performance in Parker was impressive but this Mint 400 finish puts them on the map as one of the teams to beat at any race event they enter.
The returning Mint 400 race winner and 2014 season champion, Brandon Schueler in the 1919 Jagged X Polaris RZR would be the first finisher just off the podium in 4th place. Schueler is the most winning UTV desert racer of all time and is a threat to win at any time. As for Angal in the 1921, he got another taste of the bitter side of off-road racing. The 2014 Baja 1000 champion has staked his claim as one of the classes fastest racers. He drives a pace that forces others to really step their game up because if he doesn’t have a failure he will win. Unfortunately for him, when you play with fire sometimes you get burned and thats what happened on this dusty March day in Primm Valley. Angal will be back, and he will be ready to race, and we are sure he will redeem himself. But lets not lose site of the grit he showed by still finishing the race. Many would have called it quits, he and his team did not and for that we salute them and their efforts and the performance he put on as race leader for so long during the 2015 Mint 400 race.
Dustin Jones is a name that many did not even think twice about considering as a favorite for this years race. His hole-shot at the UTV World Championship was enough to let people know that the Turbo Can-Am Maverick was in fact as fast as many thought it could be, but no one expected this rookie off-road racer from Louisiana to come out and put on the performance that he did here at The Mint 400. You would be hard pressed to find a nicer group of guys competing in the entire sport of off-road racing. Hell, my own wife is in love with Dustin because of his southern accent, charming personality and rockstar good looks. But I soon think there will be a lot of sponsors in love with this racer and his team because of their performance, respect and commitment to doing well. Is this a one time, beginners luck type of win? We don’t really know. But what I do know is that guys like Dustin Jones rarely fail at anything they do because they don’t just show up to win, they show up to have a good time, they show up to be stewards of the sport and representatives of their company and they show up to compete from start to finish in the best way they know how. They may have been the mud boys from Louisiana coming into The Mint 400, but they left off-road racers. And they headed back to Louisiana as winners!
Congrats to everyone who entered, attended, finished and won this years Polaris RZR Mint 400. We had a fantastic time celebrating with you all and we really look forward to seeing just how far we can keep pushing this sport with the UTV World Championship and Mint 400 platforms. Huge thank you goes out to Polaris RZR for stepping up to sponsor this years event and help us all put on one of the most epic races of all time. Polaris isn’t just sitting back and letting others do the work of growing this sport for them, they are getting their hands dirty along side all of us, asking how they can help more and in return doing everything they can to ensure that UTV racing stays on the map. Lastly, thank you to everyone who represents UTVUnderground.com on and off the track. Without your support there is no way we could be taking this little ol’ website to the places it has gone and is going. Your support is never overlooked and we are forever grateful.
In closing I want to extend a heartfelt get well to the racers injured in the afternoon race this year. We pray for you and your families and hope for a speedy and full recovery. It was great to hear that there has already been significant progress and that both racers are ok and alert.
Until next time….
Editors Note: While we try to cover everyone, show everyone’s photos and give everyone the respect they do deserve for competing in any race, it is very difficult for us to track all the stories. Over 60 UTVs entered this race, that means hundreds of stories and as much as we would like to tell them all we just don’t have the capacity to do so. With that said, if you don’t see your photos or your name or team do not take it personal. We do appreciate you all and we do respect all of you. Feel free to submit a story to [email protected] and we would be happy to run it in our forum or maybe even on our homepage.
Words by: Joey DiGiovanni // UTVUnderground.com
Photos by: Vincent Knakal, Brooke LaValley, Ernesto Araiza // UTVUnderground.com – Mad Media
Pro UTV (1900) Results
1. 1978 Dustin Jones – S3 Powersports / Can-Am Maverick (Turbo)
2. 1934 RJ Anderson – Coastal Racing / Polaris RZR
3. 1962 Ryan Poelman – Supercross.com / Polaris RZR
4. 1919 Brandon Schueler – Jagged X / Polaris RZR
5. 1918 Justin Lambert – Cognito Motorsports / Polaris RZR
6. 1988 Wes Miller – Polaris RZR
7. 1902 Jeff Obering – Kolob Air / Polaris RZR
8. 1975 Michael Cafro – Polaris RZR
9. 1916 Cody Nygren – Lone Star Racing / Polaris RZR
10. 1917 Jason / Derek Murray – Murray Motorsports / Can-Am Maverick
11. 1936 Jacob Carver – Lone Star Racing / Polaris RZR
12. 1910 Dan Fisher – Lone Star Racing / Polaris RZR
13. 1929 Lance Chournos – Rally On The Rocks / Polaris RZR
14. 1997 Kenny Brink – OnSite Communications / Polaris RZR
15. 1905 Marc Burnett – Monster Energy / Polaris RZR
16. 1913 Branden Sims – Lone Star Racing / Polaris RZR
17. 1999 Michael Isom – Mobbin Racing / Polaris RZR
18. 1921 Johnny Angal – UTV Inc. / Polaris RZR
19. 1911 Brian Bush – UTV Inc. / Polaris RZR
20. 1969 Logan Gastel – Rugged Radios / Can-Am Maverick
21. 1948 Matt Burroughs – Monster Energy / Polaris RZR
22. 1914 Darin Burau – Renegade Rentals / Polaris RZR
23. 1968 David Lytle – Fabwerx / Kawasaki Teryx