It’s hard to imagine a much better 2019 season than the one Mitch Guthrie Jr. had. Not only did he return to the top step of the podium at King of the Hammers and take the win in an intense battle at the Mint 400, he also snagged the UTV Turbo championship in the very last race of the Best in the Desert season in Laughlin thanks to a flawless drive and a little bit of good fortune.
While heading to Camp RZR just a few weeks ago, Guthrie caught up with us to recap his standout season. From building and adapting to a new car for 2019, to how he approached the Laughlin finale, to becoming a Red Bull athlete, here’s how 2019 went in his own words:
Congratulations on a massive 2019 and your Best in the Desert title! To start, let’s go through your year and your overall impressions of the season.
After our year I feel it went pretty much as good as it could with what we had. This year was definitely pretty different, and I expected a lot out of our team because we finally built a new car. I had three years under my belt of Best of the Desert in my old car and we had learned a lot with that thing. So building a new car was huge. The speed we gained out of the car, and putting everything that we learned from years in that thing, was a huge part of it. And we learned so much over the years.
This was finally our year to really throw it down and we put everything we learned into it. And King of the Hammers was kind of the same thing—we won it last year, so we were really confident. And I think that’s a huge part of it, just having a lot of confidence. So this year we went into everything really prepared on all fronts, and it all worked out in the end. I’m just super excited—I’m stoked!
Things didn’t start the way you wanted in Parker, but you rebounded right away with a victory at King of the Hammers. How much of a confidence boost was it for you to take the win at KOH?
The first race at Parker with the new car didn’t go so well, we had one failure. After Parker it would’ve been easy to get bummed, but at the same time, I was still really happy because the one problem we had was something that was fixable. And on the rest of the car, we didn’t have any issues. So I knew at the next race we’d fix it and then we’d be good to go, and that’s kind of what happened. So it didn’t really get my confidence down.
We went to King of the Hammers and we won it, and that was a real big confidence boost. I was super pumped. And then to go back-to-back was awesome—from there we went to the Mint and won it. I thought, “OK, we had a bad time at Parker, but we’ll get it figured out,” and then we went and won King of the Hammers, and then went and won the Mint. So it all kind of worked out, and it was big to keep that confidence up throughout the year.
You mentioned your Mint 400 win—take us through the battle you had in that race, because hearing the tracking updates over the radio were intense. Just how close was it?
I think after Parker, we started the Mint somewhere around 20th. Luckily, we got an OK draw—a little bit of luck played on our side, because we could’ve been 70th place or something. But we started 20th, and that race was super clean.
We didn’t have one thing go wrong, we didn’t blow a belt, we didn’t lose a tire, or anything. And the car was super fast. The whole race I was super impressed. It was finally the race where we could just lay it down and not have any issues with the car. By the end of the race, we finished physically first, so we able to pass everyone who started ahead of us and we won it by three or four minutes.
I think it goes to show that even though we didn’t have one problem, not a tire, nothing, it was still a pretty close battle. I think three or four minutes in that long of a race is a close race. And I think it just goes to show how much of a battle it really is. It was huge to win that race and show that we could run with the big dogs for the season. And that’s big when you’re looking at the championship for the rest of the year. Either way, it was a great race and a good battle. I think, especially at the Mint, the teams bring their A game—every team out there does. And every year it gets harder and harder to win. So I was really excited to get that one.
There are a lot of tough teams to beat in UTV Turbo, which has just exploded as a class over the past few years. Did you feel at any point that you left points on the table, or is the competition just that good? How does the competition compare in other classes?
The UTV Turbo class for Best in the Desert is the cream of the crop. I think the teams, especially at this point where we’re a few years into the cars having turbos, have the vehicles pretty figured out.
I think the big thing is, no matter how long the race is or how hard we’re pushing, there’s always someone that ends up having a perfect race—not blowing a belt or losing a tire or having any mechanicals. That’s kind of the thing you’re chasing all year, having those perfect races, because you know someone else is too. That’s where I’m pretty confident now with our new car. Every race I go into I’m confident that we can get it to the finish line with zero issues.
Sometimes things don’t completely pan out how you want them to, but at the end of the season we’ve made it all work out. We had those races where things went wrong and we were able to salvage top five or top 10 finishes in a couple of them. But at the end, it was all about being consistent and making those few bad races work out in our favor.
Heading into Laughlin, you had Phil Blurton, Dustin Jones, and Jason Murray all ahead of you in the championship. What was your mindset going into that event? Were you more focused on just winning the race, figuring out a way to take the title, or even just making sure you got it to the finish?
Going into Laughlin, I was like, “Let’s just win the race. Let’s plan on that and see where we end up in the championship.” To be completely honest, I did not have my mind on the championship. We were fourth, and there was a pretty big gap there. So for us to win the championship everything would need to play out perfect, which I just wasn’t expecting.
Obviously, it’s funny to think about it that way now. In my mind, I was thinking about winning the race, and hopefully we would end up second or third and be on the podium for the championship. But then one mile into the race—at the start I was 10th so fourth row—I saw Phil on the side. And I was like, “He’s probably just changing a belt or who knows what it is.” So I wasn’t super confident then. And then we came around on the second lap and passed him again, and he was still stopped. So I thought, “I might have a shot at this.”
We were starting to pass cars and as the race played out we had a really really good pace going, so we ended up in the physical lead towards the end. And I thought, “Man, we might be able to get a second place finish for the championship here.” I still had no idea. And then we pulled in and figured out that we had won the race, which was great, but we had kind of already known.
Then one of our crew guys, Brad, who’s always on top of the points and the split times during the race said, “You may have won the championship by just a little bit. And I thought, “I don’t want to get too confident here, but that’s cool.” Then the next day Donald (Jackson) actually told us that we won it and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, no way.” So it was one of those things that was a complete surprise.
We’re doing this interview as you’re on the road to Camp RZR. What makes Camp RZR so special? And what’s exciting about finishing the season there?
Camp RZR is one of the weekends I look forward to all year. I love racing, obviously, it’s what I do and it’s what I have a passion for, but what started it all for me was going out with my family to the desert for fun. So this is kind of our one weekend—we try to get a few of them in throughout the year, but sometimes it’s tough, but this is the one we have for sure. Halloween weekend every year, that’s when we get to go out to Glamis and get to just have some fun with family and friends.
That’s why I love Camp RZR. It’s just cool seeing all the people out there, we have so many friends and family that come out. It’s one of our weekends where we just get to wind down and we’re not worried about racing, working on cars, or doing anything crazy. I just go out with family and friends and have fun in the dunes. Like I said, that’s kind of what started it for me in off road with my family. So being able to go out there and do that this weekend is what I really look forward to.
What else is next for you? Do you have your plans figured out for 2020, and is there anything else you’d like to tease?
Right now we have a pretty full schedule for next year: Best in the Desert, the Mint, UTV World Championship, all of that. We definitely added some more to the schedule. I’m probably going to be racing the same car. We were kind of in-between on what to do next year and we figured out at the last race it was probably best to keep the new car and keep improving it. So yeah, that’s what’s on the schedule.
Also, at the Laughlin race, I finally became a Red Bull athlete. That’s been something in the works for a long time, and it’s been a dream of mine forever, so I’m happy to lock that up and be a part of the Red Bull team now. For teasing something, there’s definitely some stuff in the works, and some stuff that’s gonna be announced probably pretty soon here, in the next couple months. It’s going to blow everyone’s minds. I’m pretty excited for that, and between the new Red Bull deal and Polaris still backing me, there’s gonna be some really cool stuff in the next year. I’m excited for what’s to come!
Words by: Chris Leone // UTVUnderground.com
Photos via: Ernesto Araiza/Larry Chen // UTVUnderground.com