On Saturday, March 4, the Nevada desert will be lit up with the madness of more than 300 off-road vehicles racing in one of the most famous events in motorsports: the Mint 400. This ratty old Volkswagen should be enough to keep up, right?
We peeped the race last year in a $240,000 Mercedes G-Wagon as spectators. This time, I’m suiting up and diving off the deep end in a car I’ve been told “will treat [my] kidneys like maracas.” A “Class 11” car also known as a stock Beetle.
For those of you who aren’t into the off-road racing scene, the Mint 400 is the same event Hunter S. Thompson was famously “covering” in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas under different ownership.
The event went through a few years of dormancy but was bought and rebuilt by off-road entrepreneurs the Martelli brothers who have revived it into a week-long party and contest of speed over sand. I’m not really big on Las Vegas, so I’m just sneaking in for the sandy part. It should look something like this:
Cool trailer, right?
But I agree: It’s missing something. Like an overly dramatic voiceover guy growling platitudes to us. Hang on, here we go:
Now that’s how an ad for a truck race is supposed to sound!
If you can’t make it to Nevada you can chase the race remotely with live tracking and a live leaderboard. But keep an eye on social media (#mint400) too, including YouTube and Facebook for rapidly updated action vids.
I’ll be in car 4701 for a lap, as long as I get up early enough to make last call for registration.
Like most desert races, the Mint welcomes a huge range of vehicle types from dinky little barely-modified VW Bugs to full-on factory-supported trophy trucks that can rip at over 100 mph.
The Beetles start bright and early at 6 a.m. on Saturday to minimize their odds of being pancaked by faster vehicles which kick off at half past noon.
I’ve had the privilege of getting in on a few off-road racing adventures in my years at Jalopnik, and every time I come back with stories I get this response from somebody: “Yeah, but have you seen those Beetles?”
Everybody who’s into cars but doesn’t know much about off-road thinks the desert racer vintage VW is the coolest thing ever. Everybody who’s part of the scene says I’d be crazy to climb into one.
So I figured we’d better experience this for ourselves.
Beetle racer Robert Johnson was willing to take me under his wing as his co-driver for one of his team’s two massive laps, and if you’d been reading this on March 3, 2017, I was probably puttering across the California/Nevada border on my way to meet my destiny.
Wish us luck. And life.