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MINT 400 Coverage from Saturday, March 28, 2009

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MINT 400 2009 Race Results and Wrap

Don Wall’s first encounter with the Mint 400 was quite a memorable experience.

But not a drug-induced haze that is often associated with the off-road race in Southern Nevada that gained worldwide fame from Hunter S. Thompson's 1971 gonzo novel “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

Rather Wall’s reaction was one of childhood astonishment, stemming from the sheer size of the supped-up off-road rigs parked in downtown Las Vegas and their corresponding larger-than-life drivers.

After all, Wall, now the president of SNORE (Southern Nevada Off-Road Enthusiasts) was just a 12-year-old that day in 1979 when he laid eyes on legendary off-road driver Mickey Thompson for the first time.

“I was blown away by him, and really everything that was going on with the race. But for some reason the tradition and grander of it all really stood out to me,” Wall recalled on Saturday, during this year's running of the Mint 400.

Last year the event — that began in 1968 with Norm Johnson, who was public relations director for the Mint Hotel at the time — returned after a 21-year hiatus.

“It was an overwhelming response, a lot of positive feedback by everyone,” Wall said, of last year’s race. “But there were just a couple of traditional things that seemed to be missing.”

When Wall became director of the race for this year, he quickly went to work “improving on an already great start.”

Saturday’s event was moved from the Nevada-California state line to Moapa Valley, a half hour north of Las Vegas, where the original event was held. Wall also wanted to have a major presence downtown and thus had Friday's inspection and vehicle parade on Freemont Street.

“That was easy, the downtown casinos love us,” continued Wall. “I don’t even have a clue how much money we’ve helped bring in this weekend, but it’s a lot. There’s a lot of rebirth in that area right now and we’re glad to play a part in it.”

The harder part was jumping through legislation with the state of Nevada, officials from the Bureau of Land Management, and tribal members of the Moapa.

“We’re racing in Nevada, not Mexico. That right there is a huge paradigm change,” said Wall, comparing the Mint to the larger Baja races that take part in Mexico's Baja California Peninsula.

“We’ve had to jump through a lot of hurdles and dumped a lot of money to make it happen.”

So, was it worth it?

“Every bit. I’m so stoked that so many people came out,” said Wall, shortly after a throng of media members, helicopters fluttering overhead and fans cheering on tops of RVs cleared out after Andy and Scott McMillin crossed the finish line roughly seven hours after starting the 400-mile race at 7 a.m.

Indeed the scene felt more like the NASCAR event held in Las Vegas earlier this month as thousands of fans lined Interstate-15 to watch dirt devils of all shapes and sizes make their way through the dust and silt of the desert terrain. RVs surrounded the start-finish line while flags and banners of varying truck-part sponsors blew in the very slight breeze.

Andy Funk, who used to live in Las Vegas, but now resides in Portland, decided to see what all the fuss was about the historic race. He attend the Shelby 427 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway earlier on March 1 and stayed to watch the Mint 400. He even is sticking around for next week’s NHRA action.

“My poor wife hasn’t seen me in a month,” Funk joked.

But there was no joking around for a thirsty McMillin, who after pulling himself free from his assortment of harnesses and security devices, he was ready for a “cold one,” rather than the typical energy drink most other motor sports drivers endorse in victory lane.

“It’s awesome,” said McMillin, as a buddy passed him a Coors Light.

“This is how it’s supposed to be with me and my dad right here in the winner's circle.”

Indeed the McMillin’s, including father Scott, who navigated the truck the first two laps, added their name to a winner’s list which includes their cousin, Mark, a victory of the event in the late 1980s.

“We had him out here watching all this before we ever knew if he could drive or not,” chuckled Scott about his son, Andy, who held off second-place finisher, Cameron Steele, despite having to repair a broken drive shaft on the third lap.

“There’s sure a lot of tradition here.”

Las Vegas driver, Rob MacCachren, got the bumpy drive down memory lane he was hoping for — securing a first-place finish in the Class ½ 1600.

“This is exactly how I remembered it. The course was very, very silty, making it hard to see. Very rough, but one great ride,” said a smiling MacCachren, who drove solo to claim his third individual title in the event's history.

The 44-year-old MacCachren — who finished in front of several higher-class vehicles Saturday — isn’t quite sure which series he will be racing in this year, but said he and his Rockstar Energy Drink/BFGoodrich-sponsored buggy will be a familiar vehicle on the off-road paths of Southern Nevada.

“SNORE and all the fans from Las Vegas did a great job this year,” he said. “I hope they can keep it out here and keep improving, because this is reminiscent of what the Mint 400 was all about.”

So much so that Wall — despite being in charge of nearly every aspect of the 200-plus car field, which will collect combined winnings of more than $80,000 — had to give the course his own seal of approval.

“I just had to get out there and see what it felt like,” said Wall, who raced two laps before handing the wheel to his daughter Alyson.

“It’s old-school, we’re going team Wall all the way. I love it.”


BY CLASS: UT, 1, 10, 12, 16, HM, 8, Baja Protruck, 7, 18, 5/16, TL, 9, Stock Full, MM, 7s, 15, 13, 1450, 3, SB.

1 Bill McBeath
2 Cameron Steele
3 George Rosenbaum
4 Andy McMillin
5 Bobby Baldwin
6 BJ Baldwin
7 Rick Johnson
8 Mark Ewing
9 Adam Householder
10 Rusty Stevens

1 Pierre Lavie
2 Rick Romans
3 Chuck Rodrick
4 Brian Coneen
5 Bill Bice
6 Vince DeJong
7 Terry Householder
8 TJ Flores
9 Mike Walser
10 Scott Buchwitz
11 Cam Thieriot
12 Ron Gibbs
13 John Hsu
14 Jerry Penhall
15 Steve Raskett
16 Todd Welling
17 Danny Anderson
18 Louie Serna
19 Mike Szlauko
20 Jeff Perkins
21 Vince Galewick
22 Kory Halipoff
23 Jeff Farris
24 Bill Billington
25 Richard Boyle

1 Mike Dunn
2 Jeff Zember
3 Ben Monroy
4 Ken Tapert
5 Kyle Woodward
6 Ron Carter
7 Pat Chicas
8 Bekki Wik
9 Matt Stevens
10 Will Higman
11 Robert Harman
12 Tom Bjorstrom
13 Michael Hanson
14 Larry Schumueser
15 John Hsu
16 David Greenhill
17 CJ Hutchins

1 Bryan Rice
2 Zak Langley
3 Jillian Rootring
4 Cody Freeman
5 Jeff Kawell
6 Billy Gereghty
7 Steve Fuller
8 Frank Baird
9 Wade Kelsay
10 Stuart Baxter
11 Brent Cook
12 Nick Dempkowski
13 Bill Gledhill
14 Lee Banning
15 Red Burgin
16 Rick Poole
17 Clay Lenard
18 Bryan Folks
19 Dave Campbell
20 Rob Smith
21 Justin “Bean” Smith
22 Kevin Martin
23 Jessica Freeman
24 Richard Garavito
25 Wesley Stevens

1 Rob MacCachren
2 Patrick Nirschl
3 David Schweigart
4 Rick Boyer
5 Matthew Niles
6 Byron Ziegler
7 Dave Hendrickson
8 Robbie Madison
9 Jasper Dyer
10 George Jimenez
11 Jeff Farshler
12 Fernie Padilla
13 Eric Fiorino
14 Chris Boyer
15 Corey Goin
16 Justin “Bean” Smith
17 Bob Matthews
18 Kevin Denault
19 Curt Geer
20 Jason Coleman
21 Blaine Conrad
22 Orlo Cox III
23 Ed Maurin
24 Don Wall
25 Derek Bradley
26 Day Gang
27 Jay Shain
28 Mac Marmon
29 Mike Simpson
30 Bryan Matthews
31 Justin Davis
32 Ray Bokelman
33 Don Meyers


1 Todd McMiniment
2 Tomas Morales
3 Bill Zolg

1 Glen Mayernick
2 Robert Gross
3 Brandon Kaylor
4 Darren Walsh
5 Richard Diaz
6 Colin Campbell
7 Raul Solano
8 Pat Dailey

1 Cory Bantilan
2 Chris Haney
3 Joe Forte
4 Vicki Lenard
5 Cody Rash
6 Cameron Blackley
7 Steve Vega
8 Mike Anglin
9 Bud Ward
10 Kevin Mattes

1 Aaron Guthrie
2 Rob Clouser
3 Alan Levinson
4 Troy Vest
5 Rob Reinertson
6 Bill Driggs
7 Dave Mason
8 Jason Horsley
9 Rich Bachand

1 Jeff Harrison
2 Doug Chadwick
3 Charles Anderson
4 Marc Burnett
5 Travis Bozzano
6 Dallas Luttrell
7 Robby Woolworth
8 Ken Barker
9 Al Hogan
10 Chris Taylor
11 Robert Pickering
12 Britt Burgos

1 Jason Hunter
2 Heidi Steele
3 Roger Byrd
4 Dave Blakley
5 Peter Garfinkle
6 Clayton Sullivan
7 Steve Rose
8 Brandt Anderson
9 Bill Billington

1 Kevin Ellis
2 Dana Dague

1 Louis Chamberlain
2 Glen Rolfe
3 Vance Smith
4 Gary Messer
5 Randy Blacker
6 Brock Hersam
7 Mike Jenkins
8 Eric Fiorino
9 Matt Armstrong
10 Billy Worthing
11 Bruce Finchum
12 Bruce Friesen

1 John Vaughn
2 Jerry Zaiden

1 Andy Schifanelli
2 Ted Hunnicutt, Jr.
3 Mike Lowe
4 Dave Crinklaw
5 Sheldon Paul
6 Aaron Osborne

1 Kent Kroeker

1 Donald Moss
2 Chuck Atkinson
3 Scott Maloney
4 Gale Pike
5 Chris Raffo

1 Chester Williams
2 Lucas Hand
3 Bob Dzuirawiec
4 Clint Braun
5 Mark Bass

1 Polo Ramirez
2 Rory Ward
3 James Corn
4 Richard Nichols
5 Ryan Cobee
6 Kevin Swanson
7 Jerry Stewart
8 Scott Foster
9 Bob Jordan
10 Mario Gesualdo
11 Greg Crew

1 John D.O. Houlton
2 Kelly Suiter
3 Billy Shapley
4 Holly Gill
5 Ashley Davis
6 Chuck Atkinson
7 Henry Velasquez
8 Courtney Collins
9 Thomas High

1 Garey Leavitt
2 Jeff Lee
3 Felipe Neri-Sanchez
4 Robert Johnson
5 Richard Palasik
6 Scott Goodwin
7 Dave Cote
8 Cory Vandermark
9 Ed Mahoney
10 Mark Murrell

1 Chris Freas
2 Robby Woolworth
3 Jasen Harmon
4 Jim Borden
5 Andrew Leavitt
6 Joe Ruffo
7 Eric Ludian
8 Frank Russell
9 Gregg Zumwalt
10 Bob Land
11 Robert Kloes
12 Tim Scott
13 Garrick Freitas


The second edition of the revitalized Mint 400 begins north of Las Vegas, Today. The essence of the legendary desert race took over Fremont Street, Friday. One of the highlights of the original Mint 400, which ran from 1968 to 1988 before returning a year ago, was the convergence of about 500 race cars on Fremont Street the day before the race.

That glimmer came back on Friday when the nearly 240 race vehicles entered in this year's event will cruise from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. along Fremont Street in downtown en route to technical-inspection stations near Eighth Street.

The original Mint was held in 1968, but interest waned after the sale of the Mint hotel in the late 1980s. Las Vegas publicist Norm Johnson created the event as the Del Webb Mint 400 Off Road Rally, and the Southern Nevada Off Road Enthusiasts organization resurrected it last year.

Many teams spent Thursday morning pre-running the 100-mile course, which is about 30 miles north of Las Vegas.

The four-lap race begins at 7 a.m. Saturday.

The start-finish line is near the Moapa Paiute Travel Plaza at exit 75 off Interstate 15.

Fremont Street Contingency Report

A brisk, sunny Friday afternoon on Fremont Street might have looked the same 20 years ago as entrants to the Mint 400 slowly pushed their vehicles to tech inspection.

Families huddled with their Baja bugs, trucks and buggies. Onlookers gawked at exposed engines, giant tires and shock absorbers taller than some kids.

A time traveler might have thought it was 1989, if not for vendors offering racers downloads from Global Positioning Satellites and bodies tattooed more colorfully than most race cars.

Times have changed, but the Southern Nevada Off Road Enthusiasts organization opted to turn back the clock last year when it resurrected the Mint 400, which was the country's biggest desert race from 1968 to 1989.

This year's activities were expanded further to include the Fremont Street Experience.

The last time tech inspection was held downtown, it wasn't under a canopy seven blocks long.

All of the nearly 240 vehicles were pushed through the Experience to inspection stations near Eighth Street in preparation for today's racing, which begins at 7 a.m. near the Moapa Paiute Travel Plaza at state Route 168 and Interstate 15 near Valley of Fire State Park.

"In its heyday the Mint 400 tech inspection was so popular that kids were even cutting school to gather on Fremont Street," said K.J. Howe, who became the event's race director in the early 1970s.

In 1988, Ron Woolworth, now 62, traveled to Las Vegas for the Mint from his home in Riverside, Calif., to help pit for a team owned by Danny Porter. About four years later, Woolworth and his family moved to Las Vegas.

His son, Robby, never had a chance to cut school for the Mint's big day on Fremont Street. But he had been going to Southern California races with his father and heard stories about the Mint.

"What makes this race so special is its history," he said. "It's exciting to be part of it."

Robby Woolworth will compete in a Class 7 Ford pickup he built and uses to promote his Woolworth Motorsports business, which builds off-road vehicles and fabricates parts in the industrial park adjacent to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Like most involved with the revived Mint 400, the younger Woolworth acknowledges the stature of the new race isn't what it was 20 or 30 years ago.

But he doesn't care. It's still the Mint 400, and it's still four laps of 100 miles.

At one time it was the world's richest and most demanding desert race. The decline began when the Mint hotel and casino was sold and became part of Binion's Horseshoe.

And the desert was more frontier than public park in those days.

"The rules and regulations were a lot looser then," Ron Woolworth said of desert races before the Bureau of Land Management became more involved.

Most teams, including the Woolworths, will leave town by dawn to begin setting up their pit areas. Thirty years ago, racers and thousands of spectators would have camped out the night before the Mint.

Last night, veterans could only dream of those good old days.

Las Vegas Off-Road Racing

But for a happily unclean casino executive, the Mint 400 Off-Road Race might not have survived its first year. It was 1968, night had fallen on the 115 buggies and bikes making roaring from the Mint Hotel on Fremont Street out on the dusty acreage between there and Beatty. By then, the desert was littered with racers and their disabled vehicles. It was dark, disorganized, and the race looked doomed before any of the $15,000 in prize money was awarded.

“The racers are all stretched out over the desert and a lot of them had broken down – Parnelli Jones (in his Ford Bronco and one of the event’s top draws) had broken down three times,” race founder Norm Johnson said during a phone interview earlier today. “It was looking really bad, and a lot of people thought it was a mistake to even try this.”

One of those people was a Mint Hotel executive Johnson cares not to identify, other than to say the complaining official had the influence to halt the race (pun unintended) in its tracks. “He said, and I quote -- and you can clean this up however you want -- ‘This is a (f-ing) disaster!’ ” Johnson, himself a member of the Mint Hotel family as the casino’s PR man whose dream event seemed about spun out. But one of the drivers who had broken down, a resort exec soon arrived to rescue the event.

“An hour later the president of the Sahara, Earl Thompson, and his navigator come in and they’re just filled with dust,” Johnson said, laughing. “He walks up to me and says, ‘This is the greatest Goddamn thing I’ve ever seen!’ That helped change some minds. (Mint Hotel President) Bill Bennett backed it, too. If not for that event, the race might never have made it past the first year.” The event is back, under the Mint 400 title but without Johnson’s involvement. About 225 drivers will charge into the dust devils at the Moapa Tribal Plaza, which is just off Exit 75 about 25 miles north of Las Vegas on Interstate 15 (click here for race info).

The race prospered, under its original title, for 20 years. The first year, 115 vehicles participated in the first U.S. off-road event to offer prize money and contingency awards from such sponsors as STP and the now-defunct Gates Tires. Johnson, himself an avid race enthusiast, was inspired to organize the race after reading a magazine story about the Baja 1,000. “That was the only off-road race, and it was not yet established, and I’d read about the six or nine Jeeps that went down to Baja to race and thought it would be fun to try that here.”

A former Las Vegas Sun reporter who moved to Vegas in 1965, Johnson was on staff when Hunter S. Thompson stormed into Vegas to cover the 1971 race for Rolling Stone magazine, the legendarily drug-inspired endeavor that led to the epic “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Johnson had only fleeting correspondence with Thompson. “I met him and knew how dopey and crazy he was, and I think I even had a drink with him, but that’s the only direct contact I had with him,” Johnson recalls. But Johnson was a consultant for the film of the same name starring Johnny Depp as Thompson. Johnson warned against filming scenes of motorcycles racing side-by-side against dune buggies and pickups; the film showed that footage anyway, which was filmed on the desert lake bed near Primm. “I still got paid as a consultant, even though they didn’t listen to me.”

Johnson has no plans to take part in this year’s race and declines to specify just why he’s not still involved. At age 76, he’s not interested in raising hackles, but it’s certain that a political dustup has left Johnson off the course for the new event. Regardless, Johnson still keeps busy doing PR work and creating artworks as an accomplished sculptor. And he still holds all those Old Vegas memories. “I think what I’m most proud of is that (off-road racing) became a worldwide sport,” he says. “The Mint 400, the original, helped make that happen.”
Jeff Wolf Reporting



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