Las Vegas, NV
The Mint 400 race back in the 1960’s was known as one of the roughest. The race was a strange mix of Vegas glitz, and a brutal test out in the desert. Over the years, the race went dormant after losing the main sponsor and despite efforts by the SNORE series, shared only the name with the original event.
After taking the reins in 2012, the Martelli Brothers have worked to restore the race to its former glory. This year’s event had all the glitz, and the rocky course supplied a torture test that brought back the toughness of the original. The course took a toll on parts, but did nothing to curb the Jeepspeed racers resolve; the tougher the challenge, the greater the reward. Speaking of rewards, the General Tire Jeepspeed desert race series presented by KMC Wheels at the Mint 400 was brought to us by GG Lighting. Southwest Boulder & Stone put in an additional $500 bonus to each racing division and GG Lighting did the same. First time winners also got a set of KMC Wheels and a set of General Tires.
One would think that the more unlimited trucks in class 3700 would have an easier time on the course, but the class 1700 Jeep Cherokee of Rick Randall was the first Jeepspeed to come in; finishing 10th overall in the two lap race. “The course seemed a lot rockier and rougher this year,” said Randall, “It's not much fun being the first 4x4 Jeepspeed on the road, plowing through the rocks in the center berm. We hit a few rocks and dented the diff cover but it wasn't leaking too badly. We started 4th, on row 2, and made it to the merge first. We got to the front a little before pit A. We stopped at pit A for fuel and headed back to the main pit to look at the front diff cover. H Bomb racing #1780 was behind us by about 10-15 minutes so we had to be smart on Lap #2. Just before pit A, the Jeep was dragging so we stopped and found a flat right rear. That center berm was full of big, sharp rocks. We got a gash on the inside, sidewall. We changed it, and got going again. We stopped at pit A just to be safe. We looked everything over and loaded a fresh spare. We stopped at Pit B for a little fuel, and headed for the finish. By then most everyone had been down on time, so we took it easy, and cruised to the finish. It was a good day; pretty cool to win our 3rd Mint 400. My dad and I put in a lot of prep time on the Jeep to make sure we kept rolling on race day. I love the Helmet that The Mint 400 gave us for a trophy.”
The next Jeepspeed to cross the line was 3700 class winner Billy Bunch. Bunch was beaming after winning the race with only one wheel drive. “We took out the 4 wheel drive hardware to make the truck faster,” said Bunch, “When we broke an axle, our driver Jesse Archer limped it into the pits. We had a mix-up and only had two of the wrong side axles in the pit. Jesse drove the entire second lap with one axle driving. The truck was still fast, we were clocked at 105 mph on the dry lake bed with a peg leg. The Jeep is fast like it used to be. Jesse is doing a great job prepping the truck and is fast behind the wheel. He and co-driver Craig Johnson are doing great job. I think we need some stronger axles in the rear but we have all the other bugs worked out.”
After swapping the lead with Bunch’s Jeep Wrangler all day, Mike Bragg brought his Dodge pick-up across the line for second place in class 3700. “We had some problems that cost us an hour of down time,” said Bragg, “We were first off the line and were setting a good pace when we got a flat tire. As we changed it, 3 or 4 cars pulled over at the same spot. I guess everyone was hitting the same rock. We got back to a good pace but when I would let off on the gas on the dry lake bed, we could hear a whine coming from the rear end. We had to stop to replace the rear diff and weld up the rear end housing; it was cracked from hitting a rock. Mike Barnett helped us change it out. Once we got back going we saw Bunch up on jack stands. We thought we could make up time and get the win, but in the quarry the truck died. We checked fuel pressure and then found we didn’t have spark. There was a loose wire; we were lucky to find it. We fixed it and raced to the finish. The course was really rough and had a little of everything; rocks, sand, and whoops. There were slow technical sections and fast, wide-open lake beds; it was fun. It looks like this season is going to be a battle with Bunch at every race. It’s going to be tight.”
Only minutes later, the second place Jeep Cherokee in class 1700 crossed the line. Rob Seubert started first in class and had the early lead. “We got by a few cars that started ahead of us in the first 10 miles in some really rough chop, but got passed by 1710 (Randall),” said Seubert, “ Then smoke started to boil into the cab. I tried to convince my co-driver Dustin that it was just dust, but he insisted it was smoke; and he was right. With the exception of the transmission showing hot, all the other gauges were good. We were forced to pull over to see what was going on. Pulling the hood off revealed the motor bathed in transmission fluid that had puked out of the vent. As we were wiping up the bulk of the fluid to avoid catching it on fire, 1780 (Henriquez) went by us. That put a little more rush in our step, so we finished up, buckled back in and were off; now in third place. About mid lap, we clipped something with the right rear and shredded the tire. Dustin and I changed that pretty quickly so no one in our class went by. We only carried one spare, so now we had none, and the transmission was still running hot on any uphill or sand wash type terrain. With a little more caution, and a little less throttle, we were back on course. After making it into the main pit, we discussed our strategy for lap two. We decided to take a conservative pace as we were most likely not going to reel anybody in unless they had mechanical problems. Lucky for us, 1780 had some sort of issue. We passed them sitting on the side of the course, not too far into the second lap. We continued to see spiking transmission temperatures through the lap, but just had to back off a bit to bring them back down. After three car exits on the first lap, we never had to get out on the second lap. Once again, we are feeling very fortunate to land on the podium. We are looking forward to a clean run in Laughlin, and to give 1710 a little more competition.”
Mark Murrell from Fireguys racing took the last spot on the 1700 podium followed by Erin Hames. Erin, and Husband Mike, are from Alabama, and drove 26 hours just to get to and from the race. “Our friends in Alabama think we’re crazy,” said Erin, “They don’t know what the desert is; they can’t imagine what it’s like to race. We used to race a UTV and did some research about desert racing and decided the Jeepspeed series was where we wanted to race. We have three sons who love it too. We can’t do the whole series, but the Mint and Vegas to Reno are two races we wanted to do. We had a perfect race at the Mint, we didn’t have to stop for anything. We have run the Mint 400 before in our Razor but this time it was much rockier. We had no flats all day; we are so happy that we made it to the finish. We have no place to test in Alabama so it makes it tough.”
Third place in class 3700 was Steve Hearst. He was off to a good start but also fell prey to the rocky course. “The course was really chopped up and filled with rocks,” said Hearst, “We exploded the rear diff and broke the axle on lap one. We had to wait for a tow into the pits so we could make repairs. We had 3 hours of down time. We got it fixed, but only had enough time left to finish lap one. We were having a great time while we were running.”
The final finisher in the 2 lap race was class 2700 winner Wayne Guidinger. 2700 is the new intermediate class in the Jeepspeed series. Jeepspeed is the only spec racing class that allows you to build your own vehicle as long as it conforms to a few basic rules. The series attracted the Hames family all the way from Alabama. There is a comradery in the Jeepspeed series that does not exist in other forms of racing. Many of the vehicles are built in the family garage using readily available parts from the series sponsors like Jasper Racing Engines, the official engine company of Jeepspeed, General Tire, KMC Wheels, Currie Enterprises, King Shocks, Rugged Radios, Rubicon Express, G2 Axle & Gear, Smittybilt, and Howe Performance. Official suppliers joining the Jeepspeed series this season are Jasper Racing Engines, NEO Synthetic Oil, Southwest Boulder & Stone, and GG Lighting.
Think you would like to give Jeepspeed racing a try? We have a special event this summer that will be a great opportunity to do just that. The General Tire Jeepspeed Racing Series is proud to announce a huge event for the summer of 2017, the Jeepspeed Open presented by Currie Enterprises. The Run What You Brung Summer Show will be held in conjunction with the M.O.R.E. night race on July 14-16 in Barstow, California; one of the most popular races of the year.
Jeepspeed will host The Jeep race everyone has been waiting for. No tire restrictions! No wheel restrictions! No burdensome rules, everyone can join in on the fun! Vehicles need only to pass technical inspection to insure they satisfy the race organizer's safety requirements. The event is open to any desert race vehicle recognizable as a Jeep, Dodge, or Mopar appearing vehicle. For information about the Jeepspeed racing series go to www.jeepspeed.com. There you will find additional info, deals on some attractively priced race Jeeps, Jeepspeed news, rules, forums, race results, videos and much more. Go to the Jeepspeed forum and you can read in-depth race reports from many of the Jeepspeed teams.
Photography By: Bink Designs