LAS VEGAS – To get a sense for just how unorganized the Mint 400 was when it first started in 1967, let’s start with how times were recorded. There wasn’t a sophisticated governing body. There wasn’t any crazy technology. There wasn’t even a guy with a stop watch. Instead there was a time clock employees would use for work, and as each car went off the mark they handed a guy at the line their card.
This was how they got their official time.
“The numbers were screwed up,” Norm Johnson, co-founder of the Mint 400, says at the Commonwealth Bar off Fremont Street the day before the 2017 edition of the race. “The times were all screwed up. Police were on the radio, and highway patrol didn’t know the race was going on.”
Some of the 40 or so cars in the inaugural race were actual cars off the street. Many of the entrants didn’t even come close to finishing. But there was something to it – to the craziness – that not only spoke to the heyday of Vegas, where if you ever got in trouble you could just someone who’d call someone who’d call someone and they’d “take care of it,” but to the history of off-road racing in general.
Even when it’s organized, nothing about off-road racing is really organized. Everything but the race itself moves on Baja time, if it moves at all. Records are more an agreed-upon shrug. Race teams are still filled with relative amateurs who love racing anything on wheels but still drive six-figure trophy trucks like a college kid in a golf cart is trying to win a $20 bet that he can’t jump the bunker without crashing.
“This was a hobby,” this year’s Mint 400 winner Rob MacCachren says. “Somebody just went to the desert. Now it’s a disease, man. You can’t get it out of your system.”