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Mint 400 story - Bonneville OffRoad Racing CP 52/57

kyle_pc_75

Well-Known Member
2017 Mint 400

PROLOGUE

The Mint 400 is the one race every year that I spend just truly relaxing and enjoying desert racing. I’ve been going almost every year since 2012 to volunteer and run a checkpoint. Some years have been better than others, but they’ve all been good. The last two times we came down, Jarad and I did the whole experience from helping with qualifying, to enjoying a couple of nights on Fremont Street, to running a remote check. We skipped 2016 as I had run the NORRA Mexican 1000 and was budgeting my racing time, but since NORRA fell through this year, a return to the Mint was a must.

For a number of reasons, this year Nate, Jarad and I decided to skip all the Vegas festivities and just head down for the race. We would arrive Friday, camp out, enjoy the race Saturday, and head back Sunday. As things evolved, it looked like the Blackleys, Richard Boyce and Sterling would also be running a checkpoint. Several other BOR members would be down there either racing, spectating or otherwise enjoying the race.

For some reason, I was late in turning in my paperwork to BITD, but at the last minute I got a hold of Diane and she assured me we would still have a spot on course. I requested something remote and out of cell phone range. A few days later, I got our packet and saw that we were in the same amazing spot that we were in in 2015, a double check where the course comes within 100 yards of itself five race miles apart. So yes, we would get to see the race vehicles twice as many times as everyone else.

Blackley and crew were just about two miles downcourse from us, at the same road crossing they’ve run for a few years. I knew Sims would be there running a crew, Cretsinger, Monte, MD, Fire Guys, lots of others would be there as well in various capacities. This would be a good time.

DAY 1 – TRAVEL AND CONTINGENCY

While Nate couldn’t make it out until late Friday, Jarad and I decided to take the day off from work and head down to catch a bit of tech and contingency on Fremont Street. Personally, I had some motives in this as BOR had really been taking off in the last few weeks and I wanted to take advantage of the momentum and work I had put into it. We had developed sponsorship packages, a robust schedule, and a points system, all new for 2017. I wanted to promote, and what a better place to do it than one of the biggest desert races in the US?

I left my house at 6-ish, and Jarad and I left Heber around 7. The drive down was pretty uneventful and quick. 80 mph speed limits are nice. We talked about life, work, racing, girls, all the usual stuff. I only lamented the small 20 gallon gas tank and 14 mpg fuel economy of my ’05 Tahoe (not a Utah, mind you). At the same time, I lauded the power of the 5.3L engine through the hills. I guess it’s not so bad of a truck after all.

We hit Vegas, drove past the giant concrete desert tortoise (still the only one I’ve ever seen), and down to Fremont Street. We sauntered into the Golden Nugget and immediately ran into Fire Guys. They had both the 7 truck and Jeepspeed down to race so we chatted for a bit before picking up our volunteer gear.

Jarad and I then strolled out onto Fremont Street to see what was what. My plan was to walk down Contingency, hand out flyers which had our schedule on one side and sponsorship packages on the other. I figured I would mostly talk to the smaller, up and coming vendors who might have something to gain by partnering with a smaller race organization such as BOR. Before we got too far we ran into Cretsinger and he proceeded to encourage me while telling me how much he hates making endless, tight turns in his race truck. We then walked on and I talked to several vendors about potential sponsorships and was feeling good.

Within a short time, we ran into the Blackleys, no surprise. I had thought about calling or texting them to find out where they were, but figured running into them would work just as well. It did. Next thing you know, SimCo is walking by, and we all start talking about how to make BOR great again. We chatted for quite a while, I handed them some flyers to pass along and then we parted ways.

Soon after talking to the General Tire guy about a sponsorship (he acted way more interested than I knew he was, but that was cool of him), we ran into Spencer and Richard Boyce. They were supposed to be running PRC 1 (a paved road crossing) but hadn’t met up with each other yet. Again, we all chatted about how to grow BOR. It made me feel great to have so much support from my racing family in what I was trying to do with things in and near Utah.

After lunch with the BOR gang, I Jarad and I decided to make one more pass at the vendors before heading out to our checkpoint. Along the way we ran into Pistol Pete, Brent Fox, Monte and the Crazy Indians/Lone Kids gang, and MD Motorsports, as well as seeing everyone else we had already seen twice. No bearded lady this year, but that was probably OK.

Jarad and I then headed for the race course as it was getting dark. We had managed to get all the supplies we needed…except for firewood. At most gas stations and grocery stores in Utah, firewood is almost always available. Apparently that’s not the case around Las Vegas. We stopped at several places, and finally after passing the last station in Jean, we just gave up and decided to scan the roadway into our checkpoint for any scraps that would burn. Just then I heard from Nate, who was about 330 miles out and had a little bit of firewood. I asked him to grab anything else he saw along the way.

The Blackleys, Richard and Sterling would be working about a mile downcourse from us, but we would be passing them along the way as we headed to our checkpoint pre-race. Sterling and Richard had left town well before Jarad and me, so we planned to stop and hang out for a bit.

Maybe this is the point where I should share that I hadn’t really planned well for this trip. We had worked the exact same spot on the course two years before, but in order to get us there I was relying on

1. a paper map with no satellite or terrain imagery

2. a foggy memory

3. a Google Earth pin based on 1 and 2

Just in case that wasn’t challenging enough, we arrived in the dark and my headlights have never been properly realigned since hitting a deer on the way to Vernal two years ago.

However, all hope is not lost. Jarad and I start piecing together bits and pieces of our last trip here and we follow the phone’s GPS to the right road towards our checkpoint. This is good and things start to feel familiar. We have to slow down a bunch of times, but soon enough we roll up upon Sterling’s camper parked right at PRC 1. As soon as we jump out of the truck, Sterling shouts, “Bratwurst and beans?” Um, yes please!

As we are chomping and chatting, an RV comes through. Our initial though is, “Cool, another course worker,” and give them a quick wave.

However, they pull over and simply ask, “Is this where the Cube is?” I’m not kidding, the Cube was capitalized in my mind as he was asking.

“Um, excuse me? There’s a big desert race here tomorrow.”

“The Cube. It’s like a Burning Man thing.”

“No, not here, sorry. This is all closed for the Mint 400.”

“Oh, OK, thanks!” They soon got their RV turned around and headed to where….ever.

It now was definitely time to find camp.

Jarad and I had our trusty phone GPS to guide us to camp right up until cell service died about ¼ mile from PRC 1. I’m not exactly sure how phone GPS and cell signal are related, but we seemed to be having trouble at this point. Unless I basically held the phone out the window of the truck it would sit still. No problem, we would still get there!

We headed down the graded road for a bit, which of course put the notion in my head to floor the gas pedal. Nothing. Oh, yes the informative dash is telling me that traction control is active. How boring. I turn the TCS off and floor it again. Much better, I can actually smell the rubber burning off my tires on gravel and the rear end of the truck coming loose as I come through each turn. Now that is driving! It’s the little things. Have I mentioned how much I hate modern cars? Yes, I have.

We really did know on the map about where we needed to end up. However, distances were deceiving. We kept second guessing ourselves and also got tired of driving through a landfill. The desert south of Vegas is not really a pleasant place. Besides the awesome race course, it’s a place of spent shotgun shells and bullet ridden appliances. It’s quite sad, really, and quite treacherous to navigate in a stock Tahoe with questionable tires.

So, we treaded on at a snail’s pace, Jarad on foot and myself in the Tahoe, waiting for my cell phone GPS to catch up. At one point, it refused to go into 4WD, because the button I pushed said so. Why do I now push a button for 4WD? The big heavy gear selector always worked and never threw a code. Oh, why?

Long story short, we did find our spot and now our job was just to guide Nate in. We figured he would be there around 11. That didn’t happen. I cycled the truck and 4WD worked again. I vowed not to turn it off until we reached graded roads on Sunday.

After flashing our spotlight at another truck full of Cubers and a truck full of target shooters, we decided to call it a night. We were both tired after a long day and it was about 12:30. We didn’t know if Nate had perhaps decided to stay at PRC 1 or who knew what else. I retired to the Tahoe to do some writing. After just a little bit, I saw some familiar headlights and scrambled to reach the spot and started strobing.

Sure enough, it was Nate, Crystal, Mandy and Willy. I don’t remember what we talked about, but we set up a tent in a hurry and then all went our separate ways to bed. I set my alarm for 5:20 AM as check-in was to be at 5:30.

DAY 2 – RACE DAY

5:50 AM – I overslept. Apparently, I had somehow set my alarm for the wrong day. I’m not sure what woke me up other than the sun, but Nate was already up and about. I hurriedly pulled my boots on, grabbed a large swig of milk out of the jug, and turned the VHF radio on to BITD’s frequency. They had already gone radio silent for the beginning of the first race of the day, but as soon as things got going we checked in as Check 57, since that was the mile marker we were closest to.

Ebb and flow defines the experience of everyone at a desert race, whether it be a driver, codriver, pit crew, race director or volunteer. There are periods of intense action that last maybe a handful of seconds or minutes, followed by stretches of inactivity that can last minutes or even hours. In our case, we found that this year’s Mint would lean heavily one way. At 6 AM, we didn’t know what the day would bring but we were looking forward to it regardless.

So, as we knew the first cars were getting off the line, we also knew we had a long way to go before we actually saw the first car. As amped up as we initially got, we then calmed down a bit and ate some breakfast anticipating the sounds of the first cars. About 30 minutes into it, we started to hear a pack of angry bees, the Class 10 cars. They were still over the mountain, but they were coming.

Soon enough, they emerged from the pass, little trails of dust off in the distance. Our energy was starting to pick up due to a little coffee and a lot of adrenaline. Within minutes they were passing us on mile 52 headed into Hidden Valley for a five mile loop after which they would pass our actual checkpoint, mile 57.

When running a checkpoint, you really have a few jobs. The main thing is to keep track of cars that go by and what time they passed. This is so race officials know approximately where a car is if they break down and lose radio and tracking contact. In a race as large as the Mint, this can be a tough job. Cars get packed tightly together and not only are some of the race numbers hard to read, but they’re going fast! I decided I’d take the first turn at recording numbers while Jarad and Nate would take pictures and videos.

Another main duty of running a checkpoint is assisting stuck and broken vehicles and the racers. It didn’t take long for that duty to become our main one. As more and more vehicles passed, more and more of then pulled over. We had a 2000 car try to pass a UTV because the UTV was caught but wasn’t pulling over when there was plenty of space. The UTV then suddenly pulled to the left right in front of the 2000 car which caused the 2000 car to run over and completely mangle the left hand side of the UTV. Another UTV broke a lower arm right in front of us which sent them careening off the track.

We had lots of spare water and snacks, so as one of us continued to track vehicles, the others would keep the racers company and continue to shoot pictures and videos. Doug and CD were doing recovery in the area, so as soon as the drivers called it quits we’d call in the vehicle number and location to BITD and those guys would add them to their recovery queue. Slowly, one by one, they’d be towed back to a spot where their crews could pick them up. At one point we heard over the radio, “Keith, this is Recovery, we have both halves of 1933 in tow.”

We had quite a few friends racing the Mint this year. Notably in the first race was Daron Rardon, who was codriving for a 5U car, and Mark Muller, who had raced his Jeepspeed at Vernal with Fire Guys.

Daron’s car came by strong on the first lap, but by the second was limping along. He had been texting me updates but I was unaware as I didn’t have my scanner and we were out of cell phone range. Muller kept coming by strong, and it wasn’t long before we waved him past on his final lap. That truck seems very well built and he ended up taking third in class.

By the time the second race was to start we only had one team left with us at our checkpoint, UTV 1986. We had called in for a recovery as they were down by mile 55 and had hiked to our check. As we monitored the radio, we heard both Doug and CD say it was too dangerous and they couldn’t get them out. This wouldn’t stop Nate from trying. He told the guys to get in and off they went to get their UTV. There was only about 45 minutes before the first Trick Truck would be at our check so they didn’t have much time, however long before that, they popped back over the hill with the UTV in tow.

Jarad made chopped cheese sandwiches for lunch while we waited for the first trucks to come through. We all pigged out even though the meat was a bit um, chewy. Not sure who thought to label this ground beef, but what the hell, we were hungry, and in concept the meal was great! At one point I heard a course worker grumble about his push-button 4WD not working until he cycled it, and I laughed to myself as I thought about my fears of getting my own Tahoe stuck on the race course the night before.

Before long, the first trucks and buggies started to rocket through our double check. It was amazing, first they’d come through a wicked chicane at mile 52, loop out through Hidden Valley, and then they’d bounce and air out coming the other way through mile 57. As usual, we were all smiles, like a bunch of kids in a candy store.

We still had 1986 at our checkpoint and I think they were enjoying spectating with us. By this point, we were feeding them Doritos, hot dog sandwiches, and water. They weren’t super happy to be stuck out there, but they were friendly. We called in a recovery for them once again and were assured that they were on the list.

Unfortunately, Mile 52 became rollover central. There were several rollovers between about MM 41 and 58, and that part of the course was assigned to two recovery units. Obviously, rollovers take precedent over guys that just broke, so the guys from 1986 would be with us for a while longer. Eventually, they found their way home.

Our main interests in this race were MD Motorsports in their Class 1 buggy and Fire Guys in their 7200 truck. MD had come by once but I didn’t get any footage of them. There was so much going on that we didn’t even recognize the car until they were nearly past. Fire Guys rolled through a bit later, we were happy to see that and cheered them on.

The next lap, we were determined to get some footage of MD. About when I thought they would be rolling through 48, I hoofed it over to 52 to set up the GoPro on a berm facing the chicane. Three cars came through before I thought to wipe the dust off the lens. Wouldn’t you know it, there were the three odd lights of MD’s car shining at me! I quickly shut the GoPro down and ran back to 57 so I could get them coming through that section.

At one point, there came several calls of a truck on fire, then no, the truck isn’t on fire, yes it is, no it isn’t! This was all very confusing and concerning. Either a truck is on fire or it isn’t, and of course fires are scary. Later that night, we learned that the dust and amber lights coming off the back of Fire Guys’ truck had led a course worker to believe it was on fire. Much later, the same effect fooled Crystal into thinking one of the 4400’s was on fire, and as it slipped over the horizon, I could see how that might happen. It’s kind of an eerie effect.

As the light faded, the trucks and buggies did too. There was a lot of attrition at mile 52. Fire Guys wouldn’t finish, but we saw MD come through a third time and we all celebrated. We all kept our fingers crossed for a finish.

After dark, the job of a checkpoint worker gets a little trickier. See, not all the car numbers are in the same place or of the same style and only a small percentage are reflective. However, having learned from years past, we had a system to do the best we could. I had the Tahoe’s high beams shining across and slightly down course (so as not to blind the drivers), Nate was on the clipboard and cell phone camera, and Jarad and I were on spotlight duty. Between the three of us, I’d say we caught about 75% of the car numbers, and almost always the main sponsor logo or color scheme. Sometimes, though, it boiled down to, “Yeah, that was a black truck.”

As the action started to wind down, we spied a headlamp coming at us from down course. A voice came out of the dust, “Don’t worry, it’s just me.” Shortie. Really, Shortie had just hiked two miles from their road crossing? He brought with him some race car carnage. “I know it’s a dump out here, but the least we can do is carry out our own trash.” Very cool. Desert racers really do love and care for the desert. He hung out for a few minutes before walking the two miles back.

Unlike 2015, they closed the start line early. We had about five or six more cars we were waiting for, but our job was mostly done. We sat (and some of us slept) around the campfire between trucks. When a set of lights would approach, I’d shout, “TRUCK!”, (waking the two younger members of our team, mind you), and we’d all jog back to the Tahoe to record race numbers and times.

Eventually, the last live car on course came through and we closed our checkpoint. We planned to turn in our gear in the morning to BITD officials, but then we saw headlights approaching from down course. Sure enough, it was the Blackleys. We chatted for a few minutes and they took our gear to turn in to BITD that night. From two years ago, it was interesting how much our roles were reversed. They had virtually no action, while ours lasted all day. We all had a blast.

We enjoyed the fire for a bit longer before heading to bed. Strangely enough, we ended up with a surplus of firewood. We left it for the next crew.

DAY 3 – TRAVEL

As usual, we all woke up early. Our clocks are set to work time. I think I ended up with about 9 hours of total sleep for the weekend. Cool, let’s drive 7 hours back to Utah. We broke camp, and Nate and Crystal packed up with Willy and Mandy and took off.

Jarad and I weren’t far behind. We stopped to say our goodbyes to Richard and Sterling at the road crossing, fueled up, took a quart of oil and a half gallon of coolant in the Tahoe and headed north. The drive home was interesting, tons of wind on the interstate and dust storms in the distance. Of course, the dust just made me think of racing. We passed a few race trailers and UTV’s on the way home, and all I could think of was how I could get them to come out to a BOR race.

For me, this year has been eye opening in terms of promotion and how things at bigger organizations are run. The Mint was a huge opportunity to gather sponsors and spread the word. I’ve never had so much support from the BOR regulars in spreading the word, and interest from those who had maybe heard a little about BOR. Before this year it was always, “BOR?”. It was awesome.

Now, it’s eyes forward towards Vernal, Jackpot and Knolls. Back to work!

Pics and vids to come soon.
 
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