History Comes Alive at the Mint 400


If anything, there is one undeniable fact about the second staging of the vaunted Mint 400 by the Martelli brothers and Mad Media. This group not only appreciates the value of history, but they also do very admirable job of integrating that past into today’s present.

A perfect example of this is the Mint 400 “Show N’ Shine” that graces the entrance to the race’s huge Tech and Contingency activity on Las Vegas’ Fremont Street. Thanks to the hard work of many teams and crews, along with the organization of NORRA,nearly a dozen historic vehicles made up an impressive and very popular display of rolling off-road history.

Here’s an exclusive RDC review of the General Tire Mint 400 “Show N’ Shine.”


Parnelli Jones/BFGoodrich Chevy Blazer

Without question this thundering black and gold beauty was the day’s showstopper.

Parnelli Jones originally built it this black Chevy Blazer in the mid-1970s for General Motors into one of the most iconic vehicles in off-road racing history.  The late Frank “Scoop” Vessels and then Don Adams subsequently raced it before storing it in Colorado for decades.

Now owned by Mint 400 veteran Cameron Thieriot, the Blazer was made famous in ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” coverage of the 1980 Baja 1000.Thanks to impeccable a ground-up restoration by Thieriot and Sean Hoglund, the famed “BFG Blazer” now glitters thanks to its famous paint and graphics package, along with that unmistakable aluminum wing.

It is being prepped to run down the Baja once again at April’s GT NORRA Mexican 1000, driven by the late Vessel’s son Kash, Adams and even Malcolm Smith, who co-drove the car with Adams to a 1983 Baja 1000 class victory.

Tech Notes:

Vehicle:  Chevy Blazer Unlimited Class 2
Owner/Driver(s): Cameron Thieriot (owner). Drivers Kash Vessels, Cameron Thieriot, Don Adams, Malcolm Smith
Prep by: YT Motorsports (Sean Hoglund)
Engine: Chevy 430 HP small block
Trans: Art Carr Turbo 400
Shocks: Bilstein
Rear End/Drivetrain:  Custom Parnelli Jones-built live axle rear end
Sponsors – BF Goodrich, American Racing, Earls, Art Carr, Baker Precision, Bilstein, K&N, PCI


Mickey Thompson Challenger IV

Built in 1977, Challenger IV was the brainchild of none other than the “Speed King,” Mickey Thompson.  Always the innovator, while everyone else in the off-road racing world was building VW-powered race cars with 10” of wheel travel, Challenger IV was built with a monster V8 and suspension travel that nearly doubled its competition.

On the rear of Challenger IV you’ll find 41” shocks, unheard of in those days, or even until the mid 1980’s. The innovation from this vehicle can be seen in the form of shock, tire and suspension technology in today’s off-road racing vehicles. Challenger IV was raced from 1978 to mid 1980 until it was replaced with the more advanced Challenger V.

After Mickey and Trudy’s untimely death in 1988, Challenger IV made its way up to Eugene, Oregon. It remained there for the past 17 years, sitting in a loft, waiting patiently for its current restoration by owner Rory Ward.  Ward has made impressive strides in the car’s uber complex restoration, and is looking forward to running it in the 2014 General Tire NORRA Mexican 1000.

Tech Notes:

Vehicle: Mickey Thompson Chevy Challenger IV
Owner/Driver: Rory Ward
Prep by: Rory Ward
Engine: Chevy 383” small-block
Trans: Two-speed Power Glide
Shocks: King-built retro shocks
Rear End/Drivetrain: Henry’s Magnesium Dana 60 by Sandy Cone
Years Raced at the Mint: 1978, 1979 and 1980.
Sponsors:  MasterCraft Safety, Ironclad gloves, Wilwood brakes, Allcoat powder coating, King Shocks, C&R Racing, Collins Motorsports, Turn 2 TV


General Tire Class 5 VW Baja Bug

This beautiful vintage unlimited Volkswagen Class 5 Baja Bug was originally built in 1981 by the talented hands of the iconic Ed Frisk. The car was revamped by Jimco in 1988 for Hernquist/Lund Motorsports before becoming a General Tire factory sponsored vehicle from 1989 – 1992.

The VW’s biggest success came in the HDRA short course events, including earning a victory in the 1990 Off Road World Championships. It was also a two-time Hot VW’s magazine feature car.

Rebuilt in time for the 2012 General Tire NORRA Mexican 1000, owner Bill Hernquist has returned the car to its original yellow, black and white livery for the 2013 NORRA four-day run down the Baja peninsula.

Tech Notes:

Vehicle: Volkswagen Class 5 Baja Bug
Owner/Driver Bill Hernquist
Prep by: Racer Services
Engine: Major Performance 2180 cc VW Type 1
Trans: PowerBox VW Bus 091
Shocks: Fox Racing Shox
Years Raced at the Mint:  Several times
Sponsors: General Tire, Fox Racing Shox, Racer Services, Hernquist & Associates.


General Tire / NORRA 1984 Ford Bronco Retro Pace Truck

Originally built as a Baja prerunner over 20 years ago by desert racer Lee Patton, this retro-themed 1984 Ford Bronco is now owned by off-road veteran Ron DeWolf.

This Bronco was retrofit especially for the 2012 General Tire NORRA Mexican 1000 by DeWolf and Brian Coats Motorsports to serve as the event’s official pace truck. Outfitted with a retro yellow, white and black General Tire graphics treatment, the “Retro Pace Truck” provided VIP rides to key General Tire personnel for the 1,000-plus mile rally. It also served as a camera and equipment transportation vehicle for the film crew producing the “Baja Social Club” documentary.

Now a highly popular and visible icon of the General Tire NORRA Mexican 1000, fans up and down Baja will enjoy seeing this bright yellow Bronco for years to come.

Tech Notes:

Vehicle: 1984 Ford Bronco
Owner/Driver: Ron DeWolf
Prep: Brian Coats Motorsports
Engine: Ford 351 Windsor
Trans: Ford C-6
Shocks: King
Rear End: Sandy Cone
Sponsors: General Tire, American Racing Wheel, KC HiLites, MasterCraft, MSD Ignition, NORRA, Azunia Tequila, Broadway Glass and Mirror


Snortin’ Nortins 1971 Chevy Nova

Brought back to life before the 2011 Mexican 1000 in just 30 days, the infamous Snortin’ Nortins Nova has become an iconic symbol of the General Tire NORRA Mexican 1000.

Originally built by Larry Tunnell and Mick Newton of Parker,  Arizona (who owned the Snortin’ Nortins t-shirt shop), this unique off-road racer was a SCORE Class 6 car that ran many events during the 1980s. Veteran off-road competitor Rick Johnson, who saved it from a tough second life as a mud racer, rediscovered it in Louisiana. With the help of crew chief Matt Dowland, the Nova found its way into the hearts of a third generation of off-road fans.

Now driven by Jim Riley and Johnson, this Chevy Nova has won its class for two consecutive Mexican 1000’s (2011 and 2012).

Tech Notes:

Vehicle: 1971 Chevy Nova
Owner: Rick Johnson
Drivers: Jim Riley/ Rick Johnson
Prep: Matt Dowland
Engine: Chevy 350
Trans: Turbo 350
Shocks: Fox Racing Shox
Rear End: Dana 60
Sponsors: General Tire, Azunia Tequila, American Racing Wheels, Maxima Racing Oil, KC HiLites


Westhem Racing “TimeRider” GMC Class 8

Originally built in 1981 by the iconic Precision Preparation Inc. for Jeff MacPherson, this famous Class 8 full-size race truck soon became the property of Michael Nesmith. Nesmith, in case you don’t recognize the name, was in the “The Monkees” television show and pop band.  Nesmith raced the truck under the “TimeRider” nickname for many years, in deference to a movie he worked on with the same name.

The truck was then sold to Dave Westhem, who raced with Bill Holmes to an upset victory in the 1987 Baja 1000. Westhem and co-driver Randy Salmont went on to form a factory GMC Class 8 race effort, with “the TimeRider” eventually being used as a reliable prerunner before being sold.

With the advent of the NORRA Mexican 1000, Westhem and Crew Chief Tony McCormack reunited with the truck so it could undergo a complete restoration and race prep. Resplendent in its GMC factory red, silver, black and white paint scheme, TimeRider is now a fixture at each year’s NORRA Mexican 1000 Rally.

Tech Notes:

Vehicle: 1980s GMC “TimeRider” Class 8
Owner/Driver: Dave Westhem (owner/driver), Randy Salmont
Prep: Tony McCormack / Darryl Putnam
Engine: Chevy 430 cubic inch V8 by Leon Patton
Trans: Turbo 400 by GearWorks
Shocks: King
Rear End: Solid rear end by GearWorks
Sponsors: BFGoodrich, American Racing Wheel,


1981 Class 7 Dodge D50

This beautiful new NORRA Mexican 1000 restoration was originally constructed in 1982 by off-road legend Sandy Cone. Completely TIG welded and described as a “sister” truck to Roger Mear’s original Class 7 Datsun, this D50 Dodge was commissioned by Dodge and original owner Jerry Mallicoat.

It was raced for many years, including several appearances at the Mint 400. Thanks to original co-driver Mike Meeks, current owner Dana Dague found the truck in 2012 near Canyon Lake, California. Nearly one year later, this prime example of a vintage off-road racer will hit the dirt once again as part of the 2013 General Tire NORRA Mexican 1000.

Tech Notes:

Owner: Dana Dague
Drivers: Mike Meeks/Jerry Mallicoat/Morley Willams
rep by: PalapaBoy Racing, Huntington Beach, CA
Engine: 3.2 Dodge by Jerry Mallicoat
Trans: Steve Culhane
Shocks: Rancho/Deaver Springs
Rear End: Sandy Cone
Years Raced at the Mint: 1984, 1985 and 1986
Sponsor: PalapaBoy Racing


1974 Spencer Low Datsun Truck

While much of the earliest days of off-road racing were focused on Jeeps, Broncos and assorted VW-powered sedans and buggies, this early Datsun pick-up was a pioneer in terms of the “mini-truck” movement so popular from the 1980s until today.

Built by soon-to-be factory racer Spencer Low, this humble Datsun started its life as a brand new production 4×4 truck modified for off-road racing.  Sponsored by Low Manufacturing, one of the sport’s original performance parts suppliers, this Datsun saw competition in the desert, short-course and even the sand drags.

In 2012 current owner Dana Dague retrieved the very rough racer from Parker, Arizona after Low agreed to turn over the keys. An extensive restoration, complete with old school hand lettering by Jimmy Richardson, have transformed the old veteran into this modern jewel of history. It will run again at the 2013 General Tire NORRA Mexican 1000.

Tech Notes:

Owner/Drivers: Dana Dague/Spencer Low
Prep by: PalapaBoy Racing, Huntington Beach CA
Engine: SLR; Maxed Performance Huntington Beach, CA
Trans: Maxed Performance, Huntington Beach, CA
Shocks: Fox Racing Shox
Rear End/Transfer Case
Front End Precision 4-Wheel Drive (Warren Baird)
Driveline – Drivelines Incorporated, Mission Viejo, CA
Wiring – BDR (Brian Dague)
Paint – Precision Powdercoating, Santa Ana
Lettering – Rich’s Signs (Jimmy Richardson)
Suspension – Deaver Springs, Santa Ana
Sponsor: PalapaBoy Racing


One comment on “History Comes Alive at the Mint 400
  1. Man, what treat! To see all these vehicles from an era so long ago was phenomenal. I was just starting my career in off-road racing when some of these fine race cars were introduced. Thanks for the memories. -Doctor Checker.

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