In some circles, the “Mint 400” is a far, far better thing than the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby and the Lower Oakland Roller Derby Finals all rolled into one. This race attracts a very special breed…
– Hunter S. Thompson
A brief history of the Great American Offroad Race, in tribute to the race’s greatest reporter.
It was founded as a PR stunt in 1961 – a two-car death race through 600 miles of Nevada hell-fury to promote, of all dissipative American traditions, a deer hunting contest. The brainchild of the “fatback grossero” owner of the now-crumbled Mint Hotel by the name of Del Webb, the event was inspired by the famed Baja 1000, and its inaugural running’s success led to dozens of racers attending the second running: a 400-mile loop through the Las Vegas desert.
The Mint’s second year was a misfitted debacle of dust and broken machinery. The majority of the 115 buggies and motorcycles succumbed to the desert’s treacherous wrath, and the event was deemed a catastrophic failure until competitor Earl Thompson, also the president of the Mint’s sister casino, the Sahara, arrived at the finish line and exclaimed through dirt-laden teeth, “This is the best goddamn thing I’ve ever seen!”
Deemed the Great American Offroad Race, the Mint soon employed the great American promotional technique: sex. In 1972, hundreds of eager debutantes vied for one of the five spots reserved for the Girls of the Mint 400. Fans and competitors alike ate it up, ecstatic to take a moment’s respite from the eternal dust cloud of the Vegas desert to drool over such beauties as Vanna White and Wonder Woman herself, Lynda Carter, with the occasional Playboy centerfold dropped in here and there for good measure.