By Dustin Jones
The Mint 400 is a very special race to us, especially me. It’s not only one of the most prestigious, but also one of the toughest. We have had a lot of pressure on us lately (or maybe just on myself) to perform well in our brand new Can-Am Maverick X3 Xrs, and the couple of poor showings we’ve had lately hasn’t eased that pressure any. Nonetheless, I’m super stoked for this race and we head west to make the long journey early Monday morning.
This particular race brought about a few changes: a brand new co-driver, Dustin Henderson, and a beautiful new wrap on our car. We also brought on a full-time race manager/crew chief, our long time friend Manny Fresh. We all worked tirelessly on the car for weeks to get the car ready especially with all that we had to repair with the bad get-off we had in Parker. As we were packing everything up, we felt really confident that we had prepared everything the best we could. This was the first time that we weren’t going to have to work on the car once we got to Vegas. Seems like no matter how early we start on car prep we are down to the wire getting everything done and even sometimes working on it in the trailer while making the 20+ hr drive.
The trip was relatively easy, except being stopped by highway patrol AGAIN for doing almost nothing wrong. It seems like we have a run in with them just about every trip. Ticketed on the way to the Parker, Pahrump and TICKETS on the way to the Mint. I consider myself to have an undefeated record for the 2017 race season when it comes to that. We finally made it to Las Vegas Tuesday afternoon. We took it easy that night and had a nice dinner at Oscar’s on Fremont (very good food.) Wednesday came around and that meant one thing, the Mint 400 parade! I’ve done this once before but always looked forward to doing it again. We rolled the X3 down Las Vegas Blvd feeling like a celebrity for a short time while having some fun with the eager bystanders that come out to enjoy the festivities. We also used this as a test session for the car since we don’t have many areas to test in Louisiana… Car handled the whoops on the Strip flawlessly, and we were pretty happy with its overall performance during this testing.
The next couple days flew by with Tech and Contingency being a highlight of the week. The industry’s leading vendors lined up and down Fremont St. to welcome an ever-growing number of racers, as well an increasing number of spectators. We rolled through the Tech line like normal, taking the time to meet many supporters and fellow racers. This is always one of my favorite times. Towards the end of the day, Can-Am set up an autograph session with a few of the factory sponsored racers including the Murray Bros, Scott Sappington, Don Higbe, Casey Currie, and Matt Burroughs. This was a little weird for me, as it’s not something I had done before and was worried no one would want my autograph (mostly correct.) The highlight of our day was Dustin Henderson and I meeting up with the race manager of Monster energy to pick up our brand new custom painted Monster helmets! Alex at AP Designs did an amazing job on these things, and we were so stoked to receive these and become a part of the Monster Energy Athlete group! We hung around a little while for the Pit Crew challenge. We finished up late that night, without a hitch, and headed back to get the last few things knocked out before the early morning wake up call.
After getting to bed at nearly 11pm, the alarm buzzing at 3am was hardly anything I was ready for, especially for what we were about to do. Our guys checked over the car one final time before Dustin and I hopped in and headed to the start line. My heart’s starting to race as I write this. We lined up 17th off the line against the Cannabis guys. It was supposed to be Tanner Foust in the 915 car, but it got switched last minute. We finally get the green light after what seemed like forever. We were off and grabbed the holeshot and headed into the desert. Unbeknownst to us, we put on a show, airing the X3 out in the infield section. The car was driving amazingly.
We started to see carnage early on, with cars pulled over and some even wrecked and flipped upside down. We charged on. The goal we set forth was to finish and set ourselves up for a front row start at the UTV World Championships. We hoped for a top 10 finish. We noticed we just kept passing people, some broke down and some moved over for us. By RM 50 or so, we had to have passed a dozen or so cars. We figured we were doing well. We were running a fast pace and not taking many chances. We caught glimpse of the Murray Bros. and knew we were getting towards the front of the pack. All of a sudden, it sounded like a Gatling gun going off underneath the car. We pulled over and watched as the Murray Bros. faded off into the horizon. Actually, they sped around the next corner and were gone. My co-driver got out to inspect the damage, thinking a front axle was broken and we were just going to jerk it out (but not throw it in the desert, take it with us 😉) Dustin let me know it wasn’t an axle but rather a broken front drive shaft. Well…nothing we can do about it now so 2wd it is until we get to the first pit to further assess the damage. By now, most everyone we passed has gotten back around us, but we didn’t let that deter us. We kept on. Once we got to Pit A, we informed our crew of the damage, and they tried to do what they could. No luck though.
We hit the infield section again, and the GPS got squirrely. We blew through a 4 ft tall berm at 55MPH that showed a different direction on the GPS. If that berm had been solid, it would have torn the front of the X3 off. There was also a tricky, inverted jump in the infield that we won’t talk about what almost happened there.
We pushed through on to the main pit where we would grab our first bit of fuel. Our team informed us that our exhaust was barely hanging on and burnt up our rear axles. They asked if we wanted to change them. Naturally, we said yes. During those 25 minutes, Dustin and me had a chance to shoot the breeze, hydrate, laugh and point at people, and watch all the folks pass us by. We didn’t let that discourage us, and we cut out for our 2nd lap.
During the 2nd lap, we found a fast groove to get in. We were gaining some ground and driving smooth. The X3 was on rails. At some point, our backup camera quit working so we could never tell if anyone was behind us. We relied on hearing a siren or getting a bump to move over. After watching the heli footage, Jason Voss was on our tail for about 5 miles!! He had every right to bump us, but being the good sportsman he is, he never did. I felt like a jerk after watching it because we had no idea he was back there and it kind of looks like we jack rabbited him. Thanks Jason! We hit the dry lakebed and let the X3 really stretch her legs. We caught Marc brunette there and cruised past him doing a cool 65mph 😉right as it went back to desert. About a mile or so later, we catch a bump from behind, and Dustin tells me to get over because we just got nerfed. I pull over to let the faster driver by, and I’ll be danged if it wasn’t Marc Burnett again, driving like a wildman in the dust! A few miles later, he “let us by,” according to Marc. We kept on in 2wd, and we were making up time, continually passing cars in our class. Shortly after fueling at the Main Pit on lap 2, our crew let us know that our spare tire was missing. They tried to rush us one before we exited but didn’t make it there in time. We decided to take that chance. Why? I don’t know.
We headed out for the final lap, still in 2wd and still running a good pace. We’d pass a broke down car every now and then and gain a position here and there. The X3 was running beautifully. At some point during the 3rd lap, we caught Branden Sims, whom looked like he was having some issues. The last lap went off pretty well with out a hitch. We came to a 2 line, long whoop section where I saw some dust, and it was another UTV. We picked the opposite line, and it happened to be a little faster. We were catching this car, but we were running out of room. I skint the X3 back, and we barely squeezed past Dave Martinez, gaining another position. After that, we battled with Scott Sappington for several miles before he blew a belt in the lakebed, and we were able to cruise by him. Then something we had been dreading happened. One of our rear axles broke, effectively leaving us in 1 wheel peel with about 15 miles to go. Dustin and I came to a crossroads….stop and change the axle or chance it and hope the last one would hold through 15 brutal miles of rocks, sand, ruts, whoops, jumps, etc. We decided to get out and change the rear axle, because finishing the race was more important to us than a couple positions lost. Hopefully only a few positions lost anyway. Dustin gets out first and quickly lets me know we won’t be installing our spare axle…because it wasn’t there!! After watching the GoPro footage, we lost quite a few parts on the 2nd lap: our jack, rear axle, and spare tire. At that point, we had no choice but to push on. No sense in crying about it. We just hoped that last axle would hold long enough to get us to the finish line. It brought back fond memories of Vegas to Reno 2015, where Shane and I broke down 19 miles from the finish, after leading the race for 400+ miles. We didn’t want to relive that again.
The last 15 miles of the Mint 400 consisted of us driving about 15-20MPH, sometimes even 25 if we got lucky and hit a downhill section. Dave Martinez was able to get back around us, as well as the 961 car in the last couple miles of the last lap. We tried to radio to the main pit to let them know of the situation and that we may not make it in, but we were trying. The last axle held though. How it did I don’t know, but I do know that I’m glad. We hit the infield section and I’m sure it looked to some like we were on a Sunday drive, but to us, we were on a mission. That mission was to finish the Mint 400. Once the finish line came into view, there was instant relief. We finished!! 7th out of 50 something cars in the Pro production turbo class. It was far from our best performance, but we had a good showing in our Can-Am Maverick X3 Xrs, and for that, I’m thankful. I look forward to seeing everyone at the UTV World Championships.
Naturally we have to thank God for the opportunity to do what we love and all of our sponsors that make this possible!
Can-Am Off-Road for an amazing car!
Monster Energy for believing in our race team!
S3 Power Sports for supporting us and building amazing race cars
ITP Tires & Wheels for great tires and not a single flat! (thank goodness cause we lost that spare
Douglas Wheel – DWT Racing for awesome wheels with not one failure in 3 seasons
Rugged Radios for great communications
Warranty Killer Performance for helping us prepare the car
CryoHeat Cryogenic Metal Treatment & Micropolishing
FOX shocks for and awesome setup on our car
Double E Racing for a finely tuned suspension
Vision X for great lighting
Airdam Clutches for spot on clutching Gates belts for not one drive belt failure
Evolution Powersports for making us fast
Steinjäger, Inc for great heims
Monster Seal to help ensure no flats
Driven Racing Oil for good fluids
PPEI for tuned up tow rigs
Factory UTV for protecting that undercarriage