If you’ve ever watched off-road racing on television, you’ve probably seen the long-travel pickups that dominate the top echelons of competition. Those rough and rowdy trucks are crowd-pleasers and make some of the best noise out in the desert. But they’re not the only show in town. At the Mint 400—like every other long-distance off-road race—there are plenty of other opportunities to strap in something other than a truck and give it a go.
I watched the first four-wheel race session of the 2023 Mint 400, with camera in hand. The “Limited” race takes place two days before the main “Unlimited” competition on Sunday, and features more attainable rides than say six-figure trophy trucks.
Here are five categories of vehicles you will come across during the Mint 400’s Limited races that might open your eyes, especially if you’ve ever dreamt of giving off-road racing a try.
UTVs that send it
I’ll admit it, I didn’t really see the appeal of side-by-sides until I got behind the wheel of one and had some fun in the desert. They are a bit pricey, which was my initial detractor. Buyers get a lot for the money, though, including a full steel cage and plenty of suspension travel that reacts quickly to the terrain. When they’re built for race duty they pack a heap of power and even more impressive suspensions. The UTV drivers put on a show, too, catching air and flying over the whoops with apparent ease.
If you’re not familiar with off-road racing, you might think that a stock-appearing VW Bug would not be the ideal vehicle to tackle such a hostile environment. You’d be correct. However, there is a long history of racing stock suspension Bugs through the desert. There can be a lot of attrition when you’re dealing with parts meant for a mass-produced economy car, so it takes a special breed of driver to tackle a rock-and-cactus-strewn desert in a Class 1600 VW.
There were quite a few vintage pickups at the Mint 400 this year. A 1960s F100 and a Jeep J-Series racer brought the vintage iron to the party, while twin traction beam Rangers and early 1990s GMT400s served as less-conventional examples of classic trucks.
Production late-model trucks and SUVs
Manufacturers always want to showcase their latest off-road models, so the Mint 400 is the place to see new Ford Broncos and Chevy Colorado ZR2s dressed for off-road battle. Bailey Cole was the only finisher in the mid-size new production car class (Class 3000), bringing the win home for Ford.
Meanwhile, Chad Hall brought his 2023 Chevy Colorado ZR2 home to a first-place finish in the stock production mini truck class. He finished with a faster time than his son Austin Hall, who won the stock production full-size truck class in a Chevy Silverado ZR2
The totally unexpected
The Gambler Class was the last group to start the Mint 400 and only had to complete one lap. This class features unconventional off-roaders built on a budget. The motley crew included a diesel Mercedes, a Subaru Justy, a Lincoln limousine, and a Miata named “Buddy.”
I can’t say I expected to see a Miata, a new Bronco, and a vintage F-series on the same dirt course. Then again, that’s exactly why everyone should check out an off-road enduro, like the Mint 400, in person: you never know what you’ll see out in the desert.
Check out some of the other wild rides from this year’s Mint 400, below.