When you think of off-road racing in America look no further than the legendary Mint 400. The spectacle in the Mojave Desert has been putting all types of off-road vehicles from high-performance trucks to buggies to the test across the country’s most brutal terrain for five decades, and the 2018 event marked the landmark 50th running of this iconic race.
For Monster Energy, a name that has become synonymous with success at the Mint 400, it served as the perfect opportunity to commemorate this occasion and share the thrill of the race by doing something completely out of the norm. As a result, a trio of international Monster athletes received an invite to take part in a true one-of-a-kind, first-hand experience at the Mint 400 – Australian Supercars driver Cameron Waters, Australian freestyle motocross rider Jackson Strong, and Mexican skateboarder Fernan Origel.
Under the mentorship of SCORE-winning driver and fellow Monster Energy athlete Elias Hanna, and with the support of team owner and driver Jim Riley, these three competitors from three distinct corners in the sporting world were put through a series of challenges, culminating with their own entry in the 50th Mint 400.
“We wanted to create a project that had a global reach, so we were thinking that it would be cool to bring some international athletes to the Mint 400 and have them actually compete in the race,” said Monster Energy Digital Marketing Manager Michele Gottlieb. “We brought Cameron and Jackson from Australia, along with Fernan from Mexico, and then we brought in Elias, who was the coach figure since he is a SCORE race-winning off-road racer who just joined the Monster Energy family in Latin America.”
“We wanted to come up with a creative angle rather than just film the guys, so we put them through challenges leading up to the actual race,” Gottlieb added. “We had tests and surprises throughout the week to prepare them for what the spectacle of the Mint 400 was all about.”
Monster Energy kept the crossover adventure a secret from its international stars, initially inviting them to Las Vegas to check out the Mint 400 parade. When they arrived, Hanna let them in on the secret and showed off his state-of-the-art HN Motorsports Can-Am EL20, only to blow their minds with the true reveal of their very own Monster Energy Spec Trophy Truck owned and operated by Jim Riley of Jim Riley Racing. This wasn’t just any truck; however, this was the founding truck of the 6100 Class, which spawned the hugely popular Spec Trophy Truck division.
“I definitely was not expecting this! This is the icing on the cake to what already seemed like the perfect day,” exclaimed Strong. “It was insane. I just saw the Can-Am and thought that it was absolutely Christmas. That was going to be the coolest thing that I’ve ever got to drive, and then they pull in a full-on off-road truck and we get to go [race]. I don’t know who was crazy enough to let us guys get behind the wheel of that thing!”
While it would be tempting to throw these three athletes directly into the chaos of the race to truly appreciate the task that they were being asked to tackle, Waters, Strong, and Origel were put to some physical and mental tests. First was a push of their endurance limits, and who better to get hearts pounding and sweat flowing than Monster MMA fighter Jessica Clark. The guys got their first taste of the physical beating they’ll endure in the race by hitting the octagon and taking their lumps on the mat.
“Participating in the project as a coach was an amazing experience, to be able to create a training program for my colleagues who had to drive the most demanding 400 miles of Nevada’s desert. They were really interested and focused on doing their best and I was excited to share driving tips and secrets, " explained off-road racer Hanna.
“Of course if Jessy wanted to…she could have tossed us around the gym with one arm… We learned a lot from her in a fun way. Her physical conditioning is incredible and she pushed us to the limit during preparation” mentioned Origel.
Next up, the guys needed to enhance their hand-eye coordination to ensure they’d be ready to handle anything that could come their way in the wide-open, barren desert. In true Vegas fashion Murray Sawchuck the magician taught all three athletes some tricks of the trade. The last, and arguably most important challenge the guys had before officially strapping into the truck was a desert UTV excursion. While this was much more tamed down than what awaited them in the Mint 400, hitting the open desert and eating a little dust was the perfect taste of what was to come.
Things got real when qualifying day for the Mint 400 unfolded. It was the first time each athlete put on a helmet and buckled their belts, first receiving an adrenaline ride from Riley before getting behind the wheel themselves. At that point, the only thing left to do was reach the finish line in the gnarliest race in the country, with three guys who each sat inside a Trophy Truck for the first time less than 24 hours earlier.
“When I watched, I was actually super nervous. Seeing the trucks actually hit all the bumps and jumps, they hit everything so hard, just get bucked and it’s all crazy. You see wheels going everywhere,” explained Strong. “And then to be inside it when its doing that, it’s actually fun. It feels good. You could sit there holding a can of Monster while you’re driving along and that thing would just be whap, whap, whap [over the terrain].”
With his racing experience Waters got the call to open the race for the team and hammer out the first leg. Then it was Strong’s turn to attack the desert, charging through the terrain to get the truck to Riley, who closed out the race with Origel alongside providing navigation on the most unforgettable ride of his life.
"Before I knew it I had to put on my race suit and I had to jump into the Trophy Truck Spec to run beside Jim and venture into the desert. Once I jumped in there, I felt like I was in the middle of war and I had to be alert at all times to let Jim know whether there were sharp turns or large rocks coming up in the path. It was honestly an experience I will talk about it for the rest of my life, the team did an amazing job,” concluded Origel.