Las Vegas, NV (March 20th, 2015)– The General Tire Mint 400 was a record setting high when over 330 entries were ready to do battle for the 2015 Great American Off-Road Race. This years race would have 5 days worth of festivities, two packed races and a new spectator friendly course that would allow fans to be able to be apart of the action. With all the hype leading up the Mint 400, Banning Motorsports was ready to grab their piece of the spotlight.
The first day of festivities would see over 100 race vehicles make their way down the Las Vegas Blvd Strip. This event was something that took place back in 70’s and 80’s when the race was at its prime. It allows the drivers, teams and fans the opportunity to see thousands of horse power roaring down the Strip starting from the south end and ending in Downtown on Fremont Street. Banning Motorsports lined up in the parade with the 6155 truck, 2488 car and the Banning sponsored 1023 car. Banning would also debut their “Lightning Larry Ragland” design on the 6155 truck in honor of this years Grand Marshall of the Mint 400, Larry Ragland.
Thursday night was the always intense Pit Crew Challenge where the 6155 truck was the only 6100 entry into the competition. The team was set high up on stage for all to see and even though they didn’t make it into the final round, they always enjoy some friendly competition where the crews get to show off some Nascar style tire changes.
Contingency on Fremont street during the day Friday always allows for great fan interaction and a prime time for the crew to prepare for race day which always comes up quick after all the events that lead up to Saturday. Banning Motorsports made their way down Fremont early in day in order to take advantage of the afternoon. Last minute preparations and team meetings are another key to making sure everything is set up for race day and drivers and crew are all on the same page leading into race day.
Staging for the race would happen for the first race before the sun even had a chance to peak over the mountains. The 2488 car would quickly get out front and be the first car on the road early on in the race. Folks would be behind the wheel for the first two laps of the three lap race. Attempting to be smooth as not make any mistakes they were able to drive at 85%. They would not be making up any time on the pack of cars behind them, but they had the advantage of not being in the dust.
“I struggled a bit on the first lap after starting in the dark and then the transition into dusk and daylight was a bit deceiving for me.” Stated Bryan Folks
After a nearly flawless first lap, the 2488 car did a fast co-rider change between Chris Godfrey and Adam Warren. As they got back out on course in an attempt to stretch out the lead, they would be caught by two class 10 cars. Continuing to keep pace with the 1032 car they set a good time on lap two and as they brought the truck in again for its third a final lap they were still first in class and third on the road.
A drivers change before lap three placed Rick Graf behind the wheel and his foot to the gas pedal. Catching lap traffic would set them behind on time but they were still able to manage holding onto first place. No flats on their General Tires and only a few heart stopping moments in the dust would be just what the team needed to hold off from being passed. 2488 would finish the race in just 6 hours and 37 minutes and come away with their first win in the 2400 class.
The 6155 truck was ready to take on its second race ever and expectations were high as they had a great finish at the Parker 425. Lee Banning Sr. would stage the truck for the second race of the day. The second race would see Trick Trucks, Unlimited Cars, 6100 trucks and more all going out for three laps of racing on the the now beaten up 117 mile course.
Banning Sr. was off the start line just behind the Trick Trucks and Unlimited cars. The first lap of the race would go smooth for Banning Sr. as he would pass slower vehicles and cars off to the side of the course already broken. Coming into main pit ready to hand the truck off to Gary Williams Jr., adding fuel and putting on the KC HiLites lightbar, Banning Sr. had set them up in a great position in their class. What the drivers did not know was that race was stopped due to an accident with injured drivers.
“The safety of our racers is paramount,” said Mint 400 CEO Matt Martelli. “Best In The Desert officials stopped the race immediately upon learning of the accident and only resumed after the injured were treated and the vehicles removed from the course.”
The 6155 truck with Williams Jr. now driving would have to wait at the start/finish for the race to get back underway. Once back on the race course the conditions were the toughest the driver has ever had to take on. The dust would limit their pace at times but as they got out of the dust and made their way to the rougher sections of the course, the truck came alive. Able to now charge through the rough and catch the trucks ahead of them. Chris Godfrey navigated with flawless notes and this allowed Williams Jr. to settle in behind the wheel but not able to make any clean passes right away.
“I quickly realized that passing would be almost impossible on the road without taking a huge risk of getting a flat or hurting the truck.” Stated Gary Williams Jr. “Especially with the course changing as fast as it was.”
Towards the end of lap two, Williams Jr. would let another competitor by that was charging hard. Just two miles up the course they would pass the truck back up as they were pulled over with significant damage, proving that Williams, Jr’s. strategy was the right one given the conditions. They finished their second lap with zero flats on their General Tires and zero issues with the truck. Williams Jr. managed to work their way up to the top 4 and handed the truck off to Lee Banning Jr. for the last lap and the chance to contend for the win.
Dark had settled over the course by the time the vehicles went out for their third and final lap. Lee Jr. took off into the darkness to run down the last few trucks that were still running the race. It would be nearly a flawless third and final lap for the team, that is until 30 miles from the finish and running second on the road, disaster would strike. The drivers side front upper shock mount would break, causing the truck to end its race. It would be a great race for the team and lots of fun, but just short of their expectations.
The 1023 car of Melton Motorsports prepped and supported by Banning Motorsports had a great race. Racing the first race, Steve Melton would start 27th in class and also behind all the 2400 cars. Running in the dark and early light Melton brought the car into pit A about a lap and ½ on the course and about 7th on the road with no problems and passing 16 to 17 cars. Melton handed the car over to Hayden for the last lap and ½ where Hayden continued to run hard and clean getting up front and taking the lead and expanding that up to about 4 minutes. A flat that completely came apart with the steel cords getting all tangled and wrapped in the rear break and hub would set them back and cause them he win. After finally getting this all cleaned up and the spare on he brought the car to the finish in 7th place. Jake Dewitt handled the full race navigating for the two drivers.