mint 400

BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE MINT 400

WORDS: Andreas Tzortzis
PHOTOGRAPHY: David Harry Stewart

Photographer DH Stewart on getting pelted by rocks, photographing freaks and spending an afternoon in a hotel room with Miss Mint 400 during America’s oldest off-road race.

On his shoots for The Red Bulletin, photographer David Harry Stewart learned how to snowmobile on the fly in the Idaho backcountry and chased a bike-builder as he tore around the dry L.A. riverbed on a custom motorcycle. To that list we can now add getting smacked by rocks and choking on dust in the middle of the Nevada desert.

Covering the legendary Polaris RZR Mint 400, from which Hunter S. Thompson spun Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Stewart focused on a team led by Justin Park, an IT engineer and olive oil importer from Encinitas. Park’s truck broke down and he was forced to abandon the race, as did almost 150 of the 330 teams that entered the Mint this year. Here are five photos from his memory card that provide some insight into the madness and passion of the race. 

1 PORCH

“This on the porch at Justin’s house, before they leave for Las Vegas. They’ve all known each other since high school. They were like delinquents from way back; skateboarders and surfers getting in trouble. They’re a motley crew and spend a lot of time joking with each other. There’s this flower box on the right side of the photo, which explains this dual reality. He’s got this regular job and this lovely, pregnant wife, but the truck thing is a connection to his past life.” 

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2 MISS MINT 400

“You can’t go more than 10 feet with her without someone running up and asking for a photograph. She’s a model and it’s kind of a goofy gig for her. You know, the Mint girls nowadays are a pathetic throwback to the 1970s. They were really hot back then. Vanna White was a Mint girl. But this is a whole different reality. The other Mint contestants, their heads maybe came up to her shoulder. She’s like a model with big boobs. And we shot in the hotel room and her boyfriend is there and it’s all PG, but it’s too much boobs. It’s like, can you put your boobs back in the dress?”

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3 ORANGE DUST

“This is in this Mad Max environment, maybe 40 miles north of where the race starts. There’s a lot of ground fog in the morning and there is an old gravel pit filled with all this weird rebar and chunks of machines. It’s one of the only places where the trucks get any air during the race. But there’s so much fog, you can’t see the trucks coming. So you hear the truck and hear the truck and then all of a sudden it’s there. The whole time we thought ‘is this safe?’ “ 

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4 CLOSE-UP

“You were only supposed to get closer than 50 feet to the track. But I’m between five and ten feet from the track. There’s nothing to keep that truck from killing me. I stand back about 15 feet. If I see the guy successfully make the turn, I run in and get five feet away and that’s where the picture is taken. As soon as the truck goes by I have to cover myself and the camera, because it shoots rocks up in the air. I cover up to get it all in my back, rather than the face or the camera. But I do it because this is The Red Bulletin, man, it’s not Yoga Illustrated.”

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5 TAKING A BREAK

“It looks like a movie still from a 70s road movie. These guys have now given up on fixing the truck. They’re in these flame suits and so they’re super hot. He’s just like ‘I’m done.’ One of the hardest things about the Mint is that the driver meeting happens in Vegas until 10, and these guys have to be on the line at 4 in the morning an hour outside of Vegas. They get maybe four hours of sleep. That’s what makes the Mint so hard. The off road is physically demanding, but so little sleep it’s really hard.” 

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