Wes Miller #948 Pro UTV Turbo Mint 400 Race Report

It was looking like I wasn’t going to compete in this year’s Mint 400. A few weeks before the event, my friend Nick Nelson, called and asked if I would like to drive with him. The Mint 400 is probably the biggest and most prestigious off-road race in the U.S., so I of course said “yes”.

Nick had been working with Glazzkraft on building a new Polaris RZR XP Turbo. Glazzkraft is out of Rosarito Beach, Mexico and are known for building some really nice cars. They make some very cool fiberglass and carbon fiber body kits. I think they fabricate some of the best looking cars that I’ve seen.
We met up in Barstow 2 weeks before the race to do testing and the car felt great. There were a lot of little things that needed to be done, but it was off to a tremendous start. The plan was to have the car in Vegas mid week before the race to do a shake down and prep. But like most new builds, things ran behind and the RZR didn’t get into town until early Friday morning. I was at contingency for DWT Racing all day. We got the car tech’d and went back to prepping it for the race. Our crew stayed up all night finalizing things. I went to bed around 2am only to get back up at 3:30am to load up and head to the race. The guys had worked non-stop through the night and were exhausted.

Hector the owner of Glazzkraft was supposed to co-drive, but hadn’t slept. We decided that Nick would co-drive and then we would switch half way through the race. When we got to the pits in Primm, we quickly unloaded and headed to the line. There wasn’t much time as most of the racers were already staged. For the Mint, Best In the Desert does a 2 at a time start in 30 second intervals. The top 10 from the UTV World Championship were seeded first. We drew 6th, so we still had a fairly good position. miller_nelson_mint400_16_6

The group starting in front of us were mostly good drivers and would carry a good pace. I was set to start next to the #936 of Jacob Carver. The start was a split lane with the inside having the advantage. Off the line, we were about dead even. Both of us stayed on it, but since the inside was shorter, it put the 936 just ahead of me. I spent the next few minutes in the infield
section of the course right behind Carver’s RZR. We hit the pavement and there was a long 25 mph speed zone. The track went straight into a high speed desert section. The second we were out of the dirt, I was glued to Carver’s rear bumper and on the horn. I was able to almost pull along side him several times, but he would slam the door and not allow me to pass. He was holding me up, but I wanted to be careful and not tangle because we were going 70+ mph. My experience in BITD has been that most drivers
have good sportsmanship and will let you by when you catch them. I spent the next 2 minutes on the horn as Carver kept trying to jack rabbit me. I debated hitting him, but didn’t want to take either of us out that early in the race. I also didn’t want to risk injuring them or ourselves since we were going at a high speed. After the race I talked to Jacob at the finish and he said that he couldn’t hear my horn. But after watching the GoPro footage, I don’t believe it. There is no way that he didn’t know that I was behind
him after being right on his ass in the 25 mph zone and then immediately on the horn.miller_nelson_mint400_16_5

The course headed into a tighter and more rocky section going straight into the sunrise. It was almost impossible to see, especially with the dust of 936. So I backed off a touch to play it safe. Almost immediately after I slowed, I felt that we had a rear flat. We pulled over and Nick hopped out and quickly changed it. As we sat there, 22 UTV’s went by. Once we got going again, we started passing UTV’s right away and over took 8 in the next 10 miles. We were rolling and I felt like we could catch up and be in the hunt. About 5 miles from Pit A while passing the #1999 UTV Underground car, I had to
put 2 wheels off course in a rocky section. I didn’t feel the car hit anything, but quickly got a sinking feeling in my stomach as I was having to counter steer to go straight.miller_nelson_mint400_16_4

Knowing that meant another flat tire and that we had already used our spare, I had to back it down and get it to the pit. Into Pit A, the crew noticed that we had 2 flat rears. With 3 flats in less than 30 miles, I knew something had to be wrong. I had the guys check the air pressure and we found the tires had about 5 lbs. less than they were supposed to. The tires had been mounted 2 days earlier in the afternoon on a hot sunny day. That morning it was cold and in the rush to get to the line, there wasn’t time to check the tire pressure. They inflated the tires to the proper PSI. They got them changed fairly quickly, but the problem was that they only had 2 spares. This now meant we would head back out on some of the rockiest parts of the course without a spare, and Pit B was approximately 43 miles away.

Through the next section, I tried to play it smart. We still were catching and passing quite a few cars. In the gravel pit at Spectator Area 2, I came into a turn and there were 2 large rocks in the outside rut. They were spaced in a way that left me no choice but to hit one. I picked my poison and clipped one with my left front. The tire went flat right away. This left us with about 8 miles to Pit B. Most of the course was fairly straight and I stayed on it. The RZR actually was handling the front flat better when I was on the gas. We ended up still catching some cars even with the flat. We got the tire changed and a fresh spare mounted. We were now back to full strength and it was time to catch back up. Right away we started catching and passing UTV’s. In between Spectator Areas 3 & 4 I caught 2 cars at once. The 1924 car was in front, followed by another UTV. The lead car pulled to the right to let us by. I laid on the horn to make sure they all knew I was there. As I went by the 1924 it turned into me and tagged my left rear braking the axles. I was pretty frustrated to have a car pull over, only to have it turn and
run into me, breaking my car. We pulled over and changed the axle. After our 4th stop, we got going again and started passing cars. Everything was going smooth. One of the things that didn’t get done in time for the race was a belt temp gauge. I was worried about blowing a belt, but so far so good. The true test was going to be the dry lake bed.
We made it across the first lake bed and everything seemed ok. But on the second, we were cruising along and lost a belt. We got the belt changed and got going again. Immediately we noticed a clanking sound from the motor. Neither of us had ever changed a Turbo belt and in the rush to get going forgot to take out the bolt used in the secondary clutch. Rookie move, but that’s how our day was going. The Main Pit was our next stop for fuel. Since it looked like we would only be doing 2 laps at this point, we decide to swap spots and put Nick in the driver’s seat. We topped off with fuel and a new spare axle, and headed back out. About 2 miles into the next lap, all of a sudden something broke in our steering. I hopped out and the right front
axle had broken and snapped the tie rod end in the process. I was able to rig it enough to limp back to the Main Pit.

The crew worked together and got the axle and tie rod end replaced. The car was back together, but at this point the UTV leader had gone by and we were a lap down. We set back out on the track. The car was working good and we had a good run going. At about race mile 45, I noticed a car behind us a little ways back. It wasn’t closing very fast, but we decided it was probably a lap up and to let it by. It was Justin Lambert running in second place overall UTV. We tucked in behind just outside of his dust. For the the next 10 miles, we held pace. When we got to the Fox proving grounds, there
was a car turned over and they had the course closed. They routed use around the crash, putting us right behind Lambert. Once we were going again, we both closed on a slower car in an area of whoops with multiple lines. Lambert went one way and us the other. As it turned out, we had the good line and it put us ahead of them both. We didn’t want to slow up Lambert, but we had passed him back and were pulling away.miller_nelson_mint400_16_7

This was short lived though as we again noticed a flat coming into Spectator Area 2. We pulled over to change it and waved Lambert by. At this point, we really just wanted to finish before the Trophy Trucks caught us. We made it another 8 miles to Pit B. The crew gave us a new spare, but noticed the
right rear axle was broken. So they changed it out as well. Back on the track, I knew the trucks would be coming soon. As we passed near race mile 80, there’s an area where several parts of the course come together. I could see a freight train of Class 1 cars near race mile 20, so I knew the trucks were close. We were going along fine until we hit the lake bed again. Nick backed off to save the belt. Cruising around 65 mph, the belt still blew out of nowhere. We both hopped out to get it changed as fast as possible. Neither of us wanted to be on the lake bed as the trucks came by doing 130+ mph. Luckily we got it fixed quickly and nursed it back to the finish.

It wasn’t the finish that we wanted, but we both had fun and learned a lot about the new car. Glazzkraft did an excellent job on this build and we have a great foundation. With some more time and testing, I’m confident this can be a race winning car. All of our sponsors products worked really well. In the end, we had 6 flats, 3 broken axles, 2 belts, and a tie rod end break. That said, I feel the flats were our fault for not running enough air pressure and later hitting rocks. The axles and belts were over heated from running on flats. And the tie rod end was broken by the axle. So it really all snowballed from the air pressure. You live and learn and we won’t make that mistake again. Our crew did an amazing job with literally no sleep and it is a testament that there weren’t any other issues with the car.

I want to thank Nick for having me drive. Hector for building the car. And all of our crew and sponsors for their help and support. I’m really looking forward to the next race.

  • Tags:

  • Comments