He got a couple of hours of restless sleep.
Then his teammates rousted Wood River Valley off-road driver Paul Robinson in the desert darkness of Nevada and he prepared for the 6 a.m. start of the General Tire Mint 400 race Saturday, March 15 outside of Las Vegas.
Called the Super Bowl of off-road racing, the Mint 400 presented by Polaris sent drivers off on a 100-mile loop of treacherous rock, sand, silt and Nevada desert terrain.
Robinson’s team finished three loops and 300 miles for fifth place in the 1100P class with an official time of 7 hours, 57 minutes and 4 seconds. That was 47th overall of the 53 teams among 10 classes that finished 300 miles. Another 29 teams in the three-loop field didn’t finish at all.
Throughout the long day, there were an estimated 50,000 fans watching in the desert. And there was quite a bit of attrition among the competitors. Of the 300 starting teams, there were only 163 finishers.
Robinson, 56, drove the first shift for owner Michael Benedict’s No. 1115 Custom Limited Buggy in the Limited Class, a vehicle tuned by Class 1 champion racer T.J. Flores. Navigating for Robinson was Kyle Oliver, 32, of Las Vegas.
For the next four hours and 13 minutes, Robinson was at the wheel of the Desert Runners Racing (DRR) Pro Buggy. There were challenges galore, like driving at high speed into the morning sun.
“I drove 50 miles into the sun with one hand, shading my eyes,” said Robinson, a California native and Wood River Valley resident since 1975. “What hurt most afterward was my neck.”
Robinson added, “I had lighting issues that were killing the ignition and shutting the car off three times while running in the morning darkness. Before the race, I was saying that I was easy on tires, but the desert made a liar out of me. I had three flats and ran out of fuel while running on three tires and a flintstone rim 15 miles short of Pit B and the driver change.”
Near the halfway point, Robinson handed the driving over to owner Benedict, 47, of North Las Vegas. Benedict was navigated by Wade Riding, 19, of Nellis Air Force Base. And they finished nearly four hours later, winning a little money in the process.
“It’s a demanding sport on the whole body, physically—dangerous but fun. When I got out of the car, I was exhausted,” said Robinson, who was on an early-morning plane the next morning headed back to Hailey.
Robinson, former owner of Double D Surfboards and a surfboard builder, has surmounted many challenges.
Twenty-five years ago at age 31, he was severely burned in a July 5, 1989 accident involving a fire at a painting site on Walnut St. in Ketchum. He had third-degree burns over 75% of his body and spent nine months at the University of Utah Burn Center in Salt Lake City.
He said, “After my burn injury, no one including me knew how well I would recover, body wise, or if it would leave my mind messed up or both. Here I am at 56 racing and beating kids I could be Grandpa to.
“I have worked my way to the top of off-road racing in the U.S. and am driving as a hired driver for DRR and got fourth on my first try at the biggest, most historic off-road race there is. I got a big ticket item off my bucket list.”
Robinson plans to drive in the Jackpot 200 off-road race July 5, on the 25th anniversary of “getting blown up,” he said, and suffering his burn injuries. He’ll be back driving for the DRR racing team in the General Tire Vegas-to-Reno 573-mile point-to-point race Aug. 15.
As part of the Red Bull Signature Series, the 2014 Mint 400 is due to be televised Sunday, July 6 at noon Mountain Time on NBC television.
The 400-mile winner March 15 was Andrew McMillin, 26, a third-generation off-road racer from the San Diego area who finished four loops in 6.14:29 with co-driver Brady Thompson in the No. 6 Unlimited Corona Trick Truck owned by Steve Sourapas of Rancho Santa Fe, Ca. They won by over 14 minutes and collected cash prizes totaling $40,000.
Top time in the Mint 400 three-loop division went to Cody Freeman, 28, of Las Vegas and Bryan Freeman, 34, of Henderson, Nev. in 4.59:55, tops in the 1000P class.
Robinson thanked his sponsors Sun Valley Transfer & Storage, Tooling Express, Ketchum Chiropractic, United Oil (fuel sponsor), Earthworks Excavation, Idaho Mountain Builders, First Lite Clothing Co., Anderson Asphalt Paving, Bigwood Body & Paint/Abba Towing, Schaeffers Racing Oils, Smith Optics, Inland Surfer Wake Surfing Boards, Ryan’s Mountain Rentals and Tim Jeneson Insurance.