Eric Hardin Bests Stacked Field To Win Mint 400
Eric Hardin bested a stacked field in one of the most exciting and unpredictable BFGoodrich Tires Mint 400s in recent memory.
In one of the most exciting and unpredictable BFGoodrich Tires Mint 400s in recent memory, Eric Hardin bested a field of nearly two dozen Unlimited Trucks and more than 80 Unlimited class entries overall to take his first career victory in the legendary event. One day after 22-year-old Joe Terrana shocked the UTV racing establishment by taking the overall win in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Limited Race, Hardin came from 12th on the grid to survive a challenging race course, unpredictable weather, and mechanical failures that befell his top competitors to complete four laps of this year’s race course in 6:46:37.651.
“Oh my gosh, the course was insane,” Hardin said shortly after climbing from his truck and embracing co-driver Andrew Myers. “At first I thought it might be smoother like some of the other courses have been from the rain we’ve been having, but that wasn’t the case. The Martelli brothers did an awesome job like they always do. It was a super fast course, but super technical, which makes it really fun.”
Perhaps more than any other Mint 400 in recent memory, this year’s edition of the Great American Off-Road Race was a battle of attrition. It started right away when Dale Dondel, third in Friday qualifying, landed hard on the nose of his Unlimited Truck off the first big jump of the day and had to pull out immediately; not long after, defending race winner Kyle Jergensen, who started alongside Dondel, would fall out of contention himself. BJ Baldwin, Ryan Arciero, and top Class 1 qualifier James Dean would also see their dreams of Mint 400 glory fall by the wayside on the first lap.
There were still plenty of big names left in the field, though, with Tim Herbst ahead of Adam Householder, multi-time Mint 400 winners Justin Lofton and Rob MacCachren, and Christian Sourapas as the race entered its second lap. But one by one, the front-runners would continue to fall off, with MacCachren losing his transmission and questioning whether the aggressive pace that the leaders were running would be able to hold up; soon after, both Herbst and Lofton would also have to call it a day.
That left Hardin and the Concrete Motorsports team of Kevin Thompson and Harley Letner in a close battle for the lead, with Hardin holding the edge on corrected time, until the fourth and final lap of the race struck. With the #70 team having to pull off and giving up nearly two hours, the race was in Hardin’s hands. Despite losing second and third gear roughly 20 miles from the finish line, the #79 Unlimited Truck held strong, crossing the line with nearly 13 minutes in hand.
In a battle that would come down to corrected time, Sourapas—filling in for his father Steve, who suffered a medical emergency before the race—would edge Householder for second place by just 43 seconds. Nonetheless, third place ensured that Householder would take a podium in the first two races of the inaugural Unlimited Off-Road Racing Triple Crown, after winning the King of the Hammers Desert Challenge presented by Monster Energy last month. Reinforcing the theme of perseverance that defined this year’s race, none of the podium finishers qualified in the top 10 on Friday.
“Our day was pretty uneventful,” Sourapas explained. “We started dealing with oil temp heat at high speed, so we couldn’t really go that fast. It was pretty uneventful until the last lap when we had a flat, and we went to go and get our jack handle and it was completely gone. So we ran over to a motorhome, luckily they had a jack, and we used a scissor jack to get the truck up.”
“We started 11th and picked a few right off the bat,” said Householder. “We were just running a good pace—my guys just kept telling me ‘You’re up there, you’re up there.’ We got around a few people and knew that I was in the lead, but of course something happened—I hit a rock and took out a driveshaft and it took us about 10 or 12 minutes to change, and that’s what took us out.”
Steve Olliges was the next Unlimited Truck finisher in fourth, while Dustin, Jack, and Troy Grabowski completed the overall top five and won the Unlimited Truck Spec class. The Grabowski brothers’ win came by just over three minutes over top rival Brent Fox, who suffered a rollover in Friday qualifying that forced him to start Saturday’s race without body panels. Blaze Nunley completed the Spec podium at seventh overall, while Thomas Fichter (Unlimited Truck Legends) and Nick May (Class 10) also won their classes with top 20 overall finishes.
Full live timing and results from the event are available on the Mint 400 website.