Trucks, Mud and Adrenaline
Mac Miltz really just needed to borrow a trailer, and he knew Ben Spinney had one. Simple enough.
But once the two got to talking on their drive from Sandpoint to Spokane, ideas began to churn.
“We started talking about this concept and idea, and between other jobs we kept working on it,” Miltz said. “Then Grey (Whittier) came on board, and within a year, a year and a half, we ended up finding the right piece of property, and that’s how it all jumped off.”
And so born was Mountain Mafia Entertainment, a company “deeply rooted in outdoor adrenaline sports,” as they describe it on their website. The company’s main event—Mountain Havoc, coming up on its sixth year in June—is the subject of a six-episode series called “Mountain Mafia,” originally on the MotorTrend Network and now available on Amazon Prime.
“It’s not really about us and ‘Mountain Mafia,’” Miltz said. “It’s truly about the mountain sport and the drivers and competitors and the raw, real nature of the competition. That’s where our genuine feel comes from.”
The show’s first season chronicles the 2018 three-day, five-event competition, held on a wet, cold June weekend on the course 11 miles north of Bonners Ferry. Twenty competitors from around the Western United States and Canada brought in their rigs to compete in what is the biggest event of its kind in the country.
The competition is designed to reward the best overall driver and vehicle by putting them through a crucible of off-road challenges: hauling tires, climbing over boulders and navigating a motocross-style track.
“It’s respectable, family friendly, pure vehicular violence,” Spinney said. “When you’re racing these trucks, you’re seeing red. You’re trying to push the throttle through the floorboard. You’re on the razor edge of control.”
The Mountain Mafia retained complete control of the show, Miltz said, which was important to them creatively and practically.
“One of the things we find very important is we literally own everything we do,” Miltz said. “We find it important to lead. … We are literally creating our own niche of off-road motorsport.”
Miltz said he had been getting calls for a number of years from producers looking for the next big reality TV subject, but it wasn’t until an industry function in late 2017 that he found an opportunity the team was happy with. From there they began planning in earnest, hiring a production team Spinney had worked with on snowboarding videos and preparing the course for filming.
The course sprawls on a 90-acre tract of land that Spinney said they at first passed up before doubling back for another look.
They bought it in 2013 and spent a full year on the property building out the infrastructure: roads for competitors as well as spectators, stadium lights for the fairgrounds, a full irrigation system to maintain the tracks, and lots of rocks—big ones.
“We bring in rock from one of the rock quarries about 2 miles down the road,” Miltz said. “We take the rocks that can’t fit in the crusher, and he’s happy to give them to us for a really good price.”
Being a good neighbor is important to the Mountain Mafia, because they’ve witnessed other big outdoor events do the opposite, alienating a lot of potential partners and squelching the sport’s growth. The group’s name comes from the Italian but not so much the connotations that conjure images from “The Godfather.”
Rather, they talk about the Italian phrase “mafia,” which comes from cosa nostra, meaning “our thing, our way.”
“Mountain Mafia is, to us, family,” Miltz said. “We keep creating that atmosphere, not necessarily just about family, but constantly expanding the mafia family, whether you’re into motorsport or any other activity.”
Miltz grew up in Michigan and ended up in college at the University of Montana in Missoula. He kept heading West and ultimately landed in Sandpoint.
With a degree in business management and a minor in media art, Miltz wanted to start something that was his own, and partnering with Spinney and Whittier just made sense to him.
Spinney, a competitive snowboarder who built the first terrain park features on Schweitzer and went on to design them at numerous resorts around the West, grew up in Sandpoint and always had a love for mountain sports—and cars.
“Before I could even drive a car I was fixing cars, working on cars, building stuff,” Spinney said. “I’ve always been into monster trucks and the extreme side of automobiles.”
Whittier brings experience in off-roading and fabricating.
“It’s truly about that right team at the right time,” Miltz said. “We always say between the three of us, without one of us none of this would have ever happened.”
The Purcell Trench Ranch has developed a reputation as the best venue for this type of off-roading in the country, “The Super Bowl for this type of racing,” Miltz said, and “the pinnacle for what we do.”
They have worked to develop relationships with regional qualifiers in other western states and in Canada so that there are more opportunities for competitors. Some of those who come to Idaho for Havoc are planning and creating their own courses, Spinney said, fueling his optimism that the sport is going to keep growing.
Spinney recounted a time at a recent party in Spokane when a man came up to him, trying to place his face.
“‘Dude, I saw you on TV. You’re the host of the ‘Mountain Mafia’ show,’” Spinney said the man exclaimed as he made the connection. “That really hit me. There’s no ceiling because the way we run our stuff, it’s our thing and we do it our way, and we have some good structure.”
Miltz and Spinney kept coming back to the significance of their creative control and how they want to be sure to represent competitors and their sport accurately and fairly.
“Up until recently, often motorsport has had a sour taste in people’s mouths. … Some of these events have created issues with neighbors, zoning stuff,” Miltz said. “But what we created is we’re family friendly. It’s a lot easier to have families there and having the quality people there, and when these families and crews realize there’s a safe spot and professional spot to participate or spectate, they tell friends and families, and that’s how we’ve grown.”
Season 2 of “Mountain Mafia” is a go, they said, and film crews will be back for Mountain Havoc June 7 through 9. Miltz said they’re planning a few changes based on their experience last season, including mic-ing up the trucks so people can hear the unique sound of each. They had also planned to film some at the “Wake the Squatch” qualifier on the Ranch in April for supplemental footage.
All of it has Miltz and Spinney excited about the future of “vehicular violence.”
“We’re going for higher quality, more action and more airtime,” Spinney said. “It’s worldwide. It’s pretty rad.”