WHILE most of us casually tour around the outback taking in the sights and sounds, there’s a breed of person who like to do it as fast as mechanically possible. Off-road racing might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s no denying it’s one hell of a spectacle. An event like the Finke Desert race makes a great stop-over if you’re in the red centre around the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. You can camp in the red dirt and witness the cream of Australia’s off-road racing teams fly by at speeds you would not believe.
The 2019 Finke race was won by Jack Rhodes in his Class 1 buggy after a stellar performance on Day One to climb from 14th place to second on the run to Finke, and then climb to the front on the race back to Alice Springs.
Most of the attention was on two-time Dakar winner, Cross Country World Champion and multiple Finke winner, Toby Price, who this year parked his KTM motorcycle and concentrated on adding a Trophy Truck win to his tally. Toby nailed the qualifying prologue, was first to Finke by seven minutes and was holding that lead on the return leg when his diff let go, ending his race. It just shows that you can have all the best gear and the biggest sponsors, but anything can go wrong in the outback.
You don’t need a million-dollar trophy truck to have fun off-road racing. There are classes for all sorts of vehicle racing in Australia (even at the Finke), and a well-maintained 4x4 race truck can be a lot more affordable and fun than you think. Then there are the UTVs which are booming in popularity.
I’ve just come back from a holiday in Mexico where I followed the Mexican 1000 off-road race. Run by the National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA), the 1000 follows the tracks of the iconic Baja 1000 and celebrates past races with many vintage and oddball race cars competing. I was following a near stock Mahindra Roxor for much of the way, as well as a bunch of guys who compete every year in a VW Bus. These guys finish the 1000 every year and have a lot of fun along the way. They’re enjoying off-road racing by a means they can afford and not letting cost hold them back. It sure looks like fun to me.