IT WAS 2006 when I was last on Lake Gairdner for Speed Week. The World’s Fastest Indian had been released only motorcycles had lined up alongside 65 cars.
Things are different now. This year, some 120 riders and 49 drivers paid their money to experience Speed Week on South Australia’s famed salt lake, with many sharing seats with team-mates. In terms of actual vehicles, I counted maybe 30 with four wheels and 90 with two.
While motorcycles dominated the startlines, cars still ruled the roost.
Watching Suzuki Hayabusas fly past at nearly 230mph is an amazing, surreal experience, but the thunder and spectacle of Lionel West running 271mph in a V8 Commodore takes your breath away.
That’s 437km/h, for those who came in late. The World’s Fastest Holden built SpeedWeek.the year before, and back then 22 up speed all week, edging past Rod Hadfield’s long-standing record with 260mph on Lionel’s fourth pass late on the first day. He bumped it up to 263mph on the Wednesday, then 268mph and finally the new record late on Thursday.
That Lionel was able to have so many runs was remarkable, with competitors lucky to get one pass per day when I was last here. This year conditions were nigh on perfect, with hard salt most days and little wind. The opening of a second track, now electronically timed, and a new requirement that all competitors volunteer a half-day’s labour made an enormous difference, as did the favourable weather and a welcome absence of racing incidents.
The event ran like clockwork all week, and full credit to Dry Lakes Racers Australia (DLRA) for really getting its act together; lord knows, it is not an easy place to hold a race meeting.
Mondays are always busy, but by Wednesday afternoon the queues had evaporated as entrants started to withdraw from competition, either because they’d broken something or, more commonly, had enough runs to realise they weren’t going any faster.
The truly fast guys were the exception, feeling their way forward in incremental steps, with many of the fastest runs occurring late on Thursday afternoon or on the long course that opened on Friday.
One thing that hasn’t changed is that Lake Gairdner is in the middle of nowhere. It’s easier to get a bike there than a car, and a lot of riders are simply racing their street or track bikes, which require relatively few mods to take part.
Not so the cars, which must meet evermore- stringent safety regulations, many of them unique to land speed racing, such
FIRST-time racer Craig Rogers debuted an all-new lakester twoand- a-half-years in the build and inspired by Frank Silva’s 324mph Bonneville record holder, Got Salt.
Almost 25 feet long, it’s just two inches shorter than a Top Fueler.
With 680hp from its single-turbo Falcon six, Craig breezed through his 125, 150 and 175mph licensing passes and clocked a best of 202mph against a 127mph class record. A technical issue prevented him going any faster, but expect big things in 2017.
STEVE Main cracked the 200mph barrier in 2014, when his “scarily stock” VT Commodore was powered by a supercharged V6. He and team-mate Mark Reiners returned this year with a single-turbo LS V8, but not 200mphrated tyres, restricting Steve to a welldisciplined 197mph. Mark later had a front tyre let go at 186mph, causing significant damage to the ex-Brisbane Council fleet car. Look out for the same engine in a more slippery body and some ‘scarily big’ numbers next year.
WITH its roots in the US, land speed racing is all about miles per hour; no one talks kilometres. For those born in metric times, here’s how fast they’re really going. 100mph : 161km/h 150mph : 241km/h 175mph : 281km/h 200mph : 322km/h 210mph : 338km/h 220mph : 354km/h 230mph : 370km/h 240mph : 386km/h 250mph : 402km/h 260mph : 418km/h
ADRIAN Reid from Hobart first raced an EB XR8 in 2004. This was his third time in his DOHC V8 BA ute, which ran 180mph last year. He pulled 187mph off the trailer, then 193mph naturally aspirated before making a gutsy call for a 150- shot of nitrous, unsure of how the car would react. Not only did it run straight, Adrian went 209mph for a coveted red hat. Mindful it was a long way home, Adrian later hooked up a 250-shot for 225mph on his final pass.
as on-board fire suppression systems and thicker rollcages. Inevitably, the glory days of having a once-in-a-lifetime crack in your drag car or street rod have now passed.
Numbers have also been affected by Speed Week being rained out four times in the past decade – twice in consecutive years – which tested entrants’ patience to the point of making it too hard for some.
On the positive side, the new rules have encouraged more hot rodders to build lakesters and bellytanks, with another four streamliners scheduled to debut next year, including two from New Zealand. Similarly, the XPs, XAs, FJs and HQs of yore have been replaced with ELs, AUs and all manner of Commodores, cheap enough to sacrifice as once-a-year race cars and more aerodynamic to boot.
With Bonneville closed for the past two years and racing again unlikely in 2016, the Americans are also taking an interest. Les Davenport has run 333mph at Bonneville, and is the part-owner and driver of Target 550, a twin-Hemi streamliner capable of going faster than any piston-powered, wheel-driven car ever – if only they could get the opportunity to race it. After inspecting the Lake Gairdner track, Les said it would easily be good for 450mph as is, with just another mile for run-up and a few more to slow down. His biggest issue, apart from logistics, is that Lake Gairdner is 120 metres above sea level, compared with Bonneville at 1300 metres, so the air is much denser here.
But you have to take your opportunities as they present themselves, he reckons. If he does make the call, a few others anxious to be the first into the 500mph Club might join him, which would be really something.
The rejuvenated DLRA is confident it has the resources to host them and, with Bonneville’s long-term future in real doubt, it’s not as unlikely as it sounds.
But land speed racing is not just about the dream teams. There are infinitely more classes than competitors and records to be had at all speeds and budgets.
Salt racers are a friendly and eccentric bunch, with a story in every pit, which are
IF YOU think Lake Gairdner is a bridge too far, spare a thought for Kiwis Mark Love and Dave Rosewarne, who shared a ’92 Firebird, albeit each with their own engine. Dave was first out, chasing a 179mph Gas-class record, which he blitzed with 212mph out of the box.
They then fitted a monster fuel engine for Mark to pursue Rod Hadfield’s old 259mph record in Bronze Aussie. In the end he managed 242mph, making the Firebird the third-fastest car for the week.
OVER 16 years, Malcolm Hewitt developed his 1950 Vincent Rapide from a 121mph street bike to a 166mph salt racer. He added home-built streamlining for 2016 to run 185mph, the fastest normally aspirated petrolpowered Vincent on earth.
TO JOIN the 200mph Club, a driver must exceed 200mph while setting a new record for their class. Each new member receives a specially embroidered red hat, as per international tradition.
Shaine Benson BELLYTANK 257.382mph Adrian Reid BA FALCON UTE 225.451mph Dave Rosewarne FIREBIRD 212.904mph Peter Warren BELLYTANK 205.456mph Tom Noack VP COMMODORE 203.126mph Craig Rogers LAKESTER 202.020mph
THE DLRA also recognises drivers who achieve 200mph for the first time without setting a record, with a special DLRA red cap with a black visor.
Geoff Avent AU FALCON 212.615mph Darryn Weeks VP COMMODORE 202.554mph
Geoff Avent coaxed his big yellow taxi to 212mph before he broke it
all situated midway along the main track.
There is little in the way of the time pressure you get circuit racing or at the drags, so most people are up for a chat, but everyone stops talking when the faster cars and bikes have their runs.
You hear them well before they appear as black specks on the horizon, and then as speeding bullets trailing long white rooster tails, which disappear into the ever-present mirage. There are no decibel limits, nor barriers to sound. The racers stay on it for miles and miles, literally flat-out until you can barely hear them, at which point the echo bounces back from the hills on the far side of the lake. And still they stay on it.
It’s what I remember most from my last trip, so maybe nothing has changed after all. I
could say the same for the heat and the dust and the flies, but all that can be managed.
Lake Gairdner is a magical place and Speed Week is a special event. We are very lucky to have it, and long may it not rain. s FOR more info, check out Dry Lakes Racers Australia’s excellent website at amagical andSpeed more info, check out Dry Lakes Australia’s excellent website at www.dlra.org.au.
STUART Hooper first raced this 1959 Velocette as a street bike in 2009, running 131mph, and later grabbed the official Velo world record, held by Burt Munro, with 147mph at Bonneville. Now supercharged, he ran 193mph this year, the fastest single-cylinder bike ever.