In some circles, the Finke Desert Race is a bigger sporting event than the Superbowl, Kentucky Derby, and the lower Oakland Roller Derby Finals all rolled into one. The 460km round trip race, from Alice to Aputula (Finke) and back, is one of the top off-road races for dune buggies and motorbikes in Australia. The race always takes place on the second weekend in June to take advantage of the Queen’s Birthday celebration (and holiday) on the Monday. It’s one of the largest events in Alice throughout the year and can cause some interesting shortages in town (marshmallows, go figure).
The festivities start Friday with the Scrutineering (safety inspection and opportunity for the public to get up close and personal with the vehicles and their drivers), and the racing starts on Saturday with the Prologue; which is the Aussie way to refer to time trials. We arrived in time to catch the buggies/trucks finish their warm up lap before each truck (and one heavily modified sedan) drove the 8km course to determine their starting position. For both the bikes and buggies, the warm up lap was pretty exciting since everyone was on the course at once. After that there was about a minute or so delay between each team. The buggies ran for several hours and then there was a break for the bikes to get set up. Thankfully, the food was of the “county fair” style with loads of fried goodness, kranksies, and sweets. We didn’t stay for too many of the bikes as the timing circuit broke and the announcers couldn’t give us a fix on when it’d be repaired.
Like most races, the most spectacular moments were the wrecks. Only one car seriously crashed during the prologue however a couple others did roll over. The most epic roll was from a jacked up Ford Falcon which is the Aussie equivalent of a Crown Vic. Fortunately no one was hurt and the car successfully made it to the race on Sunday.
The race on Sunday was much more epic than the prologue. For the entire length of the course, people drive out and camp on Saturday night. It’s effectively a 230km long party with drinking, campfires, and fireworks scattered along the course. Also the occasional naked man who thinks he’s a kangaroo. Ashley and I didn’t camp but we heard plenty of good stories Sunday morning. Our crew was stationed at the 40km mark. There is a steep hill there and a chance for all the racers to catch some big air. However, last year they had some problems with a number of the buggies flipping as they crested the hill. This year they marked the course to encourage drivers to take it much slower. The race starts at around 730, and by 745 the first buggies were flying over the hill and zooming past us.
Despite a significant (for Alice anyways) amount of rain that week, the clouds of red dirt were flying everywhere. The best description I have is to imagine clouds of Georgia red clay trailing from the riders and blowing into the crowds. By 0900 the buggies (and my sedan!) had pushed on through and we had a few hours to wait for the bikes.
The party kicked back into life and people where drinking (yep, beer and margaritas at 0900), kicking the footy around, and having a grand ol’ time. As you can see, the spectators really get into it. Occasionally we saw a buggy loaded onto a flatbed being towed back to Alice, another casualty of the Outback. Most looked alright but one or two had taken some serious damage.
Around 1130, the bikes made it to our outpost and the action really heated up. The bikes tended to cluster, so there would be a couple of minutes of action followed by several minutes of waiting for the next group. We had a great view of all the race and were really excited to the see the bike sponsored by base out in front. We only saw one wipeout before we left for the day. The rider popped back up and sped on down the track no worse for the wear. After about an hour of the bikes, the sun began to get to us and we headed back to Alice.
But our Finke adventures weren’t done! Driving back from work on Monday, Alice’s Finest were conducting random breath tests (RBTs) on everyone leaving the race track and heading to town. The race had ended a couple of hours earlier and everyone was packing out. Ashley and I got pulled over and had she got tested. The officer remarked that we clearly didn’t come from the race because our car was so clean.
For next year, we’re thinking of camping. Drew is toying with the idea of getting 5-6 guys and putting together a car but Ashley’s putting her foot down on that one. Hopefully we can count on the weather being as spectacular. If anyone wants to come visit in June, we highly recommend the Finke.
For more pictures of the Prologue
or the Finke
itself, hit up the links!