Dirt, dust, speed & some enviro concerns…
Although it’s been four years since pastoralists south of Alice Springs have had any decent rain, for a while they were able to forget about the lack of stock feed and relax trackside with family and friends over the Queen’s Birthday weekend at the Finke Desert Race.
This popular event involves hundreds of off-road vehicles and motorbikes travelling a loop from just south of Alice Springs, to the small outback community of Finke. The people and local businesses of Alice Springs have ‘ownership’ of the Tattersall?s Finke Desert Race which is organised and run by a local committee and volunteers.
Billy Hayes from Deep Well Station, about 80 kms south of Alice Springs, was a competitor for 13 years and now helps friends refuel their bikes.
He says, “You know, there’s not too many pastoralists that I know south of Alice that don’t take the weekend off to come and watch the Finke Desert Race. A lot of them have got family or family members competing in it as well……..The most exciting part is fuelling up the guys now and going down and watching them. You know we get a buzz out of watching people competing in it and how fast it is, it’s unbelievable”.
He is concerned, however, along with other pastoralists, at the way some spectators treat the fragile topsoil and vegetation and was hoping ‘their backyard’ would be respected.
Assessment of road damage
A week after the race pastoralists are pleased there wasn’t a lot of rubbish left at campsites, but disappointed many spectators refused to leave their recreational motorbikes and buggies at home.
Billy Hayes says it was obvious spectators hadn’t stayed close to the track and his biggest concern was the condition of the South Road, “Our road is … the worst I’ve seen it in 30 odd years.”
About the race
The race, now in its 31st year, attracts bike, car and buggy entries from around Australia and overseas. It has the reputation of being one of the most difficult off road races in one of the most remote places in the world.
The first race was run in 1976 and each year attracts 10,000 spectators along the 235 kms of race course to watch 300 bikes and 90 cars and buggies compete ‘there and back.?
‘The Finke’ is an event that involves people from all walks of life. The challenge is not necessarily to win, but compete and complete it. The fun and excitement comes with just being there over the three days:
Two of Australian’s best touring car drivers Peter Brock and Tony Longhurst competed in 1998. Four times national champion Mark Burrows is master of the car section and around Australia rally winner Bruce Garland has competed since 1989. However, most entrants are not professional drivers or riders.
The Finke is open to anyone who can muster a machine they think will take the punishment and make the distance. There are at least seven classes for both the motorcycles and cars.
This year lone American competitor and reigning Honda champion, Steve Hengeveld, won the professional 4-stroke class, with Rick Hill, a local motorcycle professional from Alice Springs coming in second.
The Victorian father-son team of Shannon and Ian Rentsche won the buggy section for 2006, with Hayden Bentley and Ben Chivell from South Australia in second place and Terry Rose and David Hartwig from New South Wales in third.The bikes saw Alice Springs rider Ryan Branford cross the line in first place to become the 31st King of the Desert and New South Wales riders Brad Williscroft came in second and Ben Grabham in third.