Wondering what it's like to chase down
a land speed record?
The 2000km drive from Sydney to Lake Gairdner was anything but long and boring with good mates along for the ride, interesting towns to stop at, windmill spotting and wildlife to avoid. After more than 2 days driving across endless plains we reached the former mining town called Iron Knob. Our convoy turned off the bitumen and started kicking up dust. Almost two hours later we were almost cleaned up by a passing kangaroo.
The first glimpse of the lake is magic. Rolling red hills give way to an enormous plane of white which opens up in front of you.
The crew and I arrived at Lake Gairdner in high spirits, setup in the pits on the salt and then returned to camp to pitch our tents and sink a few tinnies.
I had raced at Speed Week twice before which proved a huge advantage for our racing team. We breezed through scrutineering and were able to get everything set for an early start the following day. Everyone starts the day early at the salt. There is no racing schedule. You just line up and wait.
While my first ride would be on the salt I was comfortable knowing that the bike had achieved 151hp and 133flt-lb on the dyno. My modified 120ci 2000cc Milwaukee 8 engine sounded great. My custom designed rearsets with bespoke shifter was also working fine. So next on my mind was how the track would feel. The salt looks flatter than it really is.
Our objective on Day 1 of racing was to get a few good shake down runs in. It gave me a good feel for the track and a sense of how to counteract the slight crosswind. My first run felt really good. I eased off the throttle at 140mph and could tell the bike had plenty more in her. My second run later that afternoon wasn’t exactly what we had hoped for. I was hit by a strong crosswind before the 2 ¼ mile marker which threw me from one side of the track to the other. At the speed I was going you don’t want to take unnecessary risks. So, I backed off the throttle and headed for the pits. Better to reset for a clean run than to try and recover half way down the race track.
We saw a few epic crashes during the week including Bronze Aussie (the world’s fastest Commodore) which got airborne and flipped at over 260mph. From the pit lane it looked to take off 2 metres into the air!
Day 2 was the busiest day. We hit the salt at sunrise, ate breakfast while doing final checks and then made for the start line. We got to the prestart line midmorning and settled in behind a long queue. By the time we made it to the front of the start line it had almost reached 3pm. Before we got to the salt I mentioned to James that I would be going for the record on the second day. He was the only person I told that to and on the start line, while I was waiting for the green light, it seemed like James was more nervous than me.
My heart was beating hard and I wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone. I just closed my visor, blocked everything and everyone out and focused on holding the bike pinned and giving it everything. I warmed the bike up and got ready to take off, the starter gave me the thumps up and flashed the green light and I was off. This was it!
I stretched each gear change out and started to build up speed quickly. As I went past the 1st mile marker the bike was feeling strong and running straight. I approached the 2nd mile marker, clicked into 5th gear and held the throttle on the stop. The bike started to wander on the salt and was bumping around quite a lot. I went flying passed the 2nd mile marker and knew that the timed mile had begun. I held the thing wide open for the whole mile even though it was bouncing all over the place. After screaming past the 3rd mile marker I then started to slow down to turn off the track and head back to the team in the pits.
There is no feeling like holding a bike flat out down the salt and I knew it was a good run, but I didn’t know how good. As I pulled into the pits I was greeted with cheers.
The long wait and James’s anxiety level was worth it.
I set a new Australian land speed record of 161.031mph in the MPS-PF 2000 classification.
Day 3 & 4
As the week went on conditions got progressively better. The sun stayed out, the breeze died down and the peak daytime temperature was easing. It had reached 40°C on Day 1.
On Day 3 we were again on the salt for sunrise but this time I didn’t waste any time getting to the prestart line. Having reached a nearly identical speed to my previous run I realised I would need to change things up a bit. Meanwhile, a friend of mine was having some running issues with his bike. So, I got my hands dirty and helped out.
Helping him gave me time to think about what I could change. It’s one of the great things about land speed racing. You see people helping each other out.
I spent the last few daylight hours working on my bike in preparation for Day 4. Once again, we were up before dawn and once again I recorded a nearly identical time. I realised that I had reached terminal velocity and would need better streamlining and more horsepower to achieve a higher speed.
We know we can go faster. Good thing we plan to keep coming back to the salt.