The racetrack is clear ahead of the arrival of more than 200 drag racers for the annual Speed Week festival on the dazzling white salt flats of Lake Gairdner, South Australia. Organised by Dry Lakes Racers Australia (DLRA), this year the week-long event celebrates its 30th anniversary (23–27 March). The aim? A straight-line time trial to compete for the Australian land speed record currently held by Rosco McGlashan, who hit 500mph (802.6km/h) here on 27 March 1994.
Throw some shade
Umbrellas are the best way for drivers and spectators to keep cool under the punishing Australian sun. Even in March, temperatures at Lake Gairdner can reach upwards of 47oC. Still, the climate doesn’t deter the racers, who often spend months preparing for the straight-line speed race: “You get two miles of run-up, four miles of timing, then another four miles to stop,” Speed Week director Steve Charlton told The Australian in 2019
Need for speed
The race is open to all kinds of vehicles, including motorcycles and vintage cars, as well as the so-called “special construction vehicles” – usually self-made “lakesters” (a streamlined car made from a modified aircraft drop tank, first invented in California in the late 1940s, pictured). Many are imported from the USA, the home of land speed racing; Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats has hosted racing since 1912 and this year its Speed Week runs 16–17 May (scta-bni.org).
A technical inspection is carried out on the car in the “pits” (essentially, a makeshift gazebo) before it hits the dried-out salt flats of Lake Gairdner – known as the Big White Dyno – which is 100 miles (160km) long and 30 miles wide. Few of the competitors can hope to break a land speed record but instead aim to get into the hallowed “200mph club” (321km/h), which can take some racers years to achieve.
Hobbyists entering their own vehicle can race on one of two tracks: one is nine miles (14.5km) long for vehicles that can hit over 175mph (281km/h)or a four-mile alternative for those up to 150mph. While most of the racers are male, this year the event’s first all-female team will compete, led by Australian pro drag racer Rachelle Splatt – the first woman in the world to top 300mph (482km/h) on land.
Two wheels good
The best way of zipping around the track for DLRA’s organisers is by bike. Speed Week relies solely on volunteers: so, whether it’s officiating or mechanical assistance, the rules say it’s mandatory for all race entrants to muck in and do at least one task.
A driver is fastened into his car in preparation for a race. All drivers must wear helmets to compete. Spectators can bring their own radio and tune into channel 15 to listen to the official DLRA broadcast for race times and updates.
The salt flats are closed to everyone before sunset, and drivers, officials and volunteers make their way to the outskirts where they have camper vans set up for the race duration. Evenings are usually upbeat with BBQs and music. But the revelry doesn’t go on too late – the lake opens for another day of racing at 6.30am the next day.