Assault on the Salt – an Adventure Trip to Lake Gairdner

Here is a report from Club member, David Merritt, on his adventurous trip to Lake Gairdner for DLRA Speed Week in March 2010, at which he reached a top speed of 104 mph on his SR500.

It began early on Sunday morning. The next few days would see the result of months of planning. Once I had opened my mouth and announced that I was going to race the SR on the salt, there was no choice but to follow it through.

Picked up chief engineer, Simon, and brolly dolly, Rina, before daylight and headed north out of Adelaide. Mid-morning found us in beautiful Port Augusta – the wind had icicles in it and the rain was gusting in. Onward to Iron Knob and turn right – no need for a map! Around 160 kays of dirt road later we splashed over a rise and saw for the first time the breath-taking splendour of Lake Gairdner with more water in it than a dry salt lake is supposed to have.

After setting up camp and talking with fellow enthusiasts who had been there longer and more often than we had, we were still none the wiser about when racing would begin; however, the consensus was that something would happen sometime. We feasted that night on Coopers Ale, spaghetti bolognaise, red wine, Big Sister pudding, custard and port. Consequently we all slept well to be awoken Monday morning to the sound of rain on the canvas; however, as forecast, the wind began to blow, we got some sunshine, and scrutineering began. This was an adventure in itself – the SR does not like being push-started at the best of times, and on dirt, it would not play the game, so the roller starter was muscled down the hill to prove the lanyard switch would work. After being told not to use the front brake because there were 150 kays of salt to slow down on, we were stickered and arm-banded up and ready to go racing!

Waiting in the queue the next morning, the mood was upbeat, then onto the salt, at last. We chose a spot in pit lane, set up our pit, fired up the SR and had a couple of runs down the practice track. Managed to get the chat from Animal (the DLRA enforcer) for going too fast on the practice track and paid the price by running on into the water at the end – the SR was literally frosted with salt. Next came the drivers meeting – procedures were run through again and by about 3.30 pm on Tuesday afternoon, things were starting to happen. This was the first year that the DLRA were offering two options – the main track that goes for nine miles and is used for setting records, as well the GPS track where they attach a GPS unit to your bike and use it to record the top speed. It goes for three miles, which was more than enough.

Some quick preparation saw us in the queue not too far from the front. This being the first time round for a GPS track, there were some teething problems and a few delays. With about three competitors in front of us, we fired up the SR and then endured a 20 minute wait before being ushered to the start line. Into first gear and ease away – stalling would have meant going back in the queue and the day was coming to a close. Pin it in first, second, third and fourth, changing up at 7,000 rpm – watch the tacho and into top gear. Lie down, think small and wait for the 3 mile marker – just myself, the SR and a sea of white. Sit up, back off and try to focus on the GPS unit velcroed to the tank – 104 mph, one short of the predicted 105!

As the bike ran without a fairing and the only change I made was to drop two teeth on the rear sprocket, we were happy with the outcome, but as they will all tell you, salt racing is addictive and the thought of making multiple passes over a few days will no doubt bring us back to the salt. We had to leave on Wednesday due to team work commitments and the familiar mix of roadhouse coffee and V drinks saw us back in Adelaide late that night.

The Lake Gairdner experience should be on any petrol head’s bucket-list. Salt lake racing only happens at Lake Bonneville in America and here in South Australia – it’s a high octane adventure in the middle of nowhere.

None of this would have been possible without the assistance and support of my friends Simon (Jeremy Burgess) Willgoose and Rina (Redbush) Grotto – without them this would not have happened.

Thank you also to the SR500 Club – maybe one day I will make it over there for the rally.