Encompassing about 229 km each way, requiring skilled driving over varying terrains in one of the most remote places in the world, few would question whether Finke’s Desert Race is worthy of the title “the fastest and greatest race in Australia”.
Its victors earn their title as well, as only the most talented and skilled riders compete each year to be crowned King of the Desert. Well, it’s actually Kings, because the first car and motorbike across the finish line are each victors of their vehicle class, but the winner of each may be competing with hundreds of others within their class. The Finke has an interesting history, full of competition and resulting in a kind of growth that no one who participated in the first run may have anticipated.
When the Finke was first done in 1976, it was a “there and back” challenge for a local motorbike group. Attracting more and more competitors every year after to race over the Queen’s birthday long weekend, it was and is a huge success, but until 1988 it was still only bikes running the distance. The inception of cars and road buggies created a fierce competition between those on two and four wheels, though the bikes were just too quick for over a decade. Finally in 1999, a buggy made it back first and claimed the title of King of the Desert.
The rivalry continued on fiercely, the title shifting between buggies and bikes for the next years, until the categories were created in 2005 and two Kings of the Desert were named, each receiving $10,000 for their skill and effort. This doesn’t mean that they don’t do their best to outrun each other simply for the pleasure, though! It’s easy to see why competitors choose to run the Finke, with the fierce competition, prize money, and an environment that truly tests a driver’s skill.
For those who want to witness this great race, many people visit the Northern Territory to camp along the course of the race yearly. There are of course regulations and safety concerns, as well as the fact that the area is private property, and it’s best to know about these details before you plan the trip.
Most of the area is private cattle land, and so the spot you choose to camp in may have a camping fee associated. The land’s owner is always clearly marked, so you’re welcome to reach out and enquire before you settle down, but regardless of where you stay please be conscientious about not leaving rubbish behind. Camping too close to the track could be dangerous for obvious reasons, but there is a large police presence during the event to help ensure that spectators and racers alike and upholding safe practices. If you simply want to see the race, a spot at the start/finish line will run you $10 per person per day, children under fifteen being free. There are other things to do, such as attending presentation night or scrutineering both bikes and cars, with their own associated fees.