A BRIEF HISTORY OF
THE DRY LAKES RACERS AUSTRALIA
THE FIRST TEN YEARS

BY GEOFF.G.REA

Over the years many hot rodders in Australia have followed with interest the American dry lake racing events, mainly those held at Bonneville (a salt lake located in the state of Utah) run by the Southern Californian Timing Association (S.C.T.A).

In 1985 a group of hot rodders headed by Ted Robinette and Andy Jenkins had heard of Lake Tyrell in Victoria and decided it was worth checking this lake out as to it's suitablility to run time trials on. Unfortunately this lake was not suitable for our racing purposes.

But the ever resourceful Andy Jenkins was not deterred and over the following years he made it his objective to find a suitable lake to race on. Lake Gairdner in South Central South Australia had been mentioned in the press that a land speed record attempt would be made there by John Harkness and later by John Vevers (who did eventually run his streamlined motorcycle there), neither of these attempts were made at the time stated by the press of the day! With information about this lake and knowing that it was accessible Andy and Mike Davidson ( who would; later become the founding President of the D.L.R.A) made a trip to the lake to determine whether it would be suitable. What they found on that exploritory trip was a salt lake that would prove to be as good if not better than any other similar lake in the world.

Knowing that they had found a place where the fledgling D.L.R.A would be able to conduct events a date was set in March 1990 for the first meet, advertisements were placed in magazines and then it was a matter of seeing who would turn up to this inaugral event. Well for the amount of publicity and the lead time involved the event was quite successful, with some 25 people attending and around 8 or 9 cars running of these only 2 were purpose built race cars (Mike Davidsons historic racer and Rod Hadfileds '29 Ford roadster). Really enough can't be said for Mike Davidson's committment to this first event, if not for him we my never have got there!

So after this event all the people that had attended new what to expect, it was a real challenge just to get to the lake, having to travel the last 130 kilometres over very ordinary outback dirt roads and living in the outback for the time we are there. Yes dry lakes racing Australian style was going to be no picnic, but for many of the people that have attended year after year it is this 'doing it tough thing' that is part of the attraction.

In the following few years a lot of purpose built dry lakes cars and bikes have been built and raced with speeds ranging from 90 mph to well over 200 mph and with this year's some approaching 300 mph. In this form of racing there is virtually a class for anything and in fact the D.L.R.A decided very early in the peace to run by the rule book of the S.C.T.A.

Of course the D.L.R.A. got a fair bit of exposure in local magazines, with Larry O'Toole the editor of Australian Street Rodding attending all our events since the first and always giving a great write up in his magazine. As well as this we also got coverage in the Bonneville Racing News publication. So because of this the rest of the world was hearing about our 'little piece of salt'. To this end we saw 4 American race cars shipped out to our event in 1995 in a tour organised by Dick Williams (a manufacturer of fibreglass car bodies and parts in the US) as well as bringing a large contingent of US spectators. One of those cars shipped out was the Speed O Motive streamliner of Al Teague that at the time and still has the record as the worlds fastest wheel driven car which has run over 400 mph, unfortunately here he only ran 366 mph. From this tour many new friendships were forged and perhaps the strongest was that with Mary West and Martha and Chuck Salmen. In later years Chuck and Mary were instrumental in the D.L.R.A. obtaining by donation from the S.C.T.A their timing equipment that was being replaced with new equipment.

In the ten years since 1990 we have grown to a dedicated memebership of nearly 250, with members from all over Australia as well as overseas. At our recent event held in March 2000, we had 37 vehicles and motorcycles entered and from that had a driver entry of 52 (alot of the vehicles/bikes run more than one driver, not at the same time!). Included in those entries was 3 overseas vehicles, Casey Hill's model A Ford roadster from New Zealand, Chuck Salmen's '34 Ford roadster and Dennis Manning's streamlined bike; both from the US. This year we ran a course of nine miles.

We have developed a good working relationship with conservation and lands department, who have attended virtually all our events and seen that we are committed to looking after the area on which we race as well as the surrounding property on which we camp when we are there.

As someone who was there at the very first event and attending each one since, getting there in my '32 Ford coupe and then becoming a member of a race team (Rea Weir Mumford) after that first event to build a race car. I can say I am very proud to be associated with the D.L.R.A. and all the dedicated people who have worked together under very adverse conditions to have an organisation that runs an event with vehicles that are as good as any running in similar events in the US and this was in fact proved when 3 of the Australian built dry lakes race cars ( those being John Lynch's belly tank, Rod Hadfiled's Studebaker and Leigh Fielder's Pontiac) were shipped to the US in 1998 for the 50th Anniversay meet at Bonneville. At this event Leigh ran a record (which is a world record) in his class and John ran his best personal time ever at the time of 254 mph, unfortunately Rod experienced problems the whole time he was there but still managed runs up around the 2000 mph mark. The Americans were very impressed by the Australian's and I can say I was priveleged to be there along with a group of other Australians working on those 3 great race cars.

The sport of dry lake racing can be a little hard for some to understand, especially considering we only race once a year (believe me this is enough, when you consider what we go through to get to our race track!) and in the ten years of our existence 2 of those years we didn't get to run because the lake had water in it! So in fact our form of racing requires a great deal of patience and a very big committment (not necessarily in dollars) . As our team always says 'There is always next year'.

 

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