SO... WHAT'S THE STORY??
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: : THE VAN WAS PACKED : : 

It was time to go.
Some last minute errands around Sydney, and the boys swung past in their white panel van, 'Rambler Co.' plastered over it's sides.  
I shoved my stuff - 4 bags of camera and camping gear - wherever it would fit. 
The van was packed full.  Where we were headed we'd have to take everything we needed with us.
And with little fanfare, we were off, headed out into the middle of nowhere!

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The roadtrip was for a little side project - we were headed for 'Speed Week', a yearly event that takes place in the middle of the Australian Outback, in Lake Gairdner, South Australia.
The Lake.. isn't a Lake... it's a dry salt flat.
And 'Speed Week' of really a series of races in which contestants don't race each other so much as try to break the speed limits of their vehicles.
We were there, of course... for the motorcycles.

Myself; I was there to capture the action, to assist in photography and videography for a mate who was producing a short video on the man himself - Keeley Pritchett. 
Keeley, had built a motorbike solely for this race, from a whole bunch of bits and pieces, with a singular goal in mind - to smash the old 100cc record.
It was going to be an interesting time of it out there that was for sure.
"Packed to the rafters; everything from camping gear, to cameras, a workshop's worth of tools through to an electric generator ... oh yeah ... and a motorbike."



: : THE WAY IN : :

We had a ways to go.
Our destination was a good 3 days drive into the red centre.
A trip out West in Aus is just not a trip, unless you cut through the hayplains .. one of Australia's less exciting drives, if rather scenic at times.
A stop in Canberra with mates, a campsite in Port Augusta and then a solid drive on dirt tracks into a place with no mobile phone tower for miles .... and we would arrive.

Our gear covered wound up absolutely covered in red dust from the trail in.  The seal on the van created a suction effect, and we had no airconditioning; so it was down with the windows and in with the dust.   Thickly coating every surface and getting in everything ... even the finely tuned motors of Keeleys bike (it doesn't have an air filter).

DUST
WELCOME TO THE SALT FLATS
: : LAKE GAIRDNER : : 

The Lake is located on Aboriginal land and the edges of some remote properties, a few hours north of Port Augusta.

It's actually quite surprising, this stuff is not like the table salt you have with dinner, it's rock hard, and impossible to break in some parts. 

At one point I saw a drill overheating from the stress of trying to punch a baton-screw into the hard surface.

The lake is unbelievably huge, the section of the lake we stayed in (and that all these photos were shot in) was in fact just a tiny corner of a larger whole.  Scale is mind boggling here - we were told not to attempt to walk to the other side of the lake, you can see it, but you actually have no idea how far away it is.

Apparently; further out into the Lake the sides melt away over the horizon, and you can find places where you can't see the edges at all... just white, as far as the eye can see.

They call this place 'Natures Dynamo' and it's not hard to see why - this is as close as you'll find to an infinite flat plane on this little globe of ours. 
THE RACERS
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: : THE REAL REASON WE WERE OUT THERE : :

The Dry Lake Racers association runs Speed Week once per year. 

The racers come out here, set up campsites around the lakes edge, and pits in the middle of the flats and two very lengthy tracks that stretch from horizon to horizon.
They groom these tracks with a steel 'I' beam dragged behind a tractor, turning the concrete-hard salt into a nice marble-top finish.

There are relatively few other events like this in the world, owing to the fact that there are only really 3 locations in the world viable for this kind of racing - these salt flats in Australia, are apparently some of the best.

Who'd have thought, this was sitting right in my backyard??
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: : KEELEY PRITCHETT : :

A 22 year old mechanic, from Sydney's Inner West, Keeley was impressing alot of people whilst we were out there - not just for being one of the youngest competitors out there - but also for his choice of bike and class.  

More than a few old gents came up in the Pits to shake his hand, happy to see the next generation of speed racer coming in strong.  

One or two spectators even guessed correctly the original frame; a 1939 Excelsior, an old and forgotten model.  

This bike was far from standard though; with a Kawasaki KH100 engine shoved in it, alot of work done to every inch of the machine, and two engines sitting spare in the wings. 

He was ready for whatever the flats would throw at him.

THE MACHINES
: : MECHANICS PARADISE : :

Speed Week is open to motorbikes and cars alike. 
Most of the vehicles here are factory bikes and cars, pulled to bits, with go-fast-bits thrown in, and with anything unnecessary shaved off. 
Their owners often saving up and spending years prior to attending, just getting their machines ready.

Walking through the pits is something else though - there's no sense of over-zealous competitiveness, everyones welcoming and genuinely interested in what everyone else is doing.  There's no hiding, no privacy, the machines themselves are open for all to see and the general attitude is that the event is for the sharing of a common passion and trading of knowledge and wisdom gained in prior events.

It's really something to be able to just stroll into the preparation area for a machine that's been working on for months on end, be able to look and ask all the questions you like... but that's really what it's like. 
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: : STREAMLINERS : : 

Not all the vehicles though are souped up V8's or finely tuned lawnmowers like Keeley's record shattering machine.
Some are custom built to shatter the top records, to make singular attempts at going faster than most humans can even imagine.
Like this Streamliner, piloted by Valery Thomson from the States (so called for it's sleek teardrop shape).
These are million dollar machines that push the borders of what actually constitutes a motorcycle ... and start to err into the realm of land based rocket ship.  

This particular streamliner is been just shy of the 330 MPH mark - trying to break the record for how fast humans can go with a mere piston based engine.  
 : :  THE 100 cc CLASS  : :

Keeley had 3 attempts during the course of speed week.
The record he had to beat; the 100cc Gasoline land speed record; had been sitting unbroken @ 54.4mph for many years.
The class itself forgotten in an age where your average street hoon can buy a 1000+cc bike from his local dealer.

Well; unconcerned by the latest and greatest, Keeley was more interested in using the fine tuning and honing of his craft to beat a personal goal.
And that, he did - smashing the record on the first go.
Believing that he was capable of more, he fine tuned some things and had a second attempt on day 2, which didn't go as well, but still broke the original record.
He was starting to get physically sick from some virus he caught out there, and at some points seemed close to throwing in the towel.

But he pushed through and on the third attempt, had a ride, that was truly impressive. Smashing all previous attempts, this time, once and for all.
His final speed ... 70.862mph
THE CHARACTERS
: :  WHY?  : :

As with most of these adventures I go chasing ... the answer to the question, of why do these people do this , is best answered with another question... "Why not?" 

It might seem like a ridiculous to the armchair critic - driving out into the midde of nowhere just to make a lot of noise and operate vehicles at frankly unsafe speeds.
But who are they to judge?
What constitutes unsafe to you, would seem tame to alot of the men and women out on the salt flats. 
None of them are forced into it, and all choose to be out there for one reason above all else - the passion of it.

You don't get all the way out into the middle of nowhere, with a perfectly tuned vehicle and all the permissions to race in place; by sheer accident.
This is a choice.
And it's a choice that comes with great risk.
And of course a reward - the reward of getting to hurtle, thrillingly fast across the surface of the flatest place imaginable... with all the adrenaline that comes with that.

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And of course there's the very real argument that can be made of any motorsport, that the sport itself is what has always driven human understanding of machines forwards.
Motorbikes and cars on every day roads wouldn't be half as safe it weren't for mad bastards taking them off to the side and racing them to try and be the fastest.
It's these people that drive progress, that push the limits and find out what is possible.

This event very much keeps that tradition, the spirit of pushing the boundaries, alive. 
If I have to choose my favourite aspect to shooting at this event, it would have to be the absolute characters I met.

Not a single person I met was boring, unenthusiastic or uninteresting.  They all had a story to tell. 

Some were entertaining.  
Some were full of tales.
Some had years of mechanical wisdom.
And all were amazingly warm and welcoming, enthused to be there and happy you were there to appreciate this unique event too.
: : Simon Davidson : :

Simon's been shooting at the Salt flats here in SA and abroad at Bonneville since 2004.
His stuff is incredible, focusing heavily on his passion - all things with motors.
SPECTATING
: : WHITE OUT  : :

Not everyone out there was a racer.
 
There was no shortage of people lining the sidelines of the pits and the shore of the lake to witness their friends or family go flying over the horizon.
THE SUN SETS ON LAKE GAIRDNER
Windmills and shrubs ...
as far as the eye can see...
: : THINGS WIND DOWN : :

Eventually all good things must come to an end.
We were quite sad to leave when we did, but the same time, exhausted from many days spent out in the blazing white salt pan. 
Keeley was still sick, but had succeeded in his goal in spite of it all.  And that was what mattered - job done.

We left before the last day of the event, however this year was exceptional because the event was going to roll straight into another international speed event the next week.  One more aimed at the high end of the records - left to the streamliners and their international teams.
It would've been great to watch some of those guys absolutely screaming along, but it was time for us to go... we turned the van around and headed back to Sydney.
: : WORKING THROUGH THE NIGHT  : :

After the second race, Keeley was really sick. 
Additionally his bike needed a lot of work. 

Each attempt requires the rider to adjust, tweak and learn .. to figure out what's going on and what needs to improve to make it go faster.

With Keeley curled up and trying to sleep it off, in stepped his dad and their family friend Borgy.

The old boys rescued the day for Keel's working well into the dark to fix up the list of things and clear instructions he'd given them.

It was during this impromptu mechanics session that I think Keeley's dad came to appreciate the level of craftsmanship that had gone into the bike - and also exactly how mad it was that his son was going to take this thing hurtling down the track the next day.

But, that he did - the next day, feeling slightly better and with a bike all fixed and ready to go - thanks in main to the solid effort of the team behind him.
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: : CLEAR SKIES : :

It's renowned for it's night skies and complete lack of air or light pollution.

And being out there it's no hard to see why.

I mean.... just look at this!
AT THE END OF IT ALL....
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: : SPOTTED THIS GUY ON THE WAY OUT : :
...Guess no one told him the news about the 'lake'

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 : : STEERING BOLT  : :

So; there's this part on a motorbike called a steering head bolt.
It connects the steering column (pictured in full here) and the front wheel, to the entire rest of the bike.

Keeley's bolt fell out in the last race - rattled loose by the extreme speeds for the small frame.

To say that this is a less than ideal situation, would not even come close. 
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: : SHOOTING IN THE FIELD : :

Following Keeley and his story was no easy task.  There was no electricity out there beyond what you could bring with you... and that's exactly what we did. 

Each evening spent making sure all the batteries were topped up at the generator in preparation for the next day.

My workflow was non-stop out there; because there was just too much to shoot and only so much time.  Every morning I was up to great the perfect sunrise, and every afternoon I had the tripod out for sunset, my nights were spent watching the stars wheel over head and all day, every day I was chasing the crew around the pits or following the action on the track.

It was non-stop and serious fun.

 : : LAST LOOK  : :

Lake Gairdner is really something else, and now right up the top of the list of places I'd visit twice.

The air is crisp and dry.  There are few animals to worry about and no flies (rare in the outback).  It takes a bit to get anywhere but it's so spectacular - like looking at another planet some times - that it makes every long drive or hard hike worth it.

The event itself was friendly and welcoming, full of an interesting community of people from all walks of life.
And the racing is something completely out of this world.

If someone out there wants to give me a ride out there next year, I won't say no :)

James
Fin