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Living in the fast lane

Screaming flat-out across an ancient dry salt lake at almost 400km/h on a 25-year-old, souped-up, second-hand Suzuki motorbike is probably close to most people’s definition of insanity.

Riding at almost 400km/h on a 25-year-old, second-hand Suzuki motorbike is probably close to most people’s definition of insanity. And Kim Krebs agrees … but she still does it!

And Kim Krebs agrees … but she still does it!

As the twitching, shuddering motorbike thunders across the salt flat at more than 110 metres per second – so fast it would whip past a Boeing 737 during final take-off – the rider is consumed by an addiction to speed while suppressing any thoughts of self-preservation.

“It is terrifying, but at the same time it is exhilarating,” Kim says.

“I am scared, but I am also confident that we have prepared the bike well.

“The surface is rock hard, but you are not in control the whole time.

“But if you start from a place of fear you’re never going to go fast.”

The Stirling land speed racer is the fastest woman in Australia on two wheels and has joined a handful of female riders in the International 200mph Club – an exclusive club reserved for those who have achieved a speed of more than 200mph (320km/h) while setting a record for the class of bike. Her top speed is just north of 390km/h set in the thinner air of the high-altitude US salt lakes of Utah while her top speed in Australia is 353km/h achieved at Lake Gairdner west of Woomera at almost sea level.

And these incredible times are made on ordinary motorbikes from the late 1990s.

The second-hand bikes have their engines modified with a turbocharger, have heavy-duty pistons and rods installed and run on special race fuel, but are basically standard street machines.

“We like the older bikes,” Kim says.

“They are well designed, have rock solid motors, are fuel injected, but were made before a lot of the modern technology was added.

“We do break a lot of them because we’re asking them to do a lot … but we can still access parts from the wreckers.”

We’re a like-minded group of nutters

Kim Krebs

Kim says the land speed racing community in Australia is like an “underground cult”.

“We’re a like-minded group of nutters,” she laughs.

It seems an apt description.

Riders, she says, can get sucked off heir bikes at top speed if they break the slipstream by lifting their heads. She has seen it happen.

And if you do fall off you have to hope you don’t go into a bone breaking 350km/h tumble across the salt.

The trick is to slide on your back … but achieving that is pure luck.

Cross winds can play havoc during high speed runs and there can be sodden patches in the salt where water remains.

She has had her engine catch fire at 320km/h – something she only realised when she started to get hot.

Oh, and the front brakes are removed and the rear ones are useless at excessive speed.

It’s like riding a missile … and at the end of two runs participants are rewarded with nothing more than a printout of their time.

That’s it.

There’s no ticker-tape parade, no mainstream media attention, no lucrative sponsorship deals. Just a few post-race beers with the other ‘nutters’ on the lake’s edge with a slowly sinking outback sun and about a billion stars emerging in the darkening sky.

In Australia there is almost no industry sponsorship … generally it’s an amateur sport.

Kim Krebs

Kim says it would be nice for the sport to receive a little more recognition but likes its low-key status.

“In Australia there is almost no industry sponsorship … generally it’s an amateur sport.”

She says the strong sense of co-operation and camaraderie among the participants stems from its grass roots base and “doing something stupid together”.

“There’s no room for egos,” she says.

“We’re part of a family of land speed racers.

“We know it’s risky, but everything we do is to mitigate the risk.”

The annual event at Lake Gairdner is usually held in late February when the lake is dry allowing the ‘track’ to be prepared by a tractor pulling a heavy iron bar to flatten the worst of the bumps.

The racing surface is 30 metres wide and seven miles (11km) long (measurements are taken in miles as the sport is US-based).

Witches hats placed every quarter mile (400 metres) give riders some sense of direction in the blindingly white, shimmering hot and almost featureless landscape.

Riders have three miles (4.8km) to reach their top speeds and are timed for the next three miles to record their fastest mile.

They must take a second run within two hours (no mechanical work is allowed, only inspection and refueling) and their overall time is the average of their fastest mile on the first attempt and the same mile section on their second run. “It all happens really quickly,” Kim says.

“Ultimately you are chasing land speed records, but some people are different.

“Some are chasing personal records … they’ve built the bike and want to know how fast they can get it to go.

“But there’s a collective attitude that you only ever borrow a record from history because you’ve taken it from someone else and someone is going to take it from you.”

Kim Krebs.

The quietly spoken environmentalist is a million miles away from the stereotype of a reckless petrol head.

Away from the salt lakes, she’s the general manager of the Alinytjara Wilurara Landscape Board (which covers the 20% of SA on the WA/NT border west of the Stuart Highway) and has a long association with the environment.

Charged with the responsibility of overseeing the environmental integrity of the vast, sparsely populated region, Kim is a lover of the outback landscape.

“It is a stunning part of the world,” she says.

“We are ensuring we don’t lose the plants and animals we already have as well as managing the pests.

“We are trying to reverse the wrongs of what was well intentioned in the past.”

The board is battling to overcome the spread of buffel Grass, a cattle feed introduced by early pastoralists, but which turned out to be largely unpalatable and highly invasive.

It is now a major issue in the region, as is the pressure placed on the environment from feral horses, donkeys, camels and cats.

It’s a role that regularly takes her into the State’s far north and next February she’ll head back to the outback again – but work will take a back seat this time.

She’ll have nothing but speed on her mind … and an old 1990s Suzuki in the trailer.

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