Gary Taylor purchased his current Polaris buggy in December 2015 with one condition from his wife – that he enter the Finke Desert Race.
Funnily enough, Taylor was okay with that as Finke was on the bucket list. Having lived in the Northern Territory for over 25 years, Taylor was familiar with Australia’s hardest off-road event.
In 2016, Taylor raced the Aust4 Series in Queensland, all of three races, to get some experience under his belt before heading into the NT desert.
The Queenslander entered the BFGoodrich CAMS Australian Off Road Championship in 2017 but decided not to race at the St George 399.
“St George was the closest to me (but) I didn’t enter as I didn’t want to damage the buggy before Finke as it was 18 months in the planning,” explained Taylor.
“I built my Polaris buggy with the help of East Coast Powersports’s prior to Finke, upgrading most parts of it as I had heard how rough Finke was.
“I had hardly any seat time really by the time it came around but I reckon I would have watched at least 30 hours of YouTube videos in preparation and at the time I saw this as serious training.”
Fellow Queenslander and bike rider Jamie Hacker was happy to be in the co-drivers seat despite having only a few hours in the buggy about eight months prior.
Nevertheless, Taylor and Hacker managed to finish the Finke Desert Race on their first attempt, placing sixth in the Superlite A class and 54th outright from 140 competitors.
The event was not without some close calls, mainly due to the extreme dust.
“There were plenty of times when I was using the tops of the trees to work out which way the road went,” said Taylor.
“I think the worst one was on the way back from Finke around 100kms out. I totally missed a corner and the back end flipped up on the berm as I went over it only to be greeted by a major wash out. I thought we were going to be out of the race and severely hurt at this point but we came out the other side alright.
“I still see a lady and her three kids on the corner waving and a look of ‘Oh s**t on their faces as that was the last thing I saw before going over the berm!”
Taylor particularly enjoyed the inaugural Rainbow Desert Enduro in Victoria this year, round three of the BFGoodrich CAMS AORC.
“I think Rainbow was my favourite track and event… the low temperatures and rain made it a major challenge and to me harder than Finke on both machine and body.
“To see such a small town get behind the event was great…the atmosphere in the main street on Friday night was pretty cool.”
Taylor and Hacker experienced clutch issues before the event, but some late-night work saw them on the start line despite the Polaris being down on speed for the rest of the race.
Taylor remembers the fourth lap on day two as one of the highlights of the event.
“The track had somewhat dried out and going around corners was awesome at speed.
“I remember hitting the road crossing at high speed on this lap but I don’t think there was anyone there to capture what felt like I was six feet in the air.”
Taylor and Hacker went on to grab first in the Superlite A class and 13th outright in what was a race of attrition, many competitors failing to finish one or both sections in the treacherous conditions.
Taylor admits he hadn’t intended to contest the BFGoodrich CAMS AORC this year.
“I look back at the year now and realise it was really only my intention to enter the Finke but I paid for the AORC series thinking why not,” Taylor said.
“It was only after Finke where I saw on Facebook that I was coming second so I thought it made sense to drive to Rainbow from the Gold Coast to compete in round three.
“It was even more of a shock when my wife called me a couple of weeks after to say that I had won my class in the AORC. I didn’t think it was possible but with points and a half in the last round that was the clincher.
“Next year will be interesting as I think I have the bug now. I don’t think there are too many sports out there that a person off the street with a car or buggy can line up on the grid with the best in Australia.
“To be only metres away from the pro buggies and trophy trucks that take out the championship every year is a pretty cool thing.”