To say Josh Gaskin had a memorable Polaris Motorsport Australia Off Road Championship (AORC) debut would be an understatement.
A broken exhaust, a significantly ill navigator, and a solo recovery drive were all part of what was a remarkable weekend.
Despite the challenges facing Gaskin, it was a weekend that ended with the Victorian leading the national Sportslite class; all thanks to a determined drive, and one that showcased Gaskin’s persistence and never-give-up attitude.
After five years of competing in local and state events, the Wentworth Shire Pooncarie Desert Dash was meant to be straightforward for Gaskin.
The aim was to finish and get important seat time in order to qualify for Finke, and a good Prologue from Gaskin and navigator Lee O’Grady was the perfect start.
However just 35 kilometres into Section 1, they were thrown their first curve ball of the weekend as they broke an exhaust manifold bolt – a mechanical failure that required a tow back into the pits.
Unfortunately their day was done, but the team remained focused on getting back on course for Sunday.
Working well into the night, the team managed to get the car back into working order and ready for the remaining three laps for what was fast becoming a challenging event for all.
But that’s when the real drama started.
“We were on the start line, just about to start the section and Lee felt a pinch,” Gaskin said.
“We didn’t think anything of it until we were halfway through the lap when he started to feel really ill.
“I stopped the car to help him, and we discovered he had been bitten by a red back spider, which we believe had crawled into the suit overnight.
“At this point, we had to act fast, so I put him back in the car and drove as fast as I could around the track to get him back to the pits. All while he was vomiting in his helmet.
“Eventually we made it back, and the medics were really quick in their response in coming to his aid, so he ended up being okay but it could have been way worse.
“We have now given him the nickname Spiderman; although he didn’t get any of the powers, which is a shame.”
With his navigator with the safe hands of medics, Gaskin still needed to finish the race and he began a desperate search to find a new navigator to join him.
Sadly, there was no one available. Therefore Gaskin made the decision to remove the passenger seat and tackle the remaining two laps solo in a courageous move.
Fortunately, Gaskin would experience no more trouble in those remaining two laps, as he powered on and even overtook some cars in the process.
It was a drive that proved a major confidence booster for debutant, as he came away with the section win for the class.
“We made the decision to go out once we knew Lee was okay, so we pulled the seat out and I got going,” Gaskin added.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be up there, but we were the only car in our class at that point and I thought we may as well finish it.
“It was a bit of a struggle in the dust, but we caught up with some of the slower cars and overtook seven of them, even with the 45-minute compulsory pit stop.
“We wanted to finish, so to get those three laps done was a really great effort and I am really proud of myself.
“Of course, I was a bit nervous going out there on my own, especially after what had happened, but honestly, I loved every minute and it was definitely a weekend I will never forget.”
Now, with his first event under his belt, Gaskin was ready to tackle an event that had long been on his radar.
“It was important to finish, so we could qualify for Finke,” Gaskin said.
“I am a bit new to the sport, but it has been on the list ever since I started around five years ago.
“My first goal was to do a national round, which I have now done, so I am excited to head to Alice Springs and do this amazing event.
“I am going for class win, but the aim is to finish. We are super prepared and even have sprayed the race trailer with spider repellent spray, which should keep us in the clear.”
The Tatts Finke Desert Race takes place in Alice Springs on 9-11 June.