SOUTH Australia's Lake Gairdner humbles heroes and rewards persistence but mostly treats people with disdain.
One of Australia's largest salt lakes, Gairdner also stands unique as the only place in Australia where wheeled vehicles can go at lightning speeds, glistening earthbound missiles streaking across a sparkling white background.
For the last 29 years, for just one week of each of those years, the Dry Lake Racers Australia group has taken a small section of the vast salt pan, marked out a straight strip with a vanishing point disappearing over the horizon, and challenged the world's fastest riders and drivers to have a shot at high speed glory.
One man who took on the challenge is Medowie's Gavin Manning, a diesel mechanic who raced trucks when the sport was popular. When that popularity waned, he decided to chase records instead, converting his Ford Cargo race truck into a record contender with which to battle the arid salt lake.
The modest Ford soon became "Frankentruck", a monster mover seemingly built in the mad mechanic's lab. A 12.7-litre turbo-diesel engine was bolted-in, a few aerodynamic modifications made and the potential record breaker given the name "Diesel Arrow".
Manning went to the salt for the 2005 National Speed Trials with a bucketful of hope and came home with a long, long checklist of things he needed to do.
"We learned a lot about what we shouldn't do on that first trip and when we got home we started all over again, keeping the basic chassis and pretty much changing everything else," he recalls.
Diesel Arrow was completely redesigned, stripped bare and rebuilt. The Ford cab went west, replaced by a low-slung, centrally-mounted, single-seat cockpit, the engine moved from beneath the cab to behind it, sitting centrally in the chassis.
Wide, aerodynamic sidepods were fitted along each side to both help with high speed stability and enclose the coolant tanks needed for the radiators cooling the engine, automatic transmission and turbochargers. A full undertray and rear sidepod extensions were also fitted to maximise straight line speed.
Aircraft tyres - Boeing 737 up front and 747 rubber at the back and all four filled with nitrogen - were employed to manage both the high speeds and heat that would destroy conventional truck tyres.
Engine capacity was increased and a lurid blue paint job finished the package.
In 2010 Gavin nabbed the national Unlimited Diesel Truck class record, topping-out with a 250.653km/h run. Happy as he was with that, he was not truly satisfied and this year planned to smash his own record, confident that 280km/h was possible while secretly hoping for more.
Engine capacity was lifted to 23 litres and the single turbocharger deemed insufficient, necessitating the addition of a second one. Power was estimated at 1500 kilowatts, enough to push Diesel Arrow to a potential 300km/h top speed. Why estimated? Because finding the machinery capable of accurately measuring its output is almost impossible.
"We're not sure how much power and torque it makes but an engineer from one of our sponsors, Brent and Warburton, calculated that we'd need about 1750 kilowatts to run 320km/h," Gavin said.
Measuring some eight metres long, almost three metres wide and weighing-in at around eight tonnes, Diesel Arrow is far from petite but the weight is actually a big help, used to advantage to keep the truck low to the ground and firmly planted on the salt at speed.
"We have about three kilometres of track to build-up speed so we use the truck's weight not only to keep it on the surface but also to keep it stable," he said.
On Tuesday, March 5, after a day-and-a-half lost to the weather and timing equipment failure, Diesel Arrow finally sat in the Lake Gairdner staging area, crew members busying themselves preparing for the launch.
One lay on the cockpit roof securing Gavin's multi-point safety harness and helping fit gloves and helmet, two went through a lengthy pre-start procedure, three attached and detached the cables and hoses needed to make the monster run and another was in the Kenworth prime mover used to push Diesel Arrow out of the staging area and onto the track.
And that is where years of planning, much burning of midnight oil and way too many hours of hurting, swearing and sweating all came undone, the carefully crafted plan crashing down just 90 seconds after launch.
At 5.22pm and four kilometres from the start Gavin aborted the run, backing-off the throttle and bringing to a disappointing end a plan developed over almost a decade.
Trouble struck the ultra-aerodynamic, custom-made truck within seconds of the push-off. A gearbox issue made for a muffed start and Manning aborted the run a minute later when he couldn't get full power from the huge turbocharged diesel engine.
"It only got going at the two-mile (3.2km) mark and I pulled-out at the three-mile (4.8km) mark. It wasn't blowing thick black smoke like it should have been and it had no power, so I pulled out of the run.
"After that it was all over. There's just no point in tearing-up equipment for no good reason," Gavin said.
"It was either the fuel-injection system or the turbos. No fuel or no turbos and either way, we won't know until we tear the engine down and we can't do that here (at Lake Gairdner)", he added.
This year he planned to smash his own record, confident that 280km/h was possible while secretly hoping for more.
While most race teams are close-knit by necessity the Diesel Arrow team is united by blood and if Gavin's small team of helpers was disappointed they tried not to show it.
Gavin's younger brother Howard and his father Doug, son Adam, daughter Jodie Cassar and her husband Paul, son-in-law Mick Capriotti, nephews Zac, Jake and Dan, uncle Colin and cousin David were all willing workers.
Josh Nea, a New Caledonian mechanic who trained in the Hunter under Gavin, joked about changing his surname to 'Manning' for the few days the team was on the lake.
In a wonderful display of positive thinking Gavin refused to see the aborted mission as a failure.
"No, it's not a fail, it's all good. We learned a lot and we didn't break the truck. We'll debrief, regroup and come back in a couple of years and give it another go."
Family patriarch Doug Manning has been going to Lake Gairdner with Gavin since 2005 and even chose to bypass his 65th wedding anniversary to be on the salt this year. Soon to turn 88, Doug is making a few plans of his own.
"The boys (Gavin and Howard) are already talking about coming back out here in two years. I'd like to think I could be with them," Manning Senior said.
"If the dates are right I could even celebrate my 90th birthday out here. You never know."
And a new Australian Land Speed Record, delivered by his rapid son and a big blue truck, would make one hell of a birthday gift.