The Tatts Finke Desert Race, known as Australia's fastest and greatest desert race, is an off road, multi terrain two-day race for bikes, cars, buggies and quads through desert country from Alice Springs to the small Aputula (Finke) community. The race is held each year on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in June. "Finke" as it is commonly known, is one of the biggest annual sporting events in the Northern Territory and it has the reputation of being one of the most difficult offroad courses in one of the most remote places in the world.
The race started in 1976 as a "there and back" challenge for a group of local motorbike riders to race from Alice Springs to the Finke River and return. After the success of this initial ride, the Finke Desert Race has been held annually on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend ever since. The race is run along sections of what was the Old Ghan railway service track adjacent to the railway line along a winding corrugated track, which snakes through typical outback terrain of red dirt, sand, spinifex, mulga and desert oaks. Even though the railway was realigned and rebuilt in the early 1980s, with the old tracks being pulled up, the race continues along its original course.
While originally the Finke was only a bike race, its increasing popularity saw the introduction of cars and off road buggies in 1988. A rivalry developed between the two and four wheelers, as the buggies were keen to claim the holy grail of the race outright winner or "King of the Desert" as it is known. For 11 consecutive years the bikes were too quick for the cars despite the gap constantly narrowing. Finally in 1999, a buggy returned home first to claim the honour. With the bikes winning back the title in 2000 and 2001. From 2002 until 2004 the buggies held onto the "King of the Desert" title. In 2005 the title was changed to see two "Kings of the Desert", one for the cars and one for bikes, each picking up $10,000 for their effort. Although the bikes and cars no longer race against each other for the title, it is always interesting to see who completes the 460 km round trip quickest.