> BLUE MOUNTAINS, NSW
GEMMA Dunn is a salt lake racer who has gone as fast as 234mph, at Lake Gairdner’s Speed Week last year (check out the feature on this year’s event on p94). She’s also a clay target shooter, with aspirations of representing Australia at the Olympic Games. Yep, this super-competitive uni student definitely isn’t your average 21-year-old.
How did you get into salt racing?
My dad, Mark, got into it via the hot rod community about 20 years ago and built his own salt car. Dad and my brother Kurt raced for a few years, and then eventually built the orange car that we all race now. I first started racing when I was 17 years old, just after I got my L-plates! Even though the car was capable of 200mph, the licence system only allowed me to do up to 125mph initially. But the car didn’t have a speedo and Dad wasn’t quite sure what revs would get the car to 125mph, so I was a little clueless as to how much to push the engine. When I came back from my first-ever run they told me I had done 180mph!
Ever had any hairy moments in the car?
I’ve never had an accident on the salt or on the road (I drive like a grandma), but this year I had my first scary moment. I was heading towards 240mph, and near the 4.5-mile marker the car hit a bump and it didn’t quite settle properly because there’s no suspension; I got a little bit of wheelspin and the car started to veer off course slightly. So I pulled the parachute and backed off and the car went straight again.
You joined the 200mph Club at Speed Week 2015 with a 234mph run; how fast did you end up going this year?
I did 231mph, but I wanted to go faster than that. If I didn’t have that drama with the bumps and backing out early, the car probably would have got close to 240mph. I always want to go faster because I’m very competitive, but at the end of the day the goal is to make it to the end of the track safely.
Tell us a little bit about the car.
It’s a bellytank lakester powered by an aspirated 417-cube small-block Chev V8. It has a quickchange gearbox and diff so we can change the ratios easily at the track, which is handy because we only drive the car once a year so it’s hard to prepare for the event. This is the first year we’ve run it on race fuel too, so we didn’t know what gears to run until we made our first pass.
Do you ever work on the car yourself?
It’s mainly the two boys, but I help them out whenever they needed an extra pair of hands. I can weld, cut and grind but I leave the engine and transmission stuff with them.
And you’re an aspiring Olympian?
Yes, I do clay target shooting. I am in the top 10 in Australia and I tried to make the Rio Games but I missed out because of my age. Most shooters are in their prime in their 30s, because they’re more mature and able to deal with the pressure of competing at such a high level – shooting is a very mental sport. I’m taking a break this year to finish my studies but I will still continue to do it and aim for the 2020 Games, because I enjoy it and I want to take it to the highest level I can.
How did you get into it?
It’s kind of a funny story; I stumbled into it while I was away on holidays with my family back in 2007. We met two Olympic shooters and after talking to them I was keen to give it a go. At this point neither I nor my dad had ever done shooting, so it was new to both of us. We went to a range one day and I’ve been doing it ever since.
AT SPEED WEEK THIS YEAR I DID 231MPH, BUT I WANTED TO GO FASTER THAN THAT. IF I DIDN’T HAVE TO BACK OUT EARLY THE CAR PROBABLY WOULD HAVE GOT CLOSE TO 240MPH