Jason McMillan is set to compete in his fifth Finke Desert Race and his reason for entering the event has not changed.

“I feel proud,” he told Stateline NT.

“We’re racing on Arrernte country and we’re Arrernte locals passing through that land.”

A man holds his bike at a race track.

Jason McMillan says he competes for pride and to inspire his community.(ABC Alice Springs: Hamish Harty)

This year, 465 riders and drivers will take on the gruelling 226-kilometre track from Alice Springs to the remote community of Finke (Apatula) and back in what is widely regarded as Australia’s toughest off-road race.

Some are driven to compete by the thrill of gliding through air as the dust soars around them, while others are drawn by the challenge of navigating the formidable path on two or four wheels.

For a select few it is the chance of being crowned King of Desert and their name inscribed in the history books.

A young man with his arm in a sling stands in the desert.

Terence Conway will be cheering on his grandpa from the sidelines.(ABC Alice Springs: Hamish Harty)

Hailing from the remote community of Santa Teresa, McMillan would ordinarily be joined by his grandson and apprentice, Terence Conway, at the start line on race day.

But like a considerable minority of competitors the youngster fell victim to injury in the lead up and has been sidelined with a broken collarbone.

A dirt bike rider races through the desert.

There are 465 entrants at the 2024 Finke Desert Race.(ABC Alice Springs: Xavier Martin)

Now he’ll be among a large contingent of family from the remote community camping along the track and cheering McMillan on.

“I just do it for the kids and the families from Santa Teresa, and it makes them happy,” McMillan said.

A young woman leans on a dirt bike.

Danielle Foot is gunning for a place in the top 50.(ABC Alice Springs: Hamish Harty)

Eyeing the top 50

Danielle Foot rode a motorbike for the first time when she was six and her journey to the Finke has been years in the making.

The Geelong-based rider, 24, turned heads in 2022 as the fastest female rider and the first to compete on two wheels and as co-driver of a Can-Am Maverick.

This year Foot has only one goal — to finish among the top 50 riders.

“I’ve never made it, unfortunately, in the seven years that I’ve done it,” she said.

“But if we get better than that I’ll be pretty stoked.”

A dirt bike rider navigates through a tough-looking track.

The event runs on the King’s Birthday long weekend every year in the Northern Territory.(ABC Alice Springs: Xavier Martin)

Despite a drop in the total number of entrants for this year’s and last year’s race, Finke 2024 will have more women competing than ever before in its 48-year history.

Foot wants to encourage more women to get involved in the traditionally male-dominated sport.

“I’ve definitely come up against some blokes that weren’t too happy that I was faster, so I think, growing up, that’s got me to the front,” she said.

“They don’t really scare me anymore, and I think it’s cool when they get up to the podium and it’s me that’s at the top step instead of them.”

A smiling man sits in a garage in front of a dirt bike.

David Walsh could equal his childhood hero’s record if he wins again this year.(ABC Alice Springs: Hamish Harty)

A place in history

More than 10,000 spectators are expected to line the Red Centre track this year and all eyes will be on one man.

Reigning bike champion David Walsh is hoping to win the desert race five years running and equal his childhood hero, Randall Gregory.

“As a kid, we’d always be out on our bikes, camping at Finke, pretending to be him riding around,” the Alice Springs local said.

A dune buggy tearing through the desert.

Thousands of spectators and hundreds of riders will be at the event.(ABC Alice Springs: Xavier Martin)

A carpenter by trade, Walsh said chasing after the nearly 30-year-old record would not be his focus, but he admitted the winning feeling has become addictive.

“Once you’ve got it, you don’t want to let it go — you don’t want any position other than first,” he said.

“Once you’ve got the taste, you don’t want to get it out of your mouth.”