Where are they now? Stephen Greenfield | Columns | Gassit Garage
Stephen Greenfield – still winning at the Finke Desert Race
The celebrations were long and hard on the Queen’s Birthday weekend in 1997 when Stephen Greenfield took his first Finke Desert Race victory. He’d previously made the podium on several occasions, but now it was finally time to celebrate a win.
“I was 16 years old when I got my rookie run in 1986,” he recalls, “and on the return to Alice Springs I’d just moved up to 10th place when a rock holed the radiator. The DNF was a disappointment, but even at that age it proved that winning was possible – it just didn’t come for 12 years. When it did it was a major night. And I still remember bits of it.”
‘Greeny’ went on to take a back-to-back win in the two-leg race the following year and was in the box seat to take the hat trick in 1999 when a hose clamp snapped, ending any chance of a win. “I just chugged on despondently at about 20 kays and my teammate Rick Hall roosted up wondering WTF? Through hand signals I let him know my problem was terminal and urged him on to a well-deserved win.”
The pair took the quinella in 2000 with Greeny on the top step, and did it again in 2002 with the positions reversed.
“On a good day you could stretch the Honda CR500 to 185km/h. It’s taken 10 years for the four-strokes to achieve those same top speeds.”
Greeny’s last win in 2004 was on a Honda CRF450R four-stroke and many competitors claimed ‘the sly old fox’ – then aged 34 – had some secret.
“There are no secrets” he says. “You’ve just got to be prepared to ride that much closer to the trees and rocks on either side of the track and know which sections you can confidently use a road-racing line on, and realise when you can reduce fatigue by letting the suspension do most of the hard work. If you’ve got the right package on the day anything can happen. I may not have been match fit in 2004, but I figure maybe that win was just reward for all the effort I’d put in over 20 years.”
And 20 years after he first took on our most notorious desert race as a 16-year-old
rookie, Greeny hung up his helmet. Four wins, 10 podiums, three DNFs and 37 sets of multiple X-rays later, he was done racing.
Along the way he’d also won the 1999 Australian Safari (as a rookie), an accomplishment he dismisses as an exercise in map reading – though one suspects that, given the opportunity, he’d have happily taken those map-reading skills to the Dakar.
“Certainly I was aware of Dakar, but at the time Africa was logistically and financially impossible, so far out of reach it wasn’t even a dream.” Not when marriage to Giselle and establishing the Desert Edge Motorcycle business with Steven Gunner and 2001 Finke winner Michael Vroom was top of the agenda.
Having sold out of the bike shop in 2009, Greeny took on a position as security officer at the Alice Springs Correctional Centre just south of town. “Regular hours, regular pay and no weekend work,” he says. What he doesn’t say is that the position leaves plenty of shed time…
And this is not just time tinkering with his 16-year-old son Bradley’s Yamaha YZ250FX for his Finke debut in June. Or Greeny’s own Honda CRF450 and Yamaha FJ1100. At any one time there will be half a dozen bikes in his shed being prepared for desert racing, be it Finke or Hattah.
Since his ‘retirement’, GDR (Greenfield Desert Racing) has become the go-to shop for suspension that will survive the rigours of Finke; Greeny has laid his magic hands on more than 100 of the most competitive machines in the field.
But get in early if you want the same meticulous suspension set-up that has carried Toby Price to victory for the past two years – and looks likely to do so again in a few weeks. Greenfield may no longer be on the Finke podium, but he’s fettled nine of the past 10 winners.
By Peter Whitaker