It's that time of year when car lovers flood the capital for Summernats. For many Canberrans, this yearly migration is a cause of confusion and even annoyance. But those people are just missing out on the fun and benefits of hosting Australia's largest car festival.
In the interest of inclusiveness, The Canberra Times has compiled a Mug's Guide to Summernats in a bid to share the joy.
What is Summernats?
Summernats is Australia's largest car festival. It's basically lots and lots of people, and lots and lots of hotted-up cars, all crammed into Exhibition Park. Created by the late Canberran Chic Henry in 1988, the four-day horsepower party, now in its 36th year, attracts crowds of more than 100,000.
Why do people go?
Put simply: they love cars. Summernats caters to a broad audience of modified-car enthusiasts, with competitions that cover everything from the quality of paintwork and engineering to who can burn the most rubber during a burnout.
What happens there?
Anything and everything linked to car culture. Events such as the city cruise and burnout competitions are festival mainstays. In recent years, concerts on Friday and Saturday nights featuring renowned Australian acts have become very popular with festival goers. This year it's the Screaming Jets, Daryl Braithwaite and Grinspoon on show.
Skid Row is a short stretch of road, lined with concrete barriers, where Summernats cars can burn rubber in front of crowds. It is the best place to see (and hear!) the modified cars in action (provided you can tolerate the smoke).
What are the events?
Headline events include the Summernats city cruise, burnout competitions, horsepower heroes (the car with the most horsepower), driving events to test driver skills, body art nationals, and concerts.
Cars parade on Northbourne from the showground, down to Civic and back again, in the city cruise. In the burnout comp, drivers shred their tyres as smoke billows up into the air.
There's also the horsepower heroes, which tests which car pushes the most horsepower at the wheels across a variety of engine categories. There are other driving events such as the motorkhana, circle work, and grab-a-flag. Motorkhana is a time trial where drivers race to be the fastest around a series of markers. Circle work has drivers timed as they race around cones in a clover leaf pattern. Grab a flag is a team event where a passenger collect flags from six parking bays while being timed.
It's all about driving skill, and the top-ranked team in 2023 were in a Mini Moke!
In the body art nationals, people can wins prizes for showing off their ink (best arm, best leg, etc), while it also includes art shows, airbrushing displays, live tattooing and even official Summernats tattoos for the diehard fans.
READ MORE: Your Summernats 2024 guide
Isn't there a Summernats grand champion each year? How do they decide that?
The grand champion is the most prestigious award on offer at Summernats. To be crowned grand champion, competitors must be a top ten elite show-judged car, feature highly in the people's choice, and then compete in the driving events. To win the Chic Henry sword of honour, the car must be both near perfect and popular as a show vehicle and the driver must be technically proficient.
Doesn't it have a bad reputation?
Yeah, it does. There have been plenty of unsavoury events over the years, particularly involving women and particularly in the evenings when the booze has been flowing through the day. Organisers have been working to clean it up and give it a more family friendly atmosphere, though, and it's generally pretty safe during the day time.
What happened to Miss Summernats?
Axed. Summernats cancelled the beauty pageant as it attempts to crack down on sexual harassment and improve inclusiveness at the annual car show. Summernats used to also run a wet T-shirt contest, too, but that was cancelled in 2010, and the strip show went a few years after that, too. Rightly or wrongly, the festival previously had a reputation as a no-go zone for women. The car show has a strict no-tolerance policy in relation to harassment of any other patron.
Does it spill over to other parts of Canberra?
Yes. Summernats is estimated to attract more than 100,000 visitors, provide employment to 700, and generate $20 million in revenue a godsend in an otherwise quiet time in the capital. Lots of Summernats attendees also spend time in Braddon in particular, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. The government has closed some roads from 5pm for three days as part of the Summernats Fringe Festival, so you'll need to get there early if you want to see them.
Legend suggests that northside service stations, eateries, and bottle shops become the busiest in Australia during the four-day event. Expect big queues if you try to get in to the Dickson Woolies, Coles or Maccas in particular. National institutions, accommodation, pubs, clubs, and adult entertainment venues in Fyshwick are all also expected to share in the revenue. If you live in the inner north, you're going to hear plenty of loud engines and spinning tyres, too.
I don't understand what they're saying. What are those terms they are using?
- Burnout = spinning a cars wheels so as to cause the tyres to heat up and smoke due to friction.
- Body art = tattoos.
- City cruise = Summernats entrants drive their cars from Exhibition into Civic and back again to mark the start of the festival.
- Street machine = a customised or modified car built to be driven on the street.
- Circle work = like an off-road burnout and driving the car around in tight circles.
- Horsepower = A unit of measurement of power commonly used when referring to an engines output.
- Show 'n' shine = where cars are displayed and judged on presentation.
Summernats 2024 is at EPIC from January 4-7.
- A version of this article was first published in 2018