I love the smell of methanol in the morning.
At Summernats, it doesn’t take long to forget that the real world still exists outside the cyclone fence. Reality quietly melts and reforges itself around you as you continue to explore all that this iconic Australian event has to offer.
Before you know it, you’re smack-bang in the middle of a brave new world that exists somewhere between the wild west, Mad Max and Lord Of The Flies.
Indeed, Canberra’s Epic Showground is considered sacred by many; tens of thousands of pilgrims travel far and wide on an annual basis to reaffirm their staunch belief in horsepower, and to be baptised in fire, melted rubber, and eyeball-scorching CH₃OH fumes.
Summernats provides an experience like no other on the planet and deserves to be added to the bucket list of any true automotive enthusiast. That said, this temporary dystopian society may be a baby step outside of the comfort zone for some, and even feel a little daunting for a first-timer.
I’d organised this story around the planned indoctrination of our resident South African Speedhunter, Stefan, who at the time of writing this piece is holidaying with his family just a half-hour drive away in Sydney.
But family time and the possible threat of being trapped in Canberra due to the horrific wildfires we’re experiencing, turned my Summernats 33 into a solo adventure.
Fear not though, between snapping photos, drooling over world-class builds and inhaling pure smoke, I took some notes to form the basis of this ‘Ultimate Summernats Survival Guide'; one that’s designed to maximise the fun, and minimise the unknown for those amongst you who one day aspire to experience the ‘Nats firsthand.Make A Gameplan
Normally, I’d be the first to suggest simply ‘winging it’, but after trying that approach and failing miserably to catch the show highlights in the past, I always check out the event schedule before I even drive south.
This triples in importance when you’re trying to cram as much of a four-day festival into a single day or a weekend. Be mindful of how massive the showgrounds are, and budget for up to a 15-minute walk with no distractions if you’re making your way across the entire park.Slip, Slop, Slap
I’m unsure of how widely used this phrase is outside of Australia, but every single child who grew up here has ‘Slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen, and slap on a hat’ etched into our memory. Don’t forget to reapply that suncream every couple of hours, either.
My very least favourite thing about the ‘Nats is the lack of shade and protection from the brutal summer sun. If there’s an option of standing, sitting, or lining up nearby but in shade, make the move. You won’t notice the difference it makes early on in day, but by mid-afternoon I guarantee you’ll appreciate every last millimetre of shade you find.
Seriously, Canberra feels like the hottest place on the planet. Which may make a great segue to the very next point…Stay Hydrated
The incredible Derek Zoolander taught us that “water is the essence of wetness.” Well, I’m here to teach you that bourbon-flavoured slushies and VB (Victorian Bitter) are the essences of Summernats.
It’s just fortunate that the event’s organizers understand how incredibly important it is to stay hydrated during the Australian summer, and a refreshing beverage is never more just a few feet away within the entire zone, with almost no exceptions. Obviously, there are strict rules around drink driving.
I must have looked pretty close to being cooked when I rolled up a bar mid-afternoon. As I shuffled over slowly, cameras swinging off each hip, this complete stranger stood up and offered and to buy me a beer. After refusing at least three times, I submitted and thanked my newest Summernats buddy, Jason, for the coldest and most refreshing can of VB ever.
Seriously though, you’ve got to be having an awesome time to be in the mood to buy a total stranger a drink. That’s the spirit of Summernats right there – thanks, mate!Sample Fine International Cuisine
Ok, so this next survival tip will definitely decrease your chances of survival, but hell, we only live once. I’m not sure how or why or even when, but it’s an unwritten law that every attendee needs to consume at least one corn dog, dagwood dog, pluto pup, or whatever other silly local names there are for a deep-fried sausage on a stick.
So this might not really be an unwritten law, but it’s still a box I need to tick before I’m willing to claim that I’ve ‘done’ another Summernats. Bonus tip: go deep with that sauce.Be Kind
One of the most daunting elements of Summernats for some is also one of the most fun. There’s no denying that it’s a motley crew assembled within the gates of this event; the die-hard fans of Aussie muscle cars, burnouts, and classic rock are indeed a special breed.
Australians would refer to them as ‘bogans’ with an air of disdain, while those who wear that title usually do so proudly. While I’m lacking arm tats and the traditional hairstyle (read: mullet), I’m pretty sure I’m somewhat of a closet bogan myself.
Possibly the very most important survival tip I can offer is simply to be nice and show some respect to those around you. This isn’t to say that there aren’t any dickheads at Summernats – you’ll find those wherever people assemble in numbers.
But they are few and far between at Summernats. The vast majority of punters who attend this event would likely go further out of their way to ensure everybody has a great time than your average Joe on a regular city street.
Even if at times the crowd is a bit on the loud and boisterous side, there’s usually no ill will or intent. They’re just there to party and to have a good time.
Embrace the loudness – you may find it enjoyable.