The Full-Blown Summernats Experience
Welcome To Summernats

Oppressive Australian heat, sombrero hats, spilled beers and a taste that’s a bitter mixture of tyre smoke and red dust. All soundtracked beautifully by a symphony of blown V8s and the death screams of tyres.

This is Summernats, Australia’s largest and most iconic annual car culture event.

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Unable to recount how many times I’ve been randomly questioned about the festival when Summernats 32 rolled around, I thought it best to forgo the grand overview (which you can still read right here) and focus on what the event is like to attend as a regular punter.

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This year I’d trade the coveted media vest for a regular t-shirt and a camping pass, with the intention of sharing a more personal account of the weekend. I’ll take you with me as we crash a mate’s camping site, explore the event, cruise, and maybe even fry a set of tyres.

Hopefully, whatever we lose in scale will be replaced with an additional injection of fun.

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And ultimately, isn’t that why we’re all here? Whether you class it as fun, enjoyment or relaxation, the car scene is often our escape from the mundane. And escape we shall.

Back To Base

What great timing. Just minutes after parking Project Nine, I was saved the long trek to camp with all my gear by the gents in today’s taxi, the ‘Poo Bird.’ Quick, jump in.

What’s a Poo Bird? Great question, I had to ask too.

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Answer: an LS-powered Nissan Bluebird, a ratty little wagon built expressly for lapping and killing tyres at what some Aussie’s consider to be the holy land, Canberra’s Exhibition Park.

If the Macquarie Dictionary was ever inclined to add the term ‘Skid Pig’ to their concise edition, the Poo Bird would provide an ideal illustration.

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I’d be a terrible host if I let you freeloaders crash at my friend’s campsite without introducing you to the crew.

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Guys, meet Adam and his pink socks. Our first encounter involved a video camera in a dimly lit garage, an almost finished Compact Fairlane, and a few bottles of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey. As suspect as that sounds, it really isn’t too far from the reality of the situation.

A few years ago I’d been sent out to shoot a quick interview for Street Machine magazine about the supercharged Nissan VH45 V8 Adam had recently slung under the hood of his 1964 Ford Fairlane 500, and we got along well enough to catch up on a semi-regular basis ever since.


Adam, meet the Speedhunters crew. I sure hope you’ve got enough tyre shine there for everyone, champ.

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These other reprobates are (in no particular order) Allan, Justin, Greg, Ian, Brad, and Michael.

A group of single tents and mattresses in utes spiralled around the community hub, two large double marquees fitted out with an electric grille and a small refrigerator, and enough table space and chairs for the entire crew – what more do you need?

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Our campsite bordered on luxurious when compared to other sites. Life is good.

Finally, a second large marquee and floor cover made an adequate mobile garage for the gang to chase problems and replace the carcasses of spent tyres for fresh sacrificial rubber.

Going Walkabout

With introductions made and perhaps a cheeky greeting beverage or two consumed, it was time to slap on my fanciest pair of thongs and hit the dirt tracks.

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Being such a spread-out event, walking is the only real option to take in all that’s on offer.

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Fortunately, there’s plenty of liquid refreshments around to stay hydrated.

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Not only are there too many side roads and back alleys to drive, but folks with little self-control just end up revisiting ‘Skid Row’ to slay another set of tyres, which we’ll get into later.

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Scale and size are so difficult to convey in single frames, but over the weekend I managed to walk 22km (13.6 miles), and still missed half of the main event and even more of what was hiding in tent city behind the main arena. I know how much I missed, because I only saw a small contingent of the people I knew were also at the Nats.

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At this point in the day, the humid 37°C (98.6°F) heat was starting to get the best of me. It was time to acquire the Summernats traditional bourbon slushie and a dagwood dog (AKA corn dog, pluto pup, battered frankfurt…), then to seek out a temporary shelter.

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With Adam, Michael and Allan scheduled for their moments of glory on the pro burnout pad, I knew exactly where to put my feet up.

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We’ll delve more into the burnouts in a separate story soon; it’d be a shame to try and condense such a unique and colorful aspect of Summernats into a single chapter.

The Road To Skid Row

Despite officially signing off to spectate this year, old habits and genuine curiosity can never be killed. I’d spent the best part of the Friday away from the main arenas, hunting out those weird and wonderful gems that are often overlooked.

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It’s a real shame too, because it’s this mix between old school toughness and oddball builds that makes Summernats such a unique event, even by local standards. The style lays somewhere between Mad Max and rockabilly.

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It’ll be interesting to see how that style and even the types of cars in attendance will evolve in the future, but that could be another story for a different day.

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Right now though, it’s time to pile into Adam’s 1964 Fairlane 500 to complete two more rites of Summernats passage.

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First up, it’s a laid back cruise of the main circuit. Or if you wanted to be more precise, it’s time to go lappin’. Later on, we’ll head to Skid Row.

Now, not all the cars are dedicated Summernats machinery, but over the years there’s been a growing number of cars purpose-built to maximize the January fun.


Along with the apparent burnout cars, a secondary category of cars exists almost exclusively to ferry around friends and family during the four-day festival.


And within that second group of builds are even more sub-styles. Some are built for maximum noise and a casual skid, sorry, I mean an ‘accidental chirp.’ Whoops…

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Others are built to be low and slow. One thing they all have in common is that they’re almost exclusively made to grab as much of the crowd’s attention as possible.

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We admired the moving metal of the rolling car show as we cut a few laps of our own before descending on our final destination and then hanging up the car keys in order to down a few extra beverages.

It was time to put on a show for the crowds gathered along Skid Row. This is a new, secondary dedicated burnout arena built to help reduce some of the unsolicited burnouts that used to take place along ‘Tuff Street.’

If you were to only listen to the wise opinions in Facebookland, Skid Row was a massive flop that nobody enjoyed. Clearly, the massive crowds lining the fences and adjacent rooftops missed that important status update.


By the time I’d arrived at Summernats, Adam had already slain at least four sets of tyres in Skid Row and was a massive advocate for the new addition.


In just a few moments I’d be able to form my own opinion on the new informal burnout pad, and also finally experience the maximum potential of the transplanted supercharged VH45.

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Three, two, one – send it!

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I’d class this as a successful skid. With wind minimal and the runway quite tight, Adam had to back off a couple of times, just long enough to be able to see past the bonnet again.

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Mission accomplished: new clouds made and tyres slain. I’d also be willing to throw a big fat rubber stamp on the Skid Row concept. Have we just witnessed the beginnings of a brand new tradition at the 32-year-old festival?

When people tell you Summernats has changed, they’re right, it has. Dramatically, too. But if Australia’s oldest, largest and most iconic festival is to survive, it absolutely has to. After spending a weekend as a regular attendee who was more concerned with having a good time than chasing good content, if the event continues to evolve on its current path, I for one will continue to head back.

Hell, I’ll even bring the family along when they’re old enough.

Matthew Everingham
Instagram: matthew_everingham

Moments Of Excellence
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This event has always headlined my "If I'm in Australia" list, it looks like an absolute blast, probably the best way for a foreigner like me to see and hear (and probably feel, deep in their chest) what makes Aus car culture unique

Matthew Everingham

Good call. You'll not find another event like it anywhere else in the world.


What the hell?? What is a Polish Fiat 126p doing down under?? And what engine is that with those huge turbo's? This mini thing came from the factory with 30 something horsepowers and even the wind is capable of bending the body/chassis xD
I demand more pics and info on it :P

Matthew Everingham

I'll be damned, in my 27years I never even thought it was sold outside of Poland


Me too.


seriously cool way to cover summernats! bad ass coverage dude

Matthew Everingham

Seriously fun way, too! ;)


top coverage.

As long time spectator and recent entrant skid row has saved the event. it needed to happen.

thanks for including a shot of my car

Matthew Everingham



That lead photo is just epic


Good Coverage I'm keen for the Burnout comp coverage too! Did you happen to get into the elite hall at all? Not my scene but a few readers might like to see some of the "nicer" cars. I Agree Skid row has worked wonders, the bogan BS that used to happen of tuff street with Ferals getting on the road and touching cars etc was just asking for someone to get pinned to the wall by a car skidding sideways. This year was the first time I've been since Number 23 and i Loved it!!!

Matthew Everingham

Thanks, dude.

I didn't sit and watch much of the burnout masters, but there's some more smoke related content incoming. As is a quick tour of the Top 60 hall.




I'm from Canberra originally and I went to Summernats 16 as a young teenager. One thing that really struck me was the very open rapey culture of the event. If you're a bloke and you are planning on bringing wives, girlfriends or any woman along with you, you may wish to think twice. Back then they had wild drunken mobs of hundreds of blokes yelling as loud as they can for women to 'get their tits out', often eventuating into large crowds of people rocking cars with women in them and mass groping of unwilling participants. To be fair, there were actually women who enjoyed the attention and were very willing participants, but there were many others who obviousl yweren't wanting to be groped and yelled at buy hundreds of putrid and out of control drunken blokes. I'm wondering if that sort of thing still goes on these days? If it no longer happens, and that's what people mean when they say 'Summernats has changed', then that surely is a good thing.

Matthew Everingham

I think that 'rapey' may be a tad too dramatic but there was definitely a lot of behavior that wasn't acceptable then or now.

The organisers have somehow done an sensing job of stamping out the really unsavory behavior without applying a draconian nazi police force on the ground.

Years ago I wouldn't have driven a non Aussie car there nor taken a gf or wife.

But now, I think it'd be perfectly fine to bring an entire family along.

There are still a few dickhead, but show me a crowd with more than 2 people that doesn't.

It'd be cool to see some big power jdm or euro cars step up a presence now.


I certainly know what I saw, that's for sure. If you don't wish to describe unwanted groping and en-mass group sexual harassment as 'rapey' then that is your personal call. As I mentioned there were plenty of women actually up for the 'yew get ya tits out' party shenanigans, and that is totally their call as consenting adults. In that sense its all fun and games and all the best to them. But without a doubt, when that mentality grows out of control, and affects those who definitely do NOT want to be involved, well, that definitely is 'rapey'. Like it or not. Mind you we are talking 15+ years ago, when such behaviour was normalised and perhaps mainstream in Australia, long before the 'me too' movement and so on and so on. I guess my remark was to question whether this is indeed still the norm these days, having not attended the event in over a decade myself.


I'm a Canberran too and this was my first Summernats, I'd stayed away partly for that reason, the 'drunken Aussie bogan' subculture that seems to be heavily represented is one i dont align myself with and stories from others was enough to turn me off. Things like people with Japanese cars having bottles thrown at them or damaged because 'they weren't a V8'. If you're a true car enthusiast you appreciate everything and you don't mess with people's cars.
I went with someone who has been to a lot of these (his car is in the pics) and he confirmed it has changed a lot.
They are aiming to make it more family friendly so stuff like the wet t-shirt comps are gone. We went to three of the four days and I enjoyed it, though there were certainly elements of what you're talking about. At the burnout area a chant of 'tits out for the boys' or something like that broke out but that was probably the worst of it that I saw. I'd recommend going back, but I imagine things get more rowdy later in the evening which we didn't stay for.