Hoonsville, ACT

For work reasons, the Chicken was at Summernats 23.

It’s a massive 4 day hoonfest in Lyneham/Mitchell Canberra every January.  Supposedly it’s a venue for car enthusiasts to display supposedly street legal, but heavily modified cars.  There’s a dedicated burnout track where they can legally and safely strip the rubber off their tyres, a daily display area and a special “cruising circuit” to show the cars in action.  Plus of course, pavilions, displays, live entertainment, fireworks and food concessions.

The reality is that Summernats is a living contradiction.  While cars are scrutinised on entry for safety and legality, many of the vehicles are delivered on trailers because they can’t legally be driven on the roads.  The process of scrutineering is there to issue special permits to these cars to satisfy the events insurers.  For many of the entrants, this is one of the few times they will be able to actually legally drive the vehicle more than a few feet in public.

Summernats aims to attract the hard core motorhead.  Hard core motorheads want to be loud, they want to drink and they want to spin their wheels.  The event strides a fine line.  It can’t be seen to encourage illegal behaviour and vehicles, but these are both inevitable.  All the management can do is to restrict the worst behaviour as best they can.  Infringements of the rules by entrants are recorded, and three minor incidents will see participants ejected.

More than 200 security guards are present at the event and they are often pushed to the limit.  While patrons are not allowed to bring their own alcohol in, there are long lines for the potent whisky and vodka ice slushies sold around the venue.  When the heat settles in, the vodka starts to bite and the crowds jostle at the edge of the cruise circuit, cheering particularly loud or spectacularly modified vehicles and urging them to spin their wheels.  The loudest cheers are reserved for girls seated in the back of utes or convertibles, with chants encouraging them to drop their tank tops.  Which they do.

At the burnout track, entrants convert expensive tyres into smoke and grit.  Many of the vehicles limp off the track on their wheel rims, shreds of rubber slapping the road.

The first aid area resembles a refugee centre on occasion, with alcohol and drug affected patrons in recovery positions on the floor.  Drugs are a taboo subject for the management.  They are very careful to control media access to the event, with a media attendance ban on the Saturday evening when the crowds are at their height.

Tattoos are common, as are shaved heads, beefy shoulders and beer bellies. There are too many hot pants on muffin-top women who should know better.  On the other hand, many of the exhibitors employ shapely girls in even skimpier hotpants to better sell their wares.

The locals don’t like Summernats.  It’s noisy, smelly and the local roads become racetracks and display venues for machismo and horsepower.  It brings business to the area though, so it’s tolerated.

There were new owners of the rights to run the event this year.  Recent years have seen the event struggle to make money, so costs were tightly controlled this time.  There’s no word as yet as to whether they made a profit.


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