BEST OF 2022: After 30-plus years, why isn't Summernats embraced as a Canberra institution?

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crowd cheering at car burnout

Summernats #34: a calendar fixture but not a beloved institution. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Year in Review: Region Media is revisiting some of the best Opinion articles of 2022. Here’s what got you talking, got you angry and got you thinking in 2022. Today, Tim Gavel wonders why Summernats is so unloved in the nation’s capital.

I know it’s a generalisation, but many Canberra residents appear to have an uncomfortable relationship with anything to do with motorsport.

You don’t have to go back too far in the city’s history to corroborate this assertion.

There’s the failure to proceed with a dragway near the airport despite government funding being allocated to the project. Then there was the outcry over Canberra’s staging of the V8 Supercar event, the GMC 400.

GMC 400

The Canberra GMC 400 took place in the Parliamentary Triangle between 2000 and 2003. Photo: Epic Sports Photography.

It ended up existing in the city for three years, but there was continued community criticism over a plethora of issues, including noise, traffic disruption and cost. This is despite the event attracting many thousands of people to the city and generating much-needed tourist dollars during the winter months.

In the end, the public opposition was overwhelming and the contract to host the Canberra 400 came to an abrupt end.

READ ALSO Summernats brings out the best and the worst as police target ‘antisocial’ behaviour

And then there is Summernats, arguably one of Canberra’s biggest events, along with the National Folk Festival and the National Multicultural Festival.


Summernats attracts about 20,000 visitors to the ACT each year. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

This year, over four days, Summernats attracted more than 20,000 people a day, with many attendees travelling to Canberra to attend. Many are car enthusiasts who treat their cars as they would a member of their family.

Summernats also provides a significant boost to the ACT economy while at the same time presenting a different perspective of the city. It helps to wipe away the staid and bland view of our city, which is a well-documented attitude held by many people who don’t live here.

Yet the event remains unloved by many in the ACT community.

READ MORE Time for Summernats to change gears again, or go

The commentary before the event was filled with grumblings about noise, smoke and, in isolated instances, antisocial behaviour.

I regard myself as a moderate motorsport fan and I was critical of the decision to continue with burnouts during the bushfires a couple of years ago. But I find it hard to comprehend the open hostility from some in the Canberra community.

READ MORE If we’re really a community, tolerate Summernats

Some have said that Summernats sends the wrong message given the city’s proactive measures towards renewable energy.

The same judgement, it would appear, doesn’t exist when considering the predominance of and reliance on motor vehicles in Canberra by residents, nor the high usage of air travel.

Is it time to consider the joy Summernats gives motorsport enthusiasts and its economic benefits to specific sectors within the community?

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Loud, not just at the venue, but all over the city as they drive around, getting drunk picking fights with the locals/each other.

What’s not to love?

Capital Retro6:19 am 30 Dec 22

“……. It’s loud, it smells bad, it’s really bad for the environment, there’s a lot of drinking in excess and anti-social behaviour ……”

Are you talking about the annual New Year’s Eve Canberra fireworks?

Amazing how all pollution, hoon driving, public drunkenness, burnouts and excessive noise only happens in Canberra for 4 days when Summernats is on, the rest of the year it’s sweet.

wodenresident9:14 pm 27 Dec 22

‘Diversity’ is rammed down our throat. You can’t say a bad thing about many minorities… while bogans on the other hand are completely free game. It’s a hypocracy that I detest.

If we truely value diversity, than Summernats should coexist with the rainbow roundabout.

Not a topic on which I might normally comment, except two options idly occurred to me so here are both of them.

Response 1.
I think burnouts are a ludicrous, and damaging activity. However, I appreciate the effort, interest, devotion, expense choices, sometimes ingenuity that can go into restoring older cars (or any things really) or developing new notions on older frameworks, and having those recognised by others. Such achievements can be highly personally rewarding. The fact I have negligible interest in the Summernats vehicles is no more important than my lack of interest in many other hobbies, or those people’s in mine. Let it be.

Response 2.
Given the sensational torque of electric motors from rest, I envisage future Summer(green)nats where the front motor is disconnected and still more extraordinary burnouts are achieved, while a sonic actuator against the firewall and windscreen (they have been fitted to many production cars for years) produces fabulous vroom-doof noises matching the virtual cylinder count dialled up in the cabin, and special tyres produced for the market vie for maximum smoke with minimum carcinogenicity. Soon, motors will advance and larger ones be stuffed into carbon-fibre frames until we can achieve Nirvana with Burnouts on Bicycles.


I am not interested in Summernats, and Tim’s article has made me wonder why not.

It’s a few things, perhaps. Australians broadly have a problem with quiet spaces. Try using an app like Sound Print next time you’re in a cafe or restaurant, and see if you can find a place below 50 decibels. We can’t seem to do quiet spaces like Japan or Taiwan do – not only can we not seem to talk loudly, but there is nearly always background music playing. A lack of soundproofing and hard surfaces mean that we’ll always hear the kitchen and coffee machine noise as well. I have written about this topic before here:

In recent years as Canberra has become denser, how people want to perceive it is changing. Marian Mahony Griffin’s original drawings of Canberra reflect a place that was classically beautiful, and genteel. In modern Canberra, much of that original architectural vision has been destroyed, replaced by endless ugly, car-dependent suburbs.

Perhaps a feeling that much of the modern world is out of our control means that our surroundings become more and more important to us. This is why modern houses have everything built in, so you never have to leave the house, and you have a tranquil place to escape the modern world. It’s an implicit acknowledgement that so much of our shared environment is ugly, aggressive and boring – that we have collectively given up on having beautiful and genteel public spaces.

When Summernats invades this tranquillity, it destroys the illusion, and leaves people to ask “Is nothing sacred – is there nowhere I can just *be* – without the modern world intruding on my consciousness?” And it’s that feeling, I think, more than anything else, that creates the ongoing anger towards the event.

During my many years in Canberra my car has been broken into once, and I’ve had the fuel cap removed with the fuel drained once. Both happened during Summernats. Need I say more?

Because it hasn’t, and probably won’t, ever!

For motor sport there’s Wakefield Park. Real driving skill, good brakes, good handling, and real competition using those skills and capabilities.

ChrisinTurner7:56 pm 12 Jan 22

The Police told me they didn’t have the resources to stop street racing in Cooyong Street in Civic. We suffered ear-shattering noise Friday night until after midnight and till 11pm Saturday night. We obviously have to bring in police reinforcements from NSW to have the Summernats stay within their legal limits.

Julie Patricia Smith7:07 pm 12 Jan 22

Because of the burnouts, Summernats is a toxic and noisy imposition on the several thousand households living in nearby suburbs. Residents are well used to flowover effects of events from the Showgrounds but it was never planned as a motor sports facility. Burning tyres are highly carcinogenic and prevented me from even being outside my house when the burnouts were on. I live over a kilometre from EPIC. The event has an exemption from usual noise and pollution limits so residents cannot plan to enjoy their usual activities at home over summernats because the noise and fumes from burnouts intrudes on conversations even within homes. Although behaviour of Summernats fans has much improved and we no longer have hundreds of drunken louts ranging through nearby suburbs and vandalising facilities in our community the event still attracts would be road racers who organise their own informal events on the public roads near our homes. The police don’t have the resources or capability to stop much of this, and litter and broken glass strewn through nearby streets has been a regular legacy. While summernats has lifted its game it still claims it has no responsibility for what happens outside Summernats, even by those attending it. It is time the burnouts were relocated away from the suburbs and Summernats took full responsibility for the inconvenience, unpleasantness and sometimes harm inflicted on nearby residents by the burnouts and by the lawless elements who are attracted to the event. It is not worthy of being a Canberra icon for sure. Rather it is an imposition on many hundreds of local families trying to enjoy the Christmas New year break at home, and the noise and health exemptions it is given reflects a disregard by our noise and health regulators of the Canberrans who live nearby.

Finagen_Freeman6:14 pm 12 Jan 22

Sumernuts is in the same league as seven day adventists knocking on your door.
Some welcome it.
Some loath it.

Some would say ‘don’t turn from the Lord’ whilst others would say ‘what the Lord is that all about’

Bogans by the Thousands.
Just like turning oil into whine.

Although not a motor-sport fan, nor even a car owner, I love to see the amazing cars come into town and travelling through our streets over these few days. Most of the cars are beautifully cared for, provide nostalgia and insight into past eras. We don’t see more hoons during Summernats usually and certainly not this year Hoon behaviour on our roads is standard for some immature drivers (no matter what their chronological age) and this is really bad in Canberra, with lots of idiots on the roads at all times of day and night. They do not care about their cars or those sharing the roads with them. At summernats, we see people who love their cars and care for them, not the immature fools who do burn-outs every night.

I’m not a Summernats attendee, but geez, let’s loosen up a bit and accept some diversity in interests in Canberra. Yes, maybe a little tough for people in surrounding suburbs but it’s only 3 days. I’m sure those who live near Manuka Oval, Bruce Stadium and Viking Park etc have difficulties some days but that’s life. Don’t like it, go away when it’s on. Too much nanny state thinking and whinging in Canberra when something doesn’t suit us. The few hoons – let the Police and Organisers deal with them

The GMC 400 wasn’t popular with all Canberrans however, it didn’t cease because of public outcry, it stopped after the Audit General’s report in 2002 showed that: The conduct of the 2000 and 2001 races had significant negative economic results for the ACT. The economic benefits for the ACT announced as being generated by the 2000 and 2001 races were overstated and provided little information useful for making judgements on the success of the races or making decisions on the conduct of future races.

The organiser was savage about Canberra in his book. He said they were wined and dined on a cruise of L BG in the middle of summer but had to hold it on the June long weekend. He said the reaction from the local media was hostile and the final event before it was scrapped was terrible. He said that it was so cold that weekend, icicles were hanging from the grandstand

Motor sports in the ACT is caught between two worlds – the elite latte sippers (who decry any kind of joy held by others); and “regular ‘Stralians” (who range from full-on hoons to car enthusiasts). If you look at country towns around the country, motor sports are a welcome part of the culture. But in locations dominated by high-income proletariats (eg. Canberra) motor sports are detested.
I guess there are too many public servants here at the EL1 level and above for motor sports to be embraced.

The common Canberra NIMBY is a strange and often shrill beast.

Unable to process that other people might not like the exact same things that they do, their incessant bleating can often be found in letters to the editor, Facebook groups or “community” council meetings.

Sure, Canberra is a very car-reliant city, and there are many car enthusiasts. However, Summernats is only one subset of car enthusiasts. Heavily-modified cars and burnouts are not everyone’s cup of tea.

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