After 30-plus years, why isn’t Summernats embraced as a Canberra institution?

Tim Gavel 11 January 2022 378
crowd cheering at car burnout

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

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?

What's Your Opinion?

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378 Responses to After 30-plus years, why isn’t Summernats embraced as a Canberra institution?
Robert Robert 8:23 am 12 Jan 22

You’ve also left out that Summernats has had a history of assualt. That may have improved in recent years. This article is from 2008, although I can also find one from 2017

Nell Feneck Nell Feneck 8:22 am 12 Jan 22

Summernats is awesome

Marjeta Marks Marjeta Marks 8:17 am 12 Jan 22

The peps who do like Summer Nats are plentiful. They just aren't as good as broadcasting their love for it as the haters are at whinging about it. Maybe because they are too busy having fun?

David Vickers David Vickers 8:11 am 12 Jan 22

Is that a rhetorical question?

Conrad Roux Conrad Roux 8:09 am 12 Jan 22

The revhead dollars not worth the noise and nuisance. Doesn’t fit our vibe sorry. Go do burnouts in Penrith

    Richard Willcoxson Richard Willcoxson 9:01 am 12 Jan 22

    What’s our vibe? Please enlighten on us what our vibe should be

    Steve N Carol Trute Steve N Carol Trute 9:31 am 12 Jan 22

    Conrad Roux you mean it doesn’t fit YOUR ‘vibe’?

    Robin Kneebone Robin Kneebone 2:18 pm 12 Jan 22

    Conrad Roux plenty of Canberra's love the event. Why don't you just go for a weekend away that weekend and vibe somewhere else?

    Joel Sainsbury Joel Sainsbury 8:14 pm 12 Jan 22

    Conrad Roux Talking from my own opinion here, I think many Canberra businesses would disagree. Many of the local establishments were packed all weekend.

    Jason Lowe Jason Lowe 11:43 am 13 Jan 22

    Conrad Roux why Penrith

    Ivan Pirotta Ivan Pirotta 12:21 pm 13 Jan 22

    Jason Lowe cos Devlin Rd is a bigger burnout pad than the one at EPIC 🤷🏼‍♂️🤷🏼‍♂️🤷🏼‍♂️

    Jason Lowe Jason Lowe 12:29 pm 13 Jan 22

    Ivan Pirotta hahahahahaha

    James Forge James Forge 12:37 pm 13 Jan 22

    It is part of Canberra's vibe.

    Mick Cristiano Mick Cristiano 2:24 pm 13 Jan 22

    Jason Lowe I think because Penrith has better facilities and generally a better place than Canberra.

Ash Miller Ash Miller 8:03 am 12 Jan 22

Because there are two Canberras.

-Canberra the National Capital

-Canberra the regional centre for a big chunk of NSW

Peter Fogwell Peter Fogwell 8:02 am 12 Jan 22

It's like a big aussie bogan burnout bonanza. Isn't pot legal here now? Where's the bucket bong tent? But seriously, the cars are nice.

Greg Miller Greg Miller 8:02 am 12 Jan 22

I don't like it (noisy and yobbish) but it does bring money into the Canberra economy and, after two hard years for many here, I say it's mostly a good thing. Any normal year, I'd just ignore it because the world isn't organised for me

Margot Todhunter Margot Todhunter 7:48 am 12 Jan 22

The joy summernats brings ! There is no joy in breathing in rubber fumes and having to listen to screeching cars for days on end.

    Dean Colwill Dean Colwill 7:50 am 12 Jan 22

    Margot Todhunter you’d have to live next to EPIC to get that experience wouldn’t you.

    Dean Colwill Dean Colwill 7:54 am 12 Jan 22

    Margot Todhunter I live in Gungahlin and don’t notice it. Mind you I’m deaf as a post🤣

    Margot Todhunter Margot Todhunter 7:56 am 12 Jan 22

    Dean Colwill as the prevailing winds are from the north west the smoke, and noise would be carried away from you.

    Steve Jones Steve Jones 8:13 am 12 Jan 22

    Margot Todhunter and there are no fumes from the Folk Festival ??

    Tina Best Tina Best 8:16 am 12 Jan 22

    Margot Todhunter I live in the quiet inner south and the nights were filled with vrooming hoonmans, burnouts and wailing police sirens.

    Dale Moss Dale Moss 9:06 am 12 Jan 22

    Tina Best that's most Friday nights though, right?

    Matt Allan Matt Allan 1:21 pm 12 Jan 22

    Steve Jones plenty inhaling fumes there but it’s ok Canberra supports a drug culture

Tracy Gorman Tracy Gorman 7:47 am 12 Jan 22

Opening statement “I know it’s a generalisation,”..

Yes it is. While there are the staid anti Summernats stooges, the majority of Canberrans realise that it’s a four day event that brings much needed tourist dollars to the capital, and if they aren’t actually fans of it, they ignore it. It’s only the media and politicians that try to cause this divide EVERY YEAR. 🙄

Steve Ulr Steve Ulr 7:46 am 12 Jan 22

The cars are great, the work undertaken on them impressive. There is a cohort of participants that unfortunately treats Canberra with complete disrespect (they probably think all the politicians live here)

Elisa Boughton Elisa Boughton 7:44 am 12 Jan 22

Canberrans probably don't worry too much about Canberra critics, which is fair enough.

Tourists don't benefit most locals and sometimes actually cost them money (one of the arguments for pay parking in the Parliamentary triangle was to ensure tourists could easily access the institutions there).

Finally during Summernats there some drivers will speed and do burnouts in suburban streets. When we were in town that happened every year.

    Naomi Dale Naomi Dale 8:33 am 12 Jan 22

    Elisa Boughton pre pandemic Tourism employed about 1 in 12 Canberrans..... its flow on economic effect is vital for many businesses too (currently $1.3 billion)

bryansworld bryansworld 7:42 am 12 Jan 22

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.

Andre Sphenis Andre Sphenis 7:40 am 12 Jan 22

Because it happens in Braddon

Daniel Oyston Daniel Oyston 7:38 am 12 Jan 22

People don’t hate ‘it’, specifically; people just love to look at the world through a straw and whinge.

Wendy Young Wendy Young 7:36 am 12 Jan 22

Maybe because it's niche and generally dreaded by people outside that niche

    Shane Jasprizza Shane Jasprizza 7:53 am 12 Jan 22

    Wendy Young like the Folk Festival?

    Wendy Young Wendy Young 8:37 am 12 Jan 22

    Shane Jasprizza true. Though I think it might have wider appeal? I don't know the facts on that of course

    Shane Jasprizza Shane Jasprizza 9:08 am 12 Jan 22

    Wendy Young let’s cancel that as well then? And not everyone likes flowers, so Floriade surely has to go.

    Wendy Young Wendy Young 12:15 pm 12 Jan 22

    Shane Jasprizza hmm. I thought this was about "embracing as a Canberra institution". I didn't realise we were generalising to remove events. Apologies for my obtuseness

    Tristan Wellens Tristan Wellens 1:57 pm 12 Jan 22

    Its the type of clientele that comes with the event. Summernats is people doing burnouts, being pests and street racing all over Canberra which is dangerous no matter how much people think they’re Vin Diesel and they don’t just keep it in the event. Floriade attracts people planting flowers 🤣 oh no

Chris Goodrum Chris Goodrum 7:35 am 12 Jan 22

Probably for the same reason we do not have a drag strip anymore or more dirt track car racing or accessible motorcycle tracks?

    Johnny Grey Johnny Grey 3:21 pm 17 Jan 22

    Chris Goodrum I tought that the drag stip near the airport died off due to the business owners at the airoport not liking it.

Lynn Nicholas Lynn Nicholas 7:29 am 12 Jan 22

It’s not my cup of tea, however, it is only for one weekend a year. I just stay away from the areas involved and put up with the noise or go away.

Many people love it and it adds to Canberra’s economy.

    Ali Bear Ali Bear 11:01 am 12 Jan 22

    Lynn Nicholas not easy for the people who actually LIVE within a few kms of the event!

    James Forge James Forge 12:33 pm 13 Jan 22

    Ali Bear

    I feel sorry for people who have lived within hearing distance of these events for 35 or more years.

    However the event has been going since January 1988. Most people who live near by would have moved in after that and moved in knowing that it can get noisy for a couple of weeks per year due to Summernats, Folk Festival and other large events.

    You move into the area you have to accept that events at Epic may be noisy.

    Ali Bear Ali Bear 2:34 pm 13 Jan 22

    James Forge sure, though out of towners may not know about it. There are long-term residents however, who have lived in the area since 1988 or before.

Tod Davis Tod Davis 7:28 am 12 Jan 22

I’ve never been but I still believe it’s an important event for Canberra. It’s only 4 days a year and it’s a nice change from all the cultural stuff which we’re told we have to embrace

Shane Jasprizza Shane Jasprizza 7:24 am 12 Jan 22

Largely? Or just a noisy few?

    Chris Thomson Chris Thomson 7:44 am 12 Jan 22

    Shane JasprizzaShane Jasprizza NIMBYism is a very Canberra thing

    Dan Rayner Dan Rayner 8:02 am 12 Jan 22

    Shane I’m neither part of a “noisy few” complainants nor do I embrace it… 🤷🏼‍♂️

    I don’t really care one way or another. I guess it brings in money?

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