The 35th Summernats festival broke records for attendance and entrants, but the experience was marred by poor behaviour from what organisers say was only a very small group of troublemakers.
Held across four days from Thursday, 5 January to Sunday, 8 January, around 125,000 people attended the sell-out event and vehicle entrants were capped at a record-breaking 2700.
That was the largest crowd size since 2017’s 119,000 and was a sure sign for festival co-owner Andy Lopez of things settling down to normal after the most recent COVID-19-impacted years.
Mr Lopez said the festival was full of “amazing cars, fantastic people and beautiful nights of concerts”.
The mullet and burnout competitions were both crowd favourites again, and merchandise in honour of the event’s legendary founder Chic Henry, who died last April, was hugely popular.
Michelago man Livij Krevatin took out the grand prize with his locally built 1978 Porsche 911.
Mr Lopez’s personal highlight was experiencing five or six thousand people singing Daryl Braithwaite’s The Horses back to him as he performed on Friday night.
Another highlight was a visit from US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy.
But that’s not to say everything ran perfectly, and Mr Lopez acknowledged some “behavioural challenges”.
On Saturday (6 January), the cruise circuit at EPIC was closed early due to antisocial behaviour, including people walking on the track and drivers refusing to listen to staff.
ACT Policing said this led to increased poor behaviour as festival attendees – both spectators and drivers – stopped complying with directions from security staff.
Officers were called in to disperse the crowd and some privately contracted security guards left the venue, which police said resulted in an “understrength security presence”.
A spokesperson for ACT Policing also said the decision to close the circuit early led to crowds gathering in areas like Braddon, Fyshwick, Majura Park and Hume.
Police were also critical of Summernats organisers for a perceived lack of adequate crowd control.
“Events of this nature require an appropriate security response and ACT Policing is disappointed that organisers were not able to maintain good order inside EPIC,” their statement read.
“The decision to cease cruising inside the venue resulted in patrons and vehicles dispersing across the ACT in numbers that were difficult to manage with existing police resources.”
Other reports have surfaced on social media about tensions rising between residents of Braddon and other Inner North suburbs and Summernats attendees who were blocking access to homes due to their parking.
Four arrests were made over the weekend.
One person was arrested for assaulting a police officer, two for being intoxicated and disorderly, and one for breach of bail.
A Holden Commodore being driven by a 20-year-old Murrumbateman man was also seized after he was caught allegedly doing burnouts and driving at more than 110 kilometres an hour in an 80-kilometre zone.
The driver will face court charged with improper use of a motor vehicle.
Mr Lopez said only a very small number of spectators and entrants had been behaving poorly.
“This small number appears to be here to be actively disruptive which led to unfair pressures on both security and police,” he explained.
“There was some strange behaviour which we hadn’t seen before.”
Mr Lopez said Saturday’s disruptions would serve as “learnings” for future events.
But he said ACT Policing had been in the control room with event organisers and the event’s sanctioning body, Motorsport Australia.
He thanked police for their work over the festival and said he would work closely with them in the future.
It’s estimated Summerants injected around $35 million into the Territory’s economy.
Registrations for next year’s festival are already open.