It’s a blazing hot day and the engines are revving on Lonsdale St. Summernats is back for 2022, with the heartfelt support of the ACT Government, but not quite as you knew it decades ago.
The 34th Summernats on 6 to 9 January will feature a 500-car cruise down Northbourne Avenue that will briefly shut down light rail as a massive number of vehicles enter and exit EPIC.
A new Fringe Festival will take place on Friday and Saturday night in Braddon, closing down Lonsdale St and some surrounding areas for a Summernats-exclusive event that will include live music and entertainment venues.
Close to 2500 vehicles have entered, and organiser Andy Lopez has strong support from Visit Canberra, the ACT Government, the Braddon Collective and Braddon’s United Retail Traders, all of whom were on hand for Friday’s lunch at the Elouera St car wash.
It’s a far cry from 2020 when the car fest went ahead on the hottest day in Canberra’s history, as the city was blanketed with choking bushfire smoke and against fierce opposition that called into question the event’s social licence.
A well-organised community cruise was run in co-operation with police earlier this year, but a series of disruptive incidents elsewhere, including illicit cruises and burnouts annoyed genuine car enthusiasts and antagonised authorities.
Hear those engines roar! This week's news update is at the SUMMERNATS launch, with a bonus Braddon fringe festival. And we're talking record wet weather, a full Lake George, APS outsourcing and a cooling Canberra housing market.
Posted by The Riotact on Thursday, December 2, 2021
Andy Lopez acknowledges freely that Summernats has had “a certain reputation” in the past.
“Like most things, some of that was deserved, and some was perception,” he says, noting that Summernats has existed across a period of major social and cultural change over the past 30 years.
“We’ve evolved as society’s attitudes have changed. What we expect, what we’ll put up with and how we feel about things is radically different.
“We’ve tried to focus back on the things that were beautiful about this event, which is what you see here today – fantastic dedicated people with awesome cars who just want to get together and have a bloody good time”.
Mr Lopez says that there’s significantly less tolerance for anti-social behaviour and that the organisation has thought hard about their attitude to safety for women and children. The wet t-shirt competition and strip show are long gone, as is Miss Summernats and the use of promotional models.
“What we acknowledge is that we want to celebrate women at Summernats but we were doing it in the wrong way. There are heaps of fantastic women car builders, women who love cars, women who race and women who do burnouts. Summernats has to be inclusive, and it has to be a place where everyone feels safe and comfortable,” he says.
Several years ago, the event changed terms and conditions so that on purchase, ticket buyers must agree to a statement that Summernats is a safe place for women and they will abide by event requirements.
“I don’t think any other event in Australia does that. We’re not the only event that needs to, but we are the only event that did. You come to Summernats and it’s wild, it’s crazy, but it’s safe and it’s fun,” Mr Lopez says.
While the Chief Minister’s hopes for an electric Summernats are unlikely to be fulfilled for the time being, the economic outcomes are impressive. On current bookings, Summernats attendees will likely account for 120,000 room nights and a $30 million financial injection into the cash-starved Canberra tourism and hospitality sector.
“Taking the fringe into the city is about spreading the love,” Mr Lopez says.
“A lot of the benefit currently sits at EPIC. The ACT Government and the community have invested in our event, and they get a good return.
“Now it’s about making that better, making this a positive and rewarding event for the whole community. It’s the beginning of more things to come, and it’s just going to get better.”