Canberra may have spent the weekend shrouded in smoke but come the New Year the annual auto festival wants to belch great toxic clouds over EPIC and the surrounding suburbs.
Summernats is warming up the festival motor, pitching a drag strip to a diplomatic Chief Minister Andrew Barr and preparing Exhibition Park for the influx of car enthusiasts and internal combustion engine tragics.
There is no doubt it has a come a long way from its wilder early years when a woman took her chances wandering into a very certain kind of male domain, where the alcohol flowed as much as the high-octane and fuelled regrettable and often criminal behaviour.
Summernats has been cleaned up and its image has been polished as much as some of the prestige vehicles. There is no doubt that in a quiet slot in the tourism calendar, the festival brings visitors to Canberra, about 100,000 of them, and is a valuable contribution to the capital’s economy, which is probably why Mr Barr says he will consider the push from Summernats organisers for an eighth of a mile drag strip, with some caveats about the environment and noise.
But motor sports fans shouldn’t bank on it. Nor should they expect Summernats to not evolve further if they want it to stay at EPIC, because change is on the cards for the venue and the surrounding area.
Other EPIC stakeholders such as the Canberra Show and the National Folk Festival have seen off possible Government ideas about residential development and now the site is seen as a long-term, high-quality events precinct that may include education and conference facilities.
There might even be a stadium there one day.
Where does a festival with enough of a streak of hoonery left in it to view the burnouts competition as the weekend highlight fit into that future model?
The residents of the Inner North have had to endure the noise and toxic fumes for years. Will the residents of soon-to-be-developed Kenny and other developments along the Northbourne Avenue – Federal Highway corridor welcome the annual orgy of burning rubber, a kind of last gasp of the appropriately named fossil-fuel culture?
And where does such an activity fit in a clean and green city that spruiks its progressive credentials, has serious climate action goals and is about to source all of its electricity from renewable sources?
If Summernats wants to stay long term at EPIC as a legitimate festival for car lovers the last thing organisers should be asking for is a drag strip, and they should already be thinking about managing the winding down of an event that could not be considered healthy or safe for those foolish enough to be in the stands, or their neighbours who have no say in the fumes and noise they have to put up with.
If Summernats can’t take the next step in its evolution, then it’s time to find another venue.