Every January, in the blistering Aussie heat, hundreds of thousands of petrolheaded pilgrims make their way to the nation’s capital of Canberra for Summernats – a weekend-long horsepower celebration fueled by beer and methanol and packed with Australia’s toughest cars. How does hundreds of brutal street beasts cruising around the event sound? Show cars that give the Ridler’s finest a run for their money? Burnout competitions full of colored smoke, carnage and fire? Yeah, it’s all there, and it’s all done Aussie style.
In the way only Australians can do, Summernats is an insane mix of wild cars, obscene amounts of horsepower and a little sideways fun – the perfect Roadkill recipe. What’s more Roadkill than clapped-out domestic junkers stuffed with 1000hp blown and injected big-blocks? Or vintage two-ton trucks ripping giant burnouts? Yeah, the Aussies know what’s up. And they’ve been doing it at this event for 30 years!
There’s no shortage of stuff to check out at the ‘Nats and with over 2,500 cars and 119,000 spectators at this year’s 30th anniversary festivities, the Exhibition Park in Canberra had more action than you could poke a didgeridoo at. There were burnout competitions, multiple car show areas, driver skill events like grass gymkhanas, road routes for hooning *cough* I mean cruising, tattoo and beauty competitions, famous bands, and countless stalls selling alcoholic slushies and dodgy corn dogs.
Anything and everything goes when it comes to rocking around the ‘Nats in style, but the Aussie’s favorite combo of four doors and big blowers dominates the cruise routes and show halls, idling along to that beautiful ‘womp, womp, womp’ melody that can only come from big, aggressive cams.
Cruising tough street cars is something that Australians have held dear to their hearts since the beginning of time, and ever-tightening road laws mean it’s nearly criminal to take your toys out on public roads to enjoy some, erm, spirited driving. The Tuff Street area at the ‘Nats is a pretty loose display of the cruising culture ingrained into Aussie revheads, allowing some of the toughest cars on the planet the chance to park up and flex in the show area, or hop onto the cruise route and let out some steam – or in this case, smoke.
Barely wide enough for each car and walled by unforgiving concrete, the Tuff Street cruising area is a wild procession of engine grunts, big and silly things sticking out of hoods, radical paint jobs and all kids of tractionless tomfoolery. Usually lined by crowds three or more deep, the sketchy lanes entrants cruise along are the perfect place to show off your muscle, do some cheeky skids, and celebrate the fun side of driving.
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of harmless, smokey fun, and as the route winds its way around the massive Exhibition Park, through the festival campgrounds and past the show buildings, crowds cheer as drivers punch throttles and light ‘em up within the often-narrow confines of the lanes.
The real smoke show, however, takes place on the other side of the grounds, at the burnout pad. The burnout scene in Australia is mind-blowing and the Summernats bouts have long been the pinnacle of the circuit. Burnouts are done differently Down Under, where points are based not only on the mountain of smoke you can generate, but also how well you can slide the car around the pad in spins and high-speed maneuvers. It’s a pure, unadulterated tire massacre.
The Australians have not only added finesse to tire-destroying skids, but also a hefty sprinkling of insanity. Methanol-injected monster mills crammed into whacky hatchbacks, NASCAR engines in 80s more-door classics, plastic-melting, fire-belching late model thrashers – all just another day in the burnout scene. Nothing beats hearing a blown and injected engine spewing 1500 horses of fury and spinning into a cloud of its own tire smoke!
Huge crowds flock to the burnout pad for three full days of competition. Split into Burnout Champion and Burnout Masters (think All-Star game) entrants get one shot at performing a burnout for the crowd and panel of judges. Each skid is then judged on 40% driver skill and 60% smoke show and the results are tallied for each round. It’s scored a bit like gymnastics, or diving, but way less speedos – and way more awesome.
Elite burnout drivers have earned cult status in the Aussie car world and draw huge crowds of fans at events, showcasing their signature cars and driving styles. Summernats is no different and thousands of rubber-soaked burnout fans cling to the fencing and cheer for their favorites as they spew clouds of smoke, rubber dust, and steel belts over every inch of the pad.
It’s not just ballet-like grace on display, as nothing gets the crowd hollering harder than close calls and wall tags, and everyone’s favorite: fire. Ignited by the potent mix of rubber, oil, high heat and high-octane fuel, the occasional fireball burnout causes all kinds of vehicle destruction and keeps the closer spectators thankful they have their eyebrows.
If frying tires isn’t your thing there’s plenty more to check out with trade halls, dyno competitions and a variety of car shows. The oval in the center plays host to the biggest show ’n’ shine at the ‘Nats with endless rows of entrants’ cars to check out. Everything from mint classics to radical panelvans and even the odd rat rod thrown in for good measure.
It’s a great dose of Aussie style and a quick history lesson of modified car culture Down Under. Every style is well represented, from the early days of 70s street machines and muscle car bruisers, up to late model performance and bling-factor.
In the Elite Hall however, sit the best of the best. Judged by an expert panel, the top 60 cars on show are picked and displayed to the public. There’s no specific style and to celebrate the diverse range of Aussie cars, judges let hot rods rub shoulders with resto-mod classics and drag cars buddy up next to wild custom creations for a show packed to the brim with elite craftmanship.
Awards are presented at the end of the weekend to cars in different classes. For instance Chris Bitmead’s XBOSS, back on home soil after nearly taking out the Ridler competition at last year’s Autorama, was on display and headed home with a trailer full of awards including Top Judged Elite, Top Engine Bay, Top Bodywork, and several handfuls more.
The awesome festival atmosphere, unparalleled mix of power and style, and the unique knack Aussies have for doing crazy things has gained Summernats more international exposure with the likes of Street Outlaws’ Farmtruck and AZN figuring they needed to get there for 2017 and see it all for themselves. AZN even managed to jump in with this year’s Burnout Champion Steve Nogas in his blown late model Camaro for a skid session on the burnout pad.
“We thought we knew what a burnout was” laughed Farmtruck. “But we were quickly educated here in Australia!” The pair from the hit Discovery TV show were having a blast the whole weekend and soaking in the Aussie car culture and international fandom.
Check out the huge pic gallery below, and stay tuned for a Roadkill guide to Aussie burnouts, coming soon!