Smoke Out Down Under: Aussie Burnouts At Summernats 2017

After Roadkill’s recent expedition Down Under for Summernats 30 we came home having learnt more about Aussie language, culture and drinking techniques, and while some may be too crude or vulgar to repeat in a public forum, there’s one thing we learnt those dang Australians can do better than anyone else out there – burnouts.

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That’s right. Gone are the days of thinking a brake-assisted squealer in the Walmart parking lot is one for the history books because the Aussies have stepped up the burnout game to unmatched levels – including serious smoke shows, prize money and hyper-ridiculous horsepower. In between drinking beers out of shoes and suffering from methanol-induced eye searing, we put in the smokey hard-yards at Summernats, held annually in Australia’s capital Canberra, to get you the lowdown on how it goes down:

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The Competition
The burnout scene is well organized Down Under and events occur all over the country, some fronting prize pools of over $10,000. Canberra’s Summernats has long been the holy turf of the burnout scene and the competition is always fierce. While burnout pads vary in size and shape across the nation, the ‘Nats pad is a regular tarmac parking lot walled up with unforgiving concrete barriers and has a coliseum-like feel thanks to the grandstand on one side, and a grass hill on the other. The entry and exit lanes are about 3 parking spaces wide, and the main skid area is small enough to require a three-point turn from a flatbed tow truck. Not an exact measurement, we’re sorry, but blame our surveying skills on the smoke and the beer.

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The rules are pretty simple: burnouts must last for minimum 60 seconds. You must enter from the start line (the process known as the tip-in) and cross the finish line under your own power when you are done. Oh, and if the fire safety crew starts waving at you frantically, you should stop. And yes, they get a serious work-out at each event.

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Like most skill-based events, it is judged by an elite panel of experts and burnouts are scored in two categories: Smoke and Driver Skill. 40 out of the 100 total points are based solely on driver skill including constant maneuvering of the car in spins or across the pad, as well as throttle control – so no limiter-bashing in one spot for 60 seconds.

The remaining 60 points fall into categories of Instant Smoke (out of 10), Constant Smoke and Volume of Smoke (both out of 20), and if you manage to successfully pop both tires, they’re 5 points each. Points can also be deducted for mishaps like stalling, having to stop, tagging a wall, or if something catches on fire.

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The Cars
Pretty much anything goes when it comes to the creation of a tire-frying skid monster. Make, model, year, shape, color – it’s all up to the driver and their signature style. Though Australians will do as Australians will do, and classic four-door domestic sedans make up the bulk of the burnout car fleet. Iconic and accessible, the family sedans many drivers grew up in the back of make for the perfect exoskeleton for their own brand of rubber-belching fury. With that being said, there’s everything from Mazda Bongos to commercial 2-ton trucks to modern Camaros – so don’t start to think Aussies are sensible.

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Now when it comes to power, all sanity is definitely thrown out the window. Take Chris Genter’s FROM HELL Holden Commodore for example. Yes, it’s a lovable more-door VC Commodore from the early 80s and while those came from the factory with puny 154hp V8s, the new donk towering higher than the roofline is a 515-cube big-block Chevy, blown and methanol-injected with everyone’s favorite Big ’n’ Ugly injector hat. Screwed together by one of Melbourne’s most reputable mill masters, Powerhouse Engines, it’s good for 1260 of their finest tire-frying horses.

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As the sport has gained traction (while yes, it’s based on the art of losing traction), blown and injected V8s have become the most popular form of power due to the fact that the alcohol- or methanol-based fuel runs cool even at high engine temps and is well suited for four-digit horsepower engines. Plus, those hats look tough as hell poking out of mom’s old soccer taxi. To produce the insane amount of smoke these guys do, the rear tires must spin up to a crazy high speed in a crazy short time and stay there for over a minute, so something like a blown and injected big-block with 1500hp spinning at 8500rpm is, well, the norm. Some maniacs have even imported ex-NASCAR mills as a platform considering the engine applications are almost similar.

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If for some reason you don’t notice the enormous engines poking out the front, there are other noticeable traits of Aussie burnout cars to aid in drivability while still retaining maximum smokeage. Many of the elite drivers use shortened rear ends to suck the wheels deep into the tubs helping to produce concentrated billows of thick smoke, as well as keep flailing steel bands and pieces of rubber from hacking up the sides of their ride. Extra long exhaust pipes are also used to push the smoke out further into the once-clean air while keeping any flammable gases away from plastic bumper bars, though they’re not always good at that.

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And just as car, paint and driving technique make up a competitor’s trademark style, so too do the vanity plates. That final cherry on the burnout car cake is bolted to the front and back of each ride and is a six- to eight-letter summation of how tough, loud, smokey and crazy each driver is. A few of our favorites from this year’s burnout extravaganza: SMOKINU, TYRH8R, OBNXYS, UNCIVIL, KILLASET, F-DIS, 1FATRAT. Ahhh, modern poetry.

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The Smoke
Now wait a minute, you ask, isn’t tire smoke white? The answer to that is: mostly yes. When tires lose traction and spin on an abrasive surface like tarmac, they heat up enough to vaporize the rubber without it igniting, meaning the smoke particles are white and not black like burnt rubber. The grey tinge to the smoke is super-fine rubber particles flying through the air, which manage to get everywhere.

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That awesome coloring you may have noticed in the photos is what happens when new compounds are introduced into the tyre-moulding process, specifically designed to create vibrantly colored smoke upon vaporization. The pioneering Aussie business Highway Tyres developed these compounds working closely with top-level burnout competitors and the results have become incredibly popular in the burnout scene.

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Highway won’t divulge their chemicals, which is fair enough, but the secret herbs and spices that go into their Max Colored Smoke tires mean burnout competitors can add even more flair to their smoke shows. Blue, green, yellow, red and even pink smoke is now commonplace at burnout events and some drivers even combine two colors, making artsy palettes of mixed-tint smokey goodness. When we tried it on our General Maintenance Hellcat, we sucked a bunch of dye into the intake and glommed some sensors, so the Aussies must know something we don’t.

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The Fire
With the extreme levels of fuel, horsepower, smoke and general insanity that come with burnout shows, fire is never far away and has become an unofficial drawcard for spectators. Crowd-favorite drivers might not always score big points but they’re loved the nation over for their high chances of self-immolation. Plastic bumpers melting like cheese, fireballs careering across rubber-soaked tarmac, chest-thumping bangs and the excitement of destruction? One ticket, please!

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Fires can occur for any number of reasons, but most drivers attribute it to built-up rubber, oil and fuel caked to the underside of the car, in wheel-wells and on exhaust pipes, right where the most burnout heat is generated. If this flammable concoction hits the right temperature, it will ignite and continue to stay lit as the burnout happens, turning skid cars into spinning flamethrowers much to the delight of the crowd, and much to the worry of the fire crews. Rich tunes on methanol- and alcohol-injected engines are also a leery exercise – though they’re incredibly common – and many drivers use long straight-pipe exhausts to try solve their fire woes.

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Safety crews keep a watchful eye over each and every burnout and are trigger-happy on the extinguishers should anything heat up too much. We all know what happens when engines catch fire so shutting down early gives drivers the best possible chance of returning home with their car in one piece. Most can even drive off the burnout pad after a quick extinguishing, perhaps only cooked medium-rare.

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So there you have it: Aussie Burnouts 101. A wild scene Down Under with stupid amounts of horsepower, crazy cars, lots of fire, colored smoke, giant crowds and actual prize money. Sound like something you need to see more of? I don’t blame you. Check out the tons of videos on the Interwebz, or better yet, fly yourself over on a big metal bird to get a closer look. Aussie Aussie Aussie!

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