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Flying the flag: Kiwi Carnage hits Summernats

11 January 2017

What can I tell you about Street Machine Summernats that hasn’t been said before? Nothing much, really, and since this year marked the event’s 30th anniversary, the whole thing was turned up to a whole new level. But let’s not delve into how the last 30 years of Aussie-style automotive excess culminated in the most insane, at times feral, and — most importantly — fun display of horsepower in the world. 

And this wasn’t just a big event for the locals, as New Zealand also had a reason to get in behind and show some love. As the Kiwi Carnage burnout team had already shipped their cars across the Tasman to compete at Tread Cemetery late last year, the invitation to participate in the burnouts at Summernats was never going to be declined. 

What you’ve got to understand is that burnouts is the fastest-growing form of motor sport in Australia — yes, I did just use the ‘M’ word — and for a bunch of good ol’ boys and girls from New Zealand to be considered good enough really is quite an achievement.

That’s how we found ourselves in a field out the back of Exhibition Park in Canberra [EPIC], watching the Kiwi Carnage cars get unloaded from a transporter courtesy of the one and only Andrew Lynch, world famous in Australia for his burnout shenanigans in the ‘LYNCHY’ Corolla. 

The way things had fallen for the Kiwis, ‘Wildcard’ entry meant they’d be going for their first burnouts on Thursday — for a shot at qualifying for Burnout Masters — with another session locked in for Sunday, whether or not any of them made it through to Masters. They just had to make it through scrutineering first… 

With the cargo locked up in the Kiwi Carnage gazebo overnight, Thursday morning was all hands on deck, as the crew began to get the cars skid-ready. Whether it was getting all scrubbed up for the big day, replacing blower gaskets, changing a diff head, or wiring some tail-lights in to pass scrutineering, everyone had a job to do. 

That all paid off as things began to get real, and the afternoon rolled around. Since Summernats is the best of the best, the judging of the burnouts is taken very seriously, with a whole raft of criteria each skid needs to meet. Included in this are strict time constraints — tyres must last at least one minute, but be popped within 1m20s, to be in with a shot.

Now I’m going to have to apologize to the team here, as I couldn’t find a suitable shooting location on Thursday, and all the photos I could get on the day were just a sea of sombreros. Make do with this shot of Sambo tearing it up on Sunday. 

Liz and Ryan Gracie have done burnouts at Summernats before, albeit over a decade ago in their ‘EV1L 8’ Torana, and hit the pad for a stellar performance in the ‘EV1L 69’ Camaro. Liz knows how to skid, and the fact that she was the only driver on the team to have skidded at Summernats did show, with the tyres done in 1m07s, although the rear corner did get a slight whack on the way out. Ian ‘Sambo’ Smith likewise went in for the kill, exhibiting magnificent vehicle control of his blown LS1-powered Mazda RX-7, and blowing both tyres off within the required time limit. 

Things didn’t go quite so smoothly for Ricky and Jenn Ireland’s ‘ENVEED’ Holden HZ ute, though. This thing sounds tough, and was on-song until Ricky got the blown 496 up in the revs, when it became obvious that something wasn’t quite right. What could have been an amazing skid turned into a quick goodbye, as he wisely elected to retire before damaging something. 

Arnie ‘Shitsnags’ Donaldson had the sprintcar-sourced 410ci small block humming, and although it didn’t sound 100 per cent, the high-revving small block still sounded incredible. It got the wheels going, as, despite never having tagged the wall in his life, Arnie managed to get that out of the way here! What’s even more impressive is the fact that his engine lunched itself at Tread Cemetery last year, but thanks to a handful of Aussies — including Paul and Jason Drew — the old Falcon was brought back to life in time for Summernats. 

Braden Smith’s ‘HAUNT U’ Holden VF Commodore wagon was another standout performer, although this thing could probably have gotten the crowd going without even firing into life. He did a bit more than just that, though, smashing a set in 1m02s to show the Aussies that team New Zealand weren’t here to mess around.

With the burnouts out of the way for the time being, the Kiwis could relax and take in everything that Summernats had to offer, and ‘everything’ just about does sum it up… 

Included in the mass of people within EPIC, a good old boy from King Country was found at the Team Gray Racing tent. John Huia grew up in New Zealand, although he’s lived in Australia for over the last decade, making the trip up from Melbourne. John’s got a Holden HZ Statesman with factory 350ci Chev, converted to a Saginaw four-speed manual box, and has promised his kids that they’ll be cruising it up to Summernats in 2019!

Joe Dirt, a friendly Aussie-based West Auckland expat who is good friends with some of the team, cruised down from the Gold Coast in his VC Valiant.

This started a near-constant cruise around tough street, and Joe Dirt (his real name is Dale Johns, he reckons) was more than happy to take anyone for a ride or even chuck them the keys. 

Some of the other team made the most of Summernats by doing the same, and Braden’s wagon sure succeeded in snapping necks wherever he happened to take it. 

Ricky and Jenn managed to get chucked in the naughty corner, in their eagerness to cruise tough street early in the morning. The louder vehicles have cruising time constraints, and, as it turns out, a 10am–6pm permit means you can’t cruise at 9.30am! Even so, it only took another 30 minutes for them to tick that massive box off their bucket list.

But, as much as there is to take in at Summernats — don’t worry, there will be more posts coming — the main focus at camp was the cars, and all efforts were being made to get them ready for Sunday. Arnie’s ute was taken down to engine wizard John Pilla at the Powerhouse Engines gazebo, for a look at the timing. Ricky and Jenn cleaned out the entire fuel system to try and clear out as much of the shit that had entered it with the last batch of E85. Unfortunately, the decision was made to pull the ute out, with a problem presumed to be the fuel-pressure regulator, although the other four cars were all sorted and ready to go. 

The Sunday burnouts were formatted with the Kiwis in the Summernats Burnout Championship Final, broken up into two parts, before and after the Burnout Masters Final. Liz was up first, putting the old Camaro to work — if the Aussies love the sight of American iron tearing the pad up, they love it even more when there’s a chick behind the wheel.

Sambo was up next, and — spoiler alert — he’d be the only Kiwi who didn’t tag the wall on the day. The blown and injected LS sure loves to rev, and Sambo makes it clear that he’s comfortable behind the wheel, putting it exactly where he wanted it to go. 

Shitsnags was up next, and he had the small block screaming, putting on an epic high-rev smoke show, although he did manage to tag the wall again. Rubbing’s racing, as they say, and with Joe Dirt in the passenger seat and a pair of jandals — not thongs — hanging out of each side, Arnie definitely put on a show. 

But the one Kiwi car the Aussies can’t get enough of is, undoubtedly, Braden’s Commodore. With the doorslammer-style side-pipes fitted, the blown and injected 468 made a hell of a racket, although the noise was shown up by the fluidity of Braden’s burnout. The commentators actually mentioned that, if he hadn’t tagged the wall or had to engage reverse, he’d have been on-track to take the competition! 

A solid effort for sure, and one of which each and every person involved can be proud. The team didn’t get any trophies, but that doesn’t matter — their once-in-a-lifetime experience is worth more than any trophy could be. 

The Kiwis’ time at Summernats 30 wrapped up much the same as it started — with the cars on the back of Lynchy’s transporter, ready for the trek up to Sydney before returning home. The only difference was the amount of beers consumed later, but that’s not for here… what happens at Summernats stays at Summernats. Get yourself over there next year, it’s even better than any article could ever make it out to be.