‘Snobs’ lashed for trashing Summernats

Eds: Note language in par 6

By Julian Drape

CANBERRA, Jan 5 AAP – Summernats owner Andy Lopez has fired a broadside at the “snobs and bigots” who believe everyone who attends the controversial Canberra car festival must be a drunken, sexist hoon.

And he’s received support from the top of the ACT government with Tourism Minister Andrew Barr declaring the “reformed” event proves Canberra isn’t just for the elite arts crowd.

Summernats 25 got underway on Thursday with an orderly parade of 200 street machines down the capital city’s main thoroughfare.

Thousands of people crowded Northbourne Avenue’s footpaths to watch the chromed-up cars.

But as always much of the community debate and media coverage focused on the anti-social behaviour that has blighted previous events.

Mr Lopez was asked on radio if he was concerned Summernats was “sexist” because patrons have, infamously, yelled “show us your tits” at women.

He responded by declaring such behaviour wasn’t as prevalent as it once was.

Later in the day Mr Lopez turned his sights on those who pre-judged the event.

“I am tired of people being categorised because they go to the Summernats,” he told reporters.

“If you categorised any other group of people by one characteristic you’d be called at best a snob or at worst a bigot.

“The Summernats (crowd) is a very broad group of people – it’s made up of Australians from all different demographics.”

Thursday’s so-called “Citycruise” down Northbourne Avenue was the first time in 18 years that machines attending the country’s biggest car festival were let loose on public roads.

Summernats’ original Saturday afternoon “Supercruise” was scrapped after a number of events in the early 1990s ended in street riots.

Police arrested hundreds of people in 1993 for offences including drunkenness, missile throwing and dangerous driving.

The ACT government allowed cars back onto the city streets this year because Mr Lopez has cleaned up Summernats since buying the event in mid-2009.

He’s banned the controversial wet T-shirt competition and added more live music to the schedule.

The ACT Labor government says it’s important the national capital reflects Australia.

“Not everyone is interested in arts and cultural activities and pursuits and Australians have had a long fascination with the motor vehicle,” Mr Barr told ABC Radio on Thursday.

“There is recognition even among the harshest critics of Summernats that the event under its new owners has reformed and the worst excesses of behaviour that have perhaps blighted the event in the past have been addressed.”

It’s estimated the car festival brings in up to $15 million every year.

Mr Lopez says that’s part of the reason Canberra has continued to embrace the event.

“A lot of the businesses, the hotels, retailers, hospitality – this is a really big weekend for them in January in what would otherwise be a very slow time of year,” he told reporters.

About 90,000 people will flock to Exhibition Park over the four days of Summernats 25.

The thousands who lined Northbourne Avenue on Thursday were positive about the street machines returning to the CBD.

Office workers told AAP that holding the Citycruise in the middle of a weekday meant they could see the cars without having to put up with the “craziness” that occurred in the early 1990s.

They said while they wouldn’t necessarily attend the event itself they enjoyed watching the parade in an environment that was safe – even for children.

Summernats 25 runs until Sunday.

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