Summernats co-owner Andy Lopez – interview

We chat with Summernats co-owner Andy Lopez about his time at the helm of the world's greatest car show - and his first trip down Skid Row!

Photographers: Chris Thorogood, SM Archives

THERE is a joke in the music industry that despite the fact that Brian Johnson has been the lead singer of AC/DC for over 40 years, he’s still the new guy in the band.

First published in the March 2022 issue of Street Machine

Something similar could be said for Street Machine Summernats co-owner Andy Lopez. Andy, along with his partners Andrew Bee and Dominic McCormack, bought the event from founder Chic Henry in 2009, sight-unseen. Their first time at the event was 2010, meaning the ‘new guys’ now have 12 Summernats under their belts. While they’ve got some catching up to do to be on a par with Chic in terms of sheer number of events, there’s no doubt the new owners have built upon the incredible foundations he laid.

Andy has since expanded the automotive side of his business to include involvement in many other events, including MotorEx, Red CentreNATS, Rockynats, Motorvation and the Australian Top Fuel Championship.

As we speak, you guys must be in full Motorvation mode?

Yep! This is our second year working on Motorvation and the second time I haven’t been able to attend myself. The West Australian border was due to open at midnight on the Saturday, so we had tickets booked so we could at least be there for Sunday, but then the border rules changed again and that was off. We’re lucky to have Kevin Prendergast on board. He’s been part of Motorvation going way back, so he knows the DNA. He’s leading a really good team of WA Summernats crew alongside the Perth Motorplex guys.

What’s your role at Motorvation?

It’s a partnership with the Motorplex. We help curate the competitions, the program, marketing and judging – all the car show stuff. The Motorplex has the IP, delivers the officials and runs the competition side of things. This year we introduced Skid Row there for the first time and built up the Elite side of things with more unveils. We really want to bring back the festival side of Motorvation.

Summernats has always had a good crew of entrants bringing their cars across the country from Perth.

They’re always heavy hitters, either on the show side or in the burnouts. And it is neat when you see them pack up at Summernats and head straight back for Motorvation. We’d love to build on that.

You’ve started working with the new Australian Top Fuel Championship; how are you finding drag racing?

It’s a challenge, but it’s fun. Round One of the series was held at Sydney Dragway a couple of weeks after Summernats. Sydney had been a swamp for the 10 days before the meeting but was beautiful on the Saturday, and people turned out in droves. We had seven Top Fuel cars running, and each car got four passes.

What did you guys bring to the show?

We focused on the vibe. We gave each Top Fuel pass a ceremony and made sure the other classes had plenty of time to do their thing, instead of rushing them. We brought in FMX, drifting and burnouts to make sure there is always something cool to watch. We also produced a really good TV broadcast that I think raised the bar.

The Red CentreNATS concept of taking Summernats out into the regions seems to be something that really works.

I think so. We had 1000 entrants at Red CentreNATS last year, and that was with people from NSW and Victoria locked out. Rockynats is already at 1400 entrants this year. The different levels of government can see how much benefit events like this bring, not just in terms of dollars spent, but also in terms of bringing excitement and colour to their communities.

Of all your events to have been kicked around by COVID, MotorEx must have had it the worst?

We had to reschedule four or five times. But we’ve got good entries for this year’s event and we’re very lucky that our sponsors and exhibitors have stayed on board. The unveils at MotorEx will be jaw-dropping; it will take up an entire pavilion.

So the permanent move from Sydney has been a good thing?

For sure. The style of venue we have in Melbourne has really allowed us to make it a community-style event.

What was that first Summernats in 2010 like for you guys?

We were there to learn. Chic stayed on to run the first couple of events with his crew and the only changes we really made that first year was to put concerts on the Friday and Saturday nights – something we were very experienced in already. And we got rid of the wet T-shirt comp.

What were your first impressions of the event?

I locked myself away and literally cried! It seemed so insane. But we got our heads around it during the first couple of years. I was also lucky to have my good mate Peter Robbins start working with us as the logistics manager. He dug into how the event was delivered in terms of the venue build.

You guys made a couple of key changes to the layout of the event itself early on, moving the stage to the middle of the oval and rebuilding the burnout pad.

Yep, moving the stage was important to give us a focus point and make a bit of a statement that music was going to be a big part of the show. Convincing the ACT Government to move the pad was critical. We were under a lot of pressure from the EPA as the burnout cars got bigger and noisier – we were breaking noise limits all the time. Moving the start of the pad to the other end gave us another 400 metres to play with. They also built us a permanent grandstand. Building up the Burnout Masters was a big thing. We got a lot of good advice and help from guys like Leroy Rees, Mick Brasher and many others. We created an environment where the burnout competitors were treated with respect, and we worked with other promoters to create feeder events for the Masters. The whole experience has been really collaborative between the promoters, the entrants and the fans all pulling in the same direction.

The vibe on the cruise route this year was fairly exuberant, shall we say! Was that a planned thing?

We’re always trying to find ways to let entrants do the fun stuff they want to do. It may not seem like it at times, but that’s the thinking behind things like Skid Row. This year it was pretty wild out on Main Street. After two years of lockdown, people were ready to party. So rather than make it an evict-a-thon, we decided to manage it. I got out on the cruise route with other members of the team and we worked with security and the entrants to let them have fun but keep it safe. Skid Row works great, but there is something about the interaction between the crowd and the cars on the cruise route – the crowd loves to feel like they are having an impact on what cars are doing, and the drivers love the reactions they get.

You had your first lash down Skid Row yourself this year, yeah?

[Laughs] Yep! I’d never done a burnout in my life before that. When I started at Summernats, I was driving a diesel Peugeot wagon, but Pete Robbins said, “You’re not allowed to drive this anymore,” so I got an FPV. Then when the Mustangs came out, I grabbed one, met Robbie Herrod, and it ended up supercharged. I did a practice on Skid Row with my offsider Adrian Hodgson to teach me what to do. I was shitting myself, but it was so exciting. Then I went down in front of the crowd. They were chanting for the Mustang to hit the wall! [laughs]

What’s been your favourite ’Nats so far?

Summernats 30 was off its head, with 2500 entrants, but 34 was the most special to me. To see the happiness of everyone who could get there. It was a tough one to get done, but we did it. Pulling off the additional Fringe Festival in Braddon was great, and just the problem-solving around COVID and the storm was rewarding.


EVERY once in a while, we get questions about why concerts are such a big part of the Street Machine Summernats experience, but for Andy it’s a no-brainer.

“If you want to know why we put on music, look out at the main arena on Friday and Saturday nights,” he says. “It’s packed with happy people. It is a great way to finish the day and send people home on a high.

“Music is also a great way to tip younger people over into coming to the event. They might come to see hip-hop acts, but they’ll also get to see all the car stuff and no doubt we are able to convert more than a few of them into car people, which we need if the scene is going to keep growing.

“In terms of the acts we have, the hip-hop and DJ stuff goes very well. Timmy Trumpet this year drew the biggest crowd since Hilltop Hoods. Guys like him are great because they have that DJ thing that the younger kids like, but a lot of the music they play is classic Aussie rock.

“That said, we’d love to have a heritage rock act back at the event, but they have to be the right band. Bands like Hoodoo Gurus (above) have a wide appeal across all ages.”