Red CentreNATS returns to Central Australia for eighth episode of drag racing, burnout festival

This is the pride and joy of Bruce Thomas.

The car enthusiast says that for three years he spent eight hours every weekend restoring his 1972 Ford Falcon XY.

“It’s just to look good and ride. That’s it,” he said.

Mr Thomas said the iconic vehicle was a rusty mess when he acquired it but, with the help of a few pals, he had gone to the ‘nth degree’ to restore it to pristine condition.

“If something goes wrong, you have to do it again,” he said.

“You rub fingerprints off your fingers just to try to make them smooth.”

Mr Thomas was one of 1,043 attendees at this year’s Red CentreNATS in Alice Springs, where revheads from across the country gathered for the annual festival celebrating all things automotive.

There was a record number of participants at this year’s Red CentreNATS. (ABC News: Xavier Martin)

Now in its eighth year, the festival welcomed more than 10,000 attendees over the weekend, with the street parade of modified vehicles passing through town once again proving a show stopper.

Red CentreNATS director Andy Lopez said the festival has seen significant growth over the years and he has high hopes for the future of the event.

“When we held our first Red CentreNATS in 2015, we had 300 attendees. We’ve had well over 1,000 attendees this year,” he said.

Smiling man in front of cars
Andy Lopez says there is a bright future for Red CentreNATS.(ABC News: Xavier Martin)

“In the future we’re going to see bigger and better races, more burnouts, more cruises and hopefully the city grows to meet the demand of people coming here.

“You just can’t get a room in Alice Springs from about three months after this event.”

Program kicks into high gear with new inclusions

The program expanded in September with the inclusion of the traveling Mulletfest competition, as well as a round of the Top Fuel Championship, welcoming some of the fastest cars in existence to the Red Center track.

In another first for the festival, more than 20 Indigenous students and community members signed on to restore and decorate a collection of iconic vehicles.

Some students have traveled hundreds of miles from Central Australian communities surrounding Alice Springs to participate in the Rusted Gems project.

Young aboriginal men stand around a restored vehicle
Students from Aboriginal schools participated in the restoration and decoration of the vehicles.(ABC News: Xavier Martin)

Project coordinator Owen Webb said participants got creative with their work.

“In Papunya they dragged an old Valiant station wagon out of the bush, and the group there worked hard on it,” he said.

“I also have six different kids from six different communities, and they designed an envelope that represents their community and their totems.

“It gives them that real inclusion, and now they can indicate which community they’re from.”

Mr Webb said being part of the project made him feel like “the luckiest guy in the world”.

“The auto industry is a great industry, and it gives me the opportunity to give back,” he said.

“These young natives are so talented, and I can’t believe how smart they are.

“I would love to help develop some of these skills and hopefully find them employment in some really good jobs or start their own workshops.”

High-speed thrills and overflows

A flash of wet weather on Thursday night prompted organizers to postpone a drag race qualifying to the next day, but that wasn’t enough to put the brakes on the event.

A yellow Commodore burns out
The smell of burning rubber was in the air as cars pitted for burnouts. (ABC News: Xavier Martin)

Top Fuel driver Peter Xiberras said preparing his car before each race was a daunting task.

“The engine is stripped down to a bare block and a rotating crankshaft, and we rebuild it with new or reconditioned connecting rods, pistons, cylinder heads, blowers,” he said.

“That’s it, and we do it at every turn.”

Mr. Xiberras said car enthusiasts have a need for speed that brings them back more every year.

“It’s noise, speed, it’s how much power we can throw and how fast we can go from A to B,” he said.

The festival is already open to attendees for the 2023 event, which is set to return to the Red Center for Father’s Day weekend.

A modified car drives past the crowd on the side of the street
Highly modified vehicles take to the streets of Alice Springs for the parade.(ABC News: Xavier Martin)

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