In our latest series Australiana, VICE explores our national identity beyond the stereotypes. There are no cork hats or shrimps on the barbie here—we're letting Australians tell their own stories, free of national myth or propaganda.
Burnouts are more than a bane for the police, or fodder for A Current Affair reporters. As fans of the sport will tell you, making those distinctive black skidmarks requires intricate skill and mechanical knowledge, as well as passion and pride. And there are kids living in Australia's suburban outskirts who've elevated this quintessential youthful pastime of spinning a car around until smoke cascades aesthetically from its wheels into a work of art.
I'm talking to one such fan, East Gippsland-based burnout enthusiast CJ Starkey. Now 25, CJ started doing burnouts in his backyard when he was 12 years old.
"The media does really put a bad spin on it all," he says. "If only they'd actually see this side of it where it's a big family and not everyone is a person who just goes out and does stupid stuff in the middle of town, that there is a good side to it. And it brings a lot of… I guess for a lot of people they use it as an escape, a bit of a release from life. For the one or two minutes you're in a car and doing a burnout, nothing else in the world matters. It really is an awesome feeling."
In East Gippsland, where the youth unemployment rate sits at 21.7 percent—that's almost triple the national figure—and drug-related crime is at an all-time high, the installation of a community burnout pad has changed lives.
"Thing is, down here in East Gippsland since the burnout pad has opened up and there's been monthly events for burnouts, a lot of us who used to do it on the streets and got in trouble for it in the past have rallied and got everybody together and we just go out there every month and have a lot of fun," CJ explains.
Before he started attending community burnout events, CJ got arrested for skidding on public property. "I have had an interesting driving history and most of my burnouts before we got the pad were on the road," he explains. "I got in trouble for it and sort of changed me ways. It was a kick in the arse to change me lifestyle and do it the right way on a burnout pad where you've got an audience. You've got the chance of winning prizes and no chance of getting in trouble."
The showmanship of burnout comps—the roar of the crowd as well as the engine—is what makes them so much fun. CJ says it's a peculiarly Aussie phenomenon that you won't find elsewhere. "Australia is the world leader in technique and style and everything. New Zealand is probably the second-best in the world for burnouts. But in America they just take the car out there and sit there until the tyres pop. So it's not real technique or anything, compared to the Australian style which is where you try and do it so you put on the best for the crowd."
CJ describes the transcendental experience of the perfect burnout in vivid detail. "To go out there, put on a big show, get both tyres off, and drive off the burnout pad at the end of the day with a still-running car. Not hit any walls." But he's not too phased about technique at the end of the day. "I don't really care if I go out and win or lose, it's just go out and have fun."
CJ says there's a certain humble quality to the competitive burnout world, which makes it unique and attractive for young people who can't—for lack of skill, access, or resources—pursue other sports.
"Doesn't matter if you get up to the top level or become the best competitive person in Australia in the sport. Even if you're starting out, everybody helps each other. I'm relatively unknown but I've done work on people's cars who are very big names and won some of the biggest competitions in Australia," he says. "In any other sport in Australia you talk to big name people and they're not generally interested in talking to smaller names so much. But in burnouts everybody is equal."
Many young Australians grow up with motorsport dreams, but the Bathurst 1000 is an achievable goal for very few. Burnout comps, on the other hand, are open to anybody from anywhere. And, perhaps most importantly, nowhere. It's a perspective you don't see so much on A Current Affair.
"With speedway and everything like that you've got to have roll cages in the car and things. But with a burnout car you don't have to do a lot to it, pretty much you can spend anywhere from $50 to $200 000 and still do a burnout in it. I've had one burnout car that we bought for $25," says CJ.
"Anyone can do it. I haven't found a car that I can't do a burnout in yet."
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