Chic Henry – up close, personal and partying hard

Mr Summernats has just published an autobiography, warts and all. DANIELLE NOHRA spends time with the irrepressible Chic Henry

Author Chic Henry… “Because of the very nature of the Summernats, it was like putting on a party that I’d like to go to myself.” Photo by Danielle Nohra

SURPRISINGLY, the man behind Summernats, Anthony “Chic” Henry, was more interested in swimming than cars when he was younger.

It was his friends who spent most of their time doing up cars and it wasn’t until Chic was 22, living in Sydney, when he started messing around with his ’64 Holden.

“I had an interest in cars, just not my whole life. Sport had played a big part in my life growing up,” Chic says.

His dad was also keen on not just cars but motorsports and motorbike racing, and it wasn’t until Chic, who is now coming up 71, started writing his self-published autobiography “I Remember One Time…” that he realised where his love for cars had come from. And where we discover his admiration for the comedian Spike Milligan.

“When I put the book together I had to analyse who I was and what I was attracted to,” he says.

The new book is a wide-ranging, candid journey through the ups and downs of his life told in plain language and good humour.

In an interview with “CityNews”, Chic remembers looking forward to getting his first car but couldn’t have one at the Balcombe army base, where he was an apprentice, until his last year.

“Dad bought me a really tidy green Austin A40 for when I was home on leave,” he says.

“The street racer in me made me paint a white racing stripe over it and fit a copper exhaust pipe.”

When Chic went back to base his dad painted over the stripe and took off the exhaust.

The first car of his own was a Morris Oxford panel van. He threw a mattress in the back and decorated it with some of his mum’s handmade, satin curtains and used it on weekend surf trips.

During Chic’s army career he found himself in Townsville where a drag strip opened and whet his appetite for high-performance street cars, which he says are still his favourite.

This led him to join a car club while living in Brisbane in the ‘80s.

“I liked the club aspect and I loved being part of the committee, and that developed over the years to my becoming the first national director of the Australian Street Machine Federation,” he says.

In 1985 he moved to Canberra after seeing a business opportunity that later turned into the staging of Summernats.

Two years later he built a dedicated burnout track at Exhibition Park and held the first Summernats there in January, 1988.

Chic, who got his nickname as a schoolboy from the Looney Tunes character “Henery Hawk”, says Summernats wasn’t just a car festival but a “party” with competitions for burnouts, parades and a Miss Summernats quest.

“Because of the very nature of the Summernats, it was like putting on a party that I’d like to go to myself,” he says.

“You’d never be able to put on an event like that these days, with professional strippers and wet T-shirt competitions!

“It turned out to be one of the largest, most successful, privately run events in Canberra.”

And even though the fun never ran out, after more than 20 years it became too overwhelming, especially in its last six years, which became costly. If it had ever rained the week before or the week of the event it would have sunk Chic financially. If anyone had ever been seriously hurt or worse, Chic says he wouldn’t have been able to handle it emotionally.

In 2009 Chic sold Summernats.

“What the Summernats was to me at that time was a baby that I brought into the world. I brought it up, shaped it and then adopted it out, and now I can still see it,” he says.

It also meant Chic finally had the time to drive his 1964 Chevy in an event.  

“I Remember One Time…” ($39.95) is available at chichenry.com

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