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“We just get on with it… while having the most amount of fun… Summernats is proof you can run events in the climate that exists, it's just about adapting”
It’s Bridget Bell and joining me sits Ellie Thorley, Summernats Event Manager direct from Event Control, in the midst of delivering the 34th Annual Summernats in Canberra.
When I first met Ellie, it was through Jarrod MacLean (@jmac_media1 for those of you playing at home), he called me one day and said something along the lines of “…be available [this date], I’ve got you a gig with Cruise for Charity, don’t embarrass me…” and we all know how that story turns out.
At the Perth Motorplex, one glorious weekend, I meet this spritely youthful woman, she’s bubbly, passionate and authoritative all at once. It’s my first exposure to an actual #bosslady in the wild.
Here stood before me the polar opposite of the narrative of ‘Event Manager’, where I’d previously only ever been overseen by mature men, with grey hair (or no hair) and advancing wisdom, in the top-most leadership roles.
As I stood, jaw still swinging trying to overcome my own internal bias, Ellie utilised the time to dictate a text message coordinating action for some issue with an entrant, read an email and dolled out 2 separate instructions on the CB Radio pinned to her shirt.
Ever the professional, I closed my mouth, smiled and continued to introduce myself and await my instructions for the event.
I will never forget meeting her at the top of her rev range, her flawlessly manicured coffin-shaped nails effortlessly scrolling through emails and entrant lists, run sheets and text messages while she maintained an easy conversation asking me what I’d normally do and filling in the gaps that she required for the event.
“Ellie, I am so flattered that you agreed to come on board for Flash Femmes” I gush, equal parts disbelief and girl crushing over one of the most organised and fluent multi-taskers I have ever met.
“I’m still a bit shocked you want to chat with me! Very honoured” she laughs easily, relaxed amongst the controlled chaos surrounding her.
Ellie, I’d like our readers to get to know you a bit better, what is your origin story?
“I have been working in events for almost 15 years now, starting with Cruise for Charity with Street Commodores as my first national event schedule, then joining the MotorActive team to deliver MotorEx and the Bathurst 12 Hour and now Summernats where we deliver Summernats, MotorEx, Red CentreNATS, Motorvation and Rockynats.”
How is Summernats 34 going?
“It's been a busy one, [it’s the] first time back on the ground in Canberra since January 2020. A huge number of excited patrons, maybe a little too excited sometimes, all battling with the new world of COVID restrictions we live in. The biggest success is being back, doing what we love and making our people happy.”
Let's chat COVID, from lockdowns to living with it, the uncertainty of events going ahead, varying infection control measures, dealing with different government bodies and evolving regulations. Obviously the COVID 19 pandemic is far more advanced on the East Coast than here in the West, what kind of challenges does that impose working between states?
“COVID is one of those ‘love to hate' for me. The silver lining was that it was the reason I spent my first Christmas at my home with my family as Summernats was postponed.”
“It’s changed the way we operate. I have successfully delivered two major events, including Motorvation 36, remotely. It’s not going away, the most frustrating thing I come across is people who want to blame us for the restrictions that exist” the disappointment is palpable in her response.
“‘The Summernats Institute of Infection Control’ has a nice ring to it doesn’t it?” She rolls her eyes sardonically.
"We just get on with it, deliver the event in the capacity we can while having the most amount of fun doing it. Summernats is proof you can run events in the climate that exists, it's just about adapting and getting on with it."
How do you overcome big issues, how do you and the team employ problem solving? Motorsport is not without its fair share of uncontrolled thermal events?
“I use common sense and a platform for discussion. Working with the sanctioning bodies, Motorsport Australia and ANDRA, we have access to the most sound advice around safety and compliance along with the experience we have here within our own staff."
"I find a lot of the squeaky wheels really haven’t thought through what it would be like to be on the receiving end of an issue or even behind the wheel. It is our aim to have the most amount of fun in the safest way.”
Can you tell me what running a spectacle like Summernats involves? What daily challenges are you faced with?
“In the lead up it’s all work work work” she laughs
“We plan as much as we can to the millionth degree. Everything from signage, timings, communications, maps, lists, so many lists” she mutters under her breath.
“And lots of meetings. It’s important to keep your team on the same page as you are. One team, one dream” she grins.
“During the event we start early and finish late, on the ground it is mostly problem solving and providing information. Lots of time on the radio and going through the run sheet ticking things off. I meet with different government bodies during the event for status updates confirm how we’re tracking.”
“Pack down takes about a week, in comparison to the 3 weeks build, lots of damage reports, emails, invoicing, staff debriefs and payroll. It’s a very administratively heavy time to get the venue ready for hand-back.”
Ellie, who are your essential team players, what’s in your event survival kit?
“A solid team of doers, like yourself” she’s clearly flirting with me at this point.
“Event days are a tough slog so you need a group of people who will support each other, problem solve and pick up the slack.”
“Logistics crew is so important, the guys with the tickets to move the barriers, the ability to put up and move the fences, when you see those guys hanging signs again, say 'thank you' because those guys are the real MVPs” she nods approvingly.
What advice would you give someone forging a path to where you are now?
"Find something you are really passionate about, and do that. It sounds simple, but it is the most effective way to do the best job because you genuinely care about the product."
"I highly recommend any PR course you can get your hands on and learning all about productivity and time management. Those three things are paramount to my role and help every day."
What’s next on the agenda for 2022 for you and the Summernats crew?
“Motorvation is on soon, I cant wait to be back there. Fingers crossed the border lets me cross and I can enjoy the party I have waited two years to get to”
“Ellie” I interject, “as much as I adore looking at you through a zoom call, there is nothing quite like sharing a cervesa and tacos with you in person”.
“Once we finish there, it’s straight off to Rockynats, closely followed by MotorEx and rounding out the first 7 months with Red CentreNATS.”
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