The Art of the Burnout

The Art of the Burnout

By Jim Campisano

This is nothing so wasteful, so silly or absolutely beautiful as a properly executed burnout. Maybe it was seeing pictures of the Hurst Hairy Olds performing four-wheel smoke-fests that got me hooked. Perhaps it was watching older guys doing them in their beat-up muscle cars, or it could have been witnessing the racers on the starting line at Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J., as a starry-eyed adolescent that got me addicted.

Obviously, I’m not alone. Every post-race celebration in NASCAR now includes at least one lengthy burnout, perhaps some donuts, and the kind of hooliganism you won’t see after any sports car race. I maintain the road to adulthood is paved with your first kiss, your first beer and your first burnout (the order is up to you). You get extra credit for your first wheelie.

I was with the PowerNation TV team at the Street Machine Nationals in Minnesota last weekend, and naturally the most watched event was the burnout contest. Thousands packed the fairground’s bleachers, with the kind of bloodlust normally reserved for the Super Bowl or an execution. Eighteen peopled volunteered to melt their hides for fame and no fortune. You can watch Detroit Muscle’s coverage of the Street Machine Nats on Spike on October 4, but I’ve put some cellphone videos here for your viewing pleasure now.


This display of tire (and in the case of one Mercury Marauder) quarter-panel destruction got me to thinking about the first time I ever melted a perfectly good BFG Radial T/A. I was in my ’71 Barracuda, a 318 2-bbl convertible that, thanks to its factory twin-scoop hood and Cragar S/S rims, looked for all the world like its more muscular 340- , 440- and Hemi-powered brethren. It was my first car.

Me and the boys were hanging out at the Exxon station where I worked and the BS was flowing. The station was on a pretty busy street on the border of two large north Jersey towns, so discretion was not on my side, plus all my buddies were there egging me on. Obviously, my manhood was on the line—so was my car’s reputation. Business was slow and my nerves were on edge. What if I screwed it up? Still, I mustered up my courage and after someone poured water under the right tire, I pumped the brake pedal a few times, held it down, then whacked the throttle.

The secret to any successful burnout is to maintain a high-enough rpm to keep the tires spinning really fast. Too often at car shows and drag strips you see people try to do burnouts, but once the tires are spinning they lift a little and the power drops to a point where the engine either bogs or the tires barely spin. This is not exactly the best thing for your vehicle. I didn’t have a tachometer (the price of the E-body and insurance ate up all the dough for the requisite Sun Super Tach II), but I knew enough to keep the engine screaming.

Soon enough, the station was full of curling white clouds of smoke and my buddies were cheering. I’d passed whatever test with flying colors. As this was back in the prehistoric days before cell phone cameras, there’s no photographic evidence of this monumental occasion except in my memory. Knowing how strict my parents were, perhaps this is for the best. Burnouts in a gas station—what could possibly go wrong?

Where did you do your first burnout and what were you driving? Enjoy these burnout videos from the Street Machine Nationals, then tell us your story here.

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