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Auto Racing Doughnuts not widely accepted in NASCAR

Sunday, September 07, 2003

By Jenna Fryer, The Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- When Terry Labonte took the checkered flag at the Southern 500, he refused to celebrate by turning doughnuts on the track.

The practice of spinning the car and creating thick, white puffs of smoke is extremely popular with fans and younger drivers, but a sign of unprofessionalism to many veterans.

"I am too old to do doughnuts. I think it's goofy looking," said Labonte, 46, who instead took one slow victory lap Sunday around Darlington Raceway with the checkered flag.

"I watch those guys do that all of the time and I just wonder to myself what the look would be on Junior Johnson's face if you had done that to one of his cars."

Johnson, one of NASCAR's pioneers, won 50 races during his career, then fielded cars for other drivers for nearly 30 years. Labonte drove for Johnson from 1987-89.

The day before Labonte's victory, teenage teammates Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch celebrated their 1-2 finish in the Busch Series race by turning doughnuts together on the Darlington frontstretch.

Busch said he and Vickers were just having fun, and Vickers never complained about sharing his winning moment with his teammate. But never before had anyone seen a driver celebrate a second-place finish with a burnout. The reaction was stunned amazement.

"Doughnuts have gotten a little carried away," Winston Cup points leader Matt Kenseth said. "I mean, if the race winner does it and the other guy clinched the championship that day and does it, that's one thing. But second place? Unbelievable."

Driver Jeff Burton proudly boasts that he's never done a doughnut after any of his 17 Winston Cup victories.

"I prefer to act like I've been there before and expect to be there again," Burton said. "It's just not in my personality to be so showy about something you expected."

It's believed that former CART series and Formula One driver Alex Zanardi came up with the celebratory doughnut in the late '90s. It became a trademark of his, with each ensuing burnout topping the last one.

"Once he saw that it was so well accepted with the fans, he really started working on them," said Jimmy Vasser, Zanardi's former teammate. "Then he said we could start doing them, too. But we said, 'It's your trademark, Alex, we're not going to do them.'

"Nobody did any doughnuts while he was still in CART. Some guys do it once in a while now, but I see it's the NASCAR guys who have really copied it."

Fewer and fewer open-wheel drivers are mimicking Zanardi, in part because of the damage it can do. After Bruno Junqueira won in Denver last weekend, his crew quickly radioed him that doughnuts would be at his own expense.

"If you want to do one, you can pay for the damage it does," he was told.

Kevin Harvick is well-known for his doughnuts, including a famous one last month at Indianapolis that tore off his tire and blew off a fender. The late Dale Earnhardt, who drove that car before Harvick, would not have approved.

"I think doughnuts are cool, but Dale hated them," said car owner Richard Childress. "He wouldn't do them and he wouldn't let his drivers do them, either."

Legend has it that when Dale Earnhardt Jr. did a doughnut to celebrate his win at Richmond several years ago, his father sent him a bill charging him for the damage to the No. 8 Chevrolet.

NASCAR doesn't have a clear-cut opinion on the post-race celebrations, but understands Earnhardt's logic in how much damage a doughnut can do to a car. Motors can blow, tires can explode and the sheet metal can crumple.

"You can just see the engine builder gritting his teeth and crew chiefs freaking out when they see their car doing a doughnut," Winston Cup director John Darby said. "I suppose the thrill of victory warrants some sort of celebration. Unfortunately this new fad of doing doughnuts can ruin a lot of valuable information that a crew can take from a car after a race."

Michael Waltrip didn't do a burnout after winning the Busch Series race at Bristol in a car he owns himself. Instead, he did a headstand in Victory Lane and saved a ton of money.

"Michael pays the bills on that, so he wasn't going to mess it up," said Slugger Labbe, Waltrip's Winston Cup crew chief. "And I don't think you would have seen Brian Vickers do one if he was still driving stuff his dad owned."

Sterling Marlin doesn't do doughnuts after a win, but when Jamie McMurray got his first career victory last season as an injury replacement for Marlin, his crew gave him permission to do a burnout.

But it came with a warning -- "Don't blow anything up. You still have to get through inspection," he was told.

"It's OK to do a doughnut if it's your first win, or you just won the championship or something," said Tony Glover, one of McMurray's team managers. "But don't do one for your 25th win. Save it for something special and act like a professional the rest of the time."

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