Tracing The Origin Of NASCAR’s Iconic Celebration

By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer

As common as life is, everything has a beginning, an origin story. The first hat, the first tool, weapon, all of which had its first. Henry Ford famously said that the first race was “when the second car was built.” So, what about a victory burnout in motorsports?

Alex Zanardi’s Burnouts

The iconic NASCAR celebration has also been seen in other forms of motorsports including CART, F1, and IndyCar. Among those that have performed a burnout celebration are Alex Zanardi, Lewis Hamilton, and Sebastian Vettel.

Some have even credited Zanardi for the first burnout celebration following a victory in the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1997. It was the fourth win of Zanardi’s career with Chip Ganassi.

Earnhardt and Gordon

Still others point towards Dale Earnhardt’s celebration in the 1998 Daytona 500 or Jeff Gordon’s at Rockingham Speedway near the end of the year, the 12th of his record-tying 13 win championship season. 

Prior to that race in 1998, Gordon had performed minor wheelstands and burnouts during his first championship season in 1995. As the eventual four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion represented the changing of the guard and a new generation, the then unorthodox celebrations began to be associated with him. 

Was Miller’s Celebration the First Burnout?

However, before Earnhardt, Gordon, and Zanardi, there was another. In a race that is largely forgotten as having the closest finish to date in NASCAR, Butch Miller likely performed the first modern burnout celebration in NASCAR history for a National Touring Series points-paying race.

After a late-race battle with Mike Skinner, the duo took the checkered flag in the 1995 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series TOTAL Petroleum 200 at Colorado National Speedway in a photo finish. Lapped traffic forced Miller to slow, giving Skinner the opportunity to jump to the inside, creating the photo finish.

Miller narrowly beat Skinner by 0.0001 seconds according to NASCAR’s electronic timing and scoring. That’s 0.0003 seconds closer than Tyler Reddick and Elliott Sadler in the Xfinity Series over two decades later.

Following his victory, on Saturday, July 15, 1995, Miller drove into the infield and did several 360 donuts. He then proceeded to perform a wheelstand in the No. 98 Raybestos Brakes Ford F-150, a signature part of the modern burnout before pulling into victory lane. While it wasn’t an overly dramatic smoke machine compared to the burnouts of today it was impressive nonetheless.

The win was the first and only one in Miller’s Truck Series career. It was also his third and final win in any of NASCAR’s three National Touring Series. Miller would find further success in the final years of ASA.

“Never, ever could I be more thrilled than that,” Miller said to Mike Joy post-race. “I didn’t want it to be quite that exciting, I’ve got to say. I’m just a little rusty in traffic, I…

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