Column: Long Beach, home of the tire-shredding doughnut

Who doesn’t love a doughnut? And I’m not talking about a gourmet maple bar with a garnish of bacon slapped on top or a powdered lemon-curry-stuffed doughnut, although the rhetorical question still applies, and the unnecessary answer is nobody. Nobody doesn’t love that kind of doughnut.

Rather, I’m referring to those acrid-smelling tire-shredding street-takeover maneuvers that leave black circles in the middle of intersections or along stretches of highways, and the answer here is a lot of people don’t love those doughnuts. Many consider them dangerous applications of asphalt graffiti, although there is, if you can put your get-off-my-lawn feelings aside for a moment, something fairly thrilling about a car whose driver works magic with the steering wheel, the gear shift, the clutch and the handbrake to spew burnt rubber and leave a circle of former tire in the road.

That said, my attorneys insist that I come out hard against street takeovers and figurative automotive pastries.

Nobody knows the origin of doughnuts. It probably started somewhere in the Carolina backwoods by bootleggers, the way everything involving doing weird things with cars started.

But the more righteous version of the doughnut—one not performed by a kid in a Kia on Carson Street, but by a professional race car driver—originated here in Long Beach.

“It’s where the victory doughnut started,” Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach CEO Jim Michaelian said during a recent interview. The bit of post-race hot-doggery was performed by Alex Zanardi after his Grand Prix victory in 1997. After the win, he motored his Target CART car a bit down the track and executed a somewhat less-than-perfect tire-burning circle to the delight and surprise of the fans lining that stretch of road.

CART, however, was not amused and hinted at fines for further doughnuts. Zanardi refrained for his next couple of wins, but finally succumbed to the fun and fans’ applause and began putting the circular maneuver into his victories, as did other drivers in motorsports such as NASCAR, to the point where it’s almost mandatory—and if you’re of a mind to think so, Zanardi’s antics may have contributed to the current popularity of spinning smudge circles on public streets.

Zanardi, along with Bill Auberlen, will be the new inductees in Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame at 11 a.m. Thursday, April 7, though Zanardi will not be present. A major crash in 2001 resulted in the amputation of his legs.

He took up the sport of handcycling, a form of Paralympic cycling, and in June 2020 he was involved in a serious road injury while competing and was placed in a medical coma. He was hospitalized for 18 months. He is still in the process of recovery.

You can see the Zanardi’s debut doughnut maneuver in Long Beach at the 12:50 mark in the accompanying video.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.