Ode to the Burnout
Save your letters. we know better.
Thanks to the curiosities of a liberal-arts education, I found myself with a 21-credit workload in my last semester of senior year, one that included a seminar on John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Published in 1667, the epic, 10-volume poem wraps itself around the biblical fall of man, painting a picture of humanity’s temptation from Satan’s view. Our professor argued that, deep down, Milton saw temptation as a kind of litmus test for the soul.
This story originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of Road & Track.
If that’s true, Performance Car of the Year might well be the bar exam for moral fortitude. Spend a week in the world’s most spectacular cars. Visit a beckoning track and some of the country’s best roads. Don’t go weak in the knees at the soprano trill of a 600-hp, twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter McLaren V-8. Try not to think too hard about being one of the first people on the planet to get your hands around the neck of the mid-engine Corvette. Be a good boy. But as John Henry opined, a man ain’t nothing but a man. We were somewhere outside Tahoe when that wide lake of asphalt and six days of sleep deprivation finally got to me. I’d spent the better part of a week pretending to be a professional. But when I found myself alone, in the first mid-engine Corvette, with acres of empty ski-park pavement ahead, no amount of restraint or discipline could stand up to desire. I had found my garden, and the serpent was waiting.
I’m more of a middle-path kind of guy, anyhow.
Burnouts and donuts, juvenile as they may be, are as pure a celebration of the automobile as you’ll find. Sports cars are wrapped up in the quandaries of personal freedom more than any other vehicle on four wheels, in pushing the bounds of legally and socially acceptable behavior. We do the math every time we choose to take the convertible to work instead of the family crossover, when we push a brake zone a little deeper, when we lean on the accelerator while chasing shadows up a mountain. Or when we turn the rear tires to billowing clouds. Modern life is increasingly a series of confined boxes, and a sports car fits in none of them.
A good burnout isn’t entirely frivolous. If you listen, it will tell you a thing or two about the people who put the car together. In this age of eager litigation, some automakers simply deny you your inalienable right to light tires on fire. Doesn’t matter how many systems you shut off, a digital overlord will step in and pull power until you get back to acting like an adult. On a certain level, it makes sense. If you sat down and designed a sports car by bullet point, listing necessary functions on a spreadsheet, a burnout would be last on the list. Apart from drag racing, the act serves no logical function. But it’s such a fundamental question: Who’s in control of this vehicle? You or some attorney in Michigan?
This next-generation Corvette has moved the badge further from its roots than any Vette before. And from the moment I saw it sulking in the California sun, I needed to know if the thing remembered how to be America’s sweetheart. So I switched off everything and leaned into mechanical masochism. Somewhere, Satan smiled. The car performed a perfect pirouette, that pushrod small-block screaming at the sky while the tires went to vapor. A devotional to free will. Automotive enthusiasm’s shit-eating grin.
If God really wanted us to be good all the time, he wouldn’t have planted that apple tree. Or given us rear-wheel drive.
Original Source: Road&Track