Power and control are paramount...
Power and control are paramount in Dirt Late Model racing, as demonstrated here by Tim Dohm of Charleston, West Virginia, ably assisted by his Hoosier tires. Photo by Jeremey Rhoades/Indy Screen Print
In recent years, Goodyear has steered its late-model program toward regional series, tracks, and racers, augmented by limited but notable ventures into the national spotlight. Goodyear is the exclusive supplier to the FASTRAK Dirt Late Model championship, which is based on cars powered by 602ci and 604ci crate engines from General Motors. In 2007, the series' Grand National Champion, 20-year-old William Thomas of Phenix City, Alabama, earned his crown by running the entire season on 16 sets of Goodyear racing tires.
"Strange as it might sound, our goal in short-track racing, both dirt and pavement, isn't to sell as many tires as possible," Junod says. "We strive to produce a product that is as economical as possible because if you don't have car counts, you aren't going to be racing for long."
Not that Goodyear racing management has lost sight of the fundamental objective of the game. "We've been at this a long time," Junod understates, given the fact that his employer has been around since 1898. "We have a chemical division and an R&D division and they both work very hard to produce formulations that are exclusive to racing tire development."
More than 30 years ago, another racing absolute was neatly encapsulated by the late engineer and champion driver Mark Donohue in the title of his book, "The Unfair Advantage." Some racers have chosen to interpolate the author's quest for the elusive unfair advantage by modifying their tires using extraordinary means. Usually, this activity is called cheating.
Not all tire soaking procedures...
Not all tire soaking procedures are disallowed in Dirt Late Model racing. Photo by Mike Ruefer
The use of tire softeners in Dirt Late Model racing is not a new phenomenon. Back in the 1950s, drag racers were pioneers in experimenting with the application of liquid agents to racing and street tires (not to mention inside engines). Some of the agents, such as diesel fuel, kerosene, even syrup used for making Coca-Cola, were relatively benign in terms of their effect on humans. Other chemicals, strange and exotic (and, in many cases, lethally toxic), such as benzene, toluene, and creosote, impart precisely the opposite effect.
When anecdotal accounts of improvements resulting from these experiments began filtering out from the drag racing community, racers in other categories quickly followed the trail by setting up their own backyard labs. Some of the R&D was and remains legit. As recently as 1996, Circle Track published an article reporting minor but measurable gains in both asphalt and dirt track settings after testing a commercially available "tire strengthener."
Today, small numbers of speed zealots are concocting basement cocktail brews, as well as using off-the-shelf products, and applying them to tires. They sometimes follow bizarre, nearly comical, rituals stretched over days or weeks, carrying out marathon quasi-scientific experiments in pursuit of longer-lasting, track-adhering nirvana.
Tire prep is usually the loneliest,...
Tire prep is usually the loneliest, dirtiest job in Dirt Late Model racing. Here, a crewman shaves down the rubber on a Hoosier in preparation for on-track action during the World 100 at Eldora Speedway. Photo by Mike Ruefer
Not surprisingly, sanctioning organizations and tire manufacturers are among the majority in the racing community who consider themselves not just non-believers, but avid opponents of tire mods in any form or fashion beyond grooving or "siping" tread design. "Anytime a foreign substance is introduced into the tire, it will alter the chemistry," says Hoosier's Rush. "From a safety or performance standpoint, any tire treatment degrades the product and we sternly warn against the use of these treatments."
American Racer's Mateer makes the case even more bluntly: "I cannot stress heavily enough that people using tire softeners are simply playing Russian Roulette." Mateer is referring to the potential for catastrophic tire failure, but he just as accurately could have been warning of the health consequences of prolonged exposure to tire softening agents. Hang around the scary stuff long enough and you're likely to begin feeling dizzy or nauseous, possibly accompanied by loss of hearing and color vision. Spend some more time in the garage lab and the ante rises to anemia, leukemia, kidney failure, cancer, and death.
For years, track and series officials have been testing tires for evidence of magic potions with a durometer, a device which incorporates a spring-loaded probe that applies a load to the tire surface to determine its "hardness." In addition, a durometer can provide a quick and accurate, yet indirect, measurement of other properties, such as tensile modulus, resilience, plasticity, compression resistance and elasticity.
With evidence that tire treatments of the chemical kind, which can prove challenging to a durometer, are on the upswing in DLM racing, competitors can expect to encounter with greater frequency tech inspectors wielding some type of vapor detector, otherwise called a "sniffer."