"Hoosier has come out with some new stuff this year," says Darrell Lanigan, a leading contender for the World of Outlaws (WoO) Dirt Late Model championship midway through the season. "They've really picked up their program. I think these are the best tires Hoosier has had in a long time."

While Lanigan sees evidence of Hoosier's R&D efforts in a number of areas, particularly in the tire casing, he singled out the front specimens for special merit. "They have a little stiffer sidewall and seem to steer better," the Kentucky-based driver says. "When you go into the corner, you can use the front tires more."

At the beginning of 2008, Steve Francis, the defending WoO series champion, rocked the DLM world by announcing plans to drive for Dale Beitler of West Friendsville, Maryland. It was an unusual move for Francis, who had for many years achieved significant success by operating from his own shop in Ashland, Kentucky.

It was perhaps more surprising when it was revealed that the Beitler package included a contract to run American Racer rubber, since Francis was known as a longtime Hoosier customer. Since then, national standouts Chub Frank and Jeremy Miller have joined Francis in the American Racer camp for the 2008 season.

"There will be places where our tires have an advantage and places where we're at a disadvantage," says Francis. "Overall, I think the competition between manufacturers will be a good thing. When only one tire manufacturer is involved or one compound [allowed], we don't have as many choices and the cost is more or less locked in."

During the past couple of seasons, Shane Clanton, whose team prepares his WoO equipment in Locust Grove, Georgia, near Atlanta, has won races running both American Racer and Hoosier tires. "Advancements in tire technology have really grown over the last three years," he says.

"A year or so ago, American Racer really came on strong, so a lot of guys switched over, including me," Clanton says. "That made Hoosier get to work. Now Hoosiers are better at more tracks, so that's what we're running."

Sometimes, rules take precedence over sheer performance as an influence on which tires a racer chooses. Nowhere are the opposing ends of the tire rule spectrum more clearly visible than in the two most prestigious national touring series, the World of Outlaws and Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Championships. The essential difference between the respective series boils down to "run what ya brung" (WoO, with one exception, has an open tire rule) vs. "designated drivers only" (Lucas Oil specifies a limited number of makes and compounds).

"The tire rule is in place so that everyone can race on the same tires," says AJ Bingham, technical director of the Lucas Oil series. "The regular big names who race with us week in and week out-Bart Hartman, Earl Pearson, Dan Schleiper-some of them might be able to afford to bring a lot of tires. But we don't want to force the 20 or 30 local and regional guys who make up the rest of the field to show up with 100 different tires in the hauler."

On the other hand, according to WoO series Director of Competition Tim Christman, "We went with an open tire rule because wherever we go around the country the local racer gets to compete using the tires he's used to running. It also lets the traveling guys use whatever tire ends up best suited to handle the local conditions. The idea is to give everyone an opportunity to race."

When the WoO stages a race in conjunction with United Midwestern Promoters (UMP), the open tire rule is stored away, replaced by UMP's Hoosier-only regulations.

"It would be difficult to run anything but Hoosiers around here," says Brian Shirley, a Midwestern veteran who finished Second behind Dennis Erb, Jr. in this year's UMP Summer Nationals Championship. "Having said that, we've been beaten by American Racer tires, mostly at sandy southern tracks, and I think they've made Hoosier pick up their program."

And so it goes...