Old school Dirt Late Model...
Old school Dirt Late Model tires from American Racer put to interesting use. Courtesy of American Racer
"We have been researching the technology since February and ultimately we're going to build our tire rule around it," says Bingham of the Lucas Oil Series. "In the beginning of the season, we were all a little nave about what was going on. As soon as we came home from Speedweeks, though, we started doing our homework."
Bingham declines to identify the manufacturer of the sniffer that he and other Lucas Oil officials will be using "in the near future," except to say that "it's one of the most commonly used devices," similar to the type used in the World Karting Association. Until recently, due to lax rules and enforcement, WKA and other go-kart series were rife with legal and illegal tire tampering.
Technically, a sniffer measures hydrocarbons given off by tire solvents. When placed on the tire tread, the device detects the presence of hydrocarbons in PPM (parts per million). As for its effectiveness, Bingham reported, "We've tried everything that has been brought to us that we were told is undetectable-and we can detect it."
A Goodyear technician works...
A Goodyear technician works a tire on a Dirt Late Model tire press. Courtesy of Goodyear
These days, you have to appreciate old school, straight-shooter types like Clint Smith of Senoia, Georgia, who says, "I can honestly say I have never softened a tire in my or my daughter's life. But I've always tried to run with an open tire series." Of course, there are people who claim they can soften any tire and gain an advantage. "Maybe they can," Smith says. "But it can also hurt you, so you better be careful."
Known as one of Dirt Late Model racing's shrewdest, smoothest operators, during the last three decades Smith has won hundreds of feature events across the country, along with championship titles in the Southern All Stars and Hav-A-Tampa series (the latter a precursor to the WoO series).
For readers curious about the dark and mystical side of tire management, Smith is a wizard of the dirty rubber art. But, as in the case of his fellow magicians and the vendors behind the curtain who supply the special tools of the trade, you might find yourself baffled by what you learn, at least during the initiation phase prior to joining the secret guild.
For example, when Smith is asked to describe an '08 race in which the tire combination chosen for the feature event made the difference between disaster and triumph, he responds by saying:
Hoosier made a brief but memorable...
Hoosier made a brief but memorable venture into big-time NASCAR stock car racing in the mid-1990s, but the Indiana company's core customer base remains firmly stuck to the dirt surfaces of America's short tracks. Photo by Mike Ruefer
"The race we ran at Williston [a WoO event at Williston Basin Speedway in North Dakota], I knew we couldn't win without doing something big-time different. A lot of teams went 40 or 55 with a 1,350 left-rear, but I went way harder: A 2,500 right-rear with a 2,400 left-rear, which is a 28/46 combination, a big southern thing I run a lot. When it's good, you're good. But when it's bad, you're really bad. I gambled that the track was going to stay good and rubbered. Started 11th and dropped to about 14th on the start, just getting goin'. We never had a caution and ran the race in 13 minutes. I was fighting for second with Josh Richards and had a faster car by half a second, but I just couldn't pass him. We ran third and the car was really good."
Got that, class? If not, here is the shortened version a la Smith: "I don't claim to be a tire guru, but we usually end up on the right stuff."
Just ask any Dirt Late Model racer and he will tell you: There's magic and power in the rings.
Doug DeLoach is a freelance journalist from Atlanta, who has been covering motorsports for three decades in print media and on the radio. His articles have appeared in numerous national and regional publications. His motorsports interests range from Formula 1, NASCAR, and NHRA drag racing to sporty-type cars, Dirt Late Models, LSR machines, MotoGP, and AMA flattrack motorcycles (desert island race: Harley XR750s on The Springfield Mile). When not chasin' racin' he sells software and is a regular contributor to the Atlanta Business Chronicle. He lives in a charming old intown Atlanta neighborhood called Kirkwood with Ellen and their two canine kids, Opal and Lego, "LC" (Lego's Cat), and a pampered ochre-colored 1972 Chevy K5 Blazer. You can reach him at email@example.com.