Tire treatment, often referred...
Tire treatment, often referred to as soaking, is becoming a popular way to enhance performance while saving money, which is truly a racing oxymoron. We will explore the secretive world of race tire soaking and try to come to some intelligent conclusions about this underground movement.
The treatment of racing tires with various solutions has been a hotly debated topic for a number of years. During the last ten years or so, the art has become a science of sorts. Teams have become more know-ledgeable, dedicated companies have emerged and are prospering, and a whole culture of soakers has emerged. This secret group is much like the early moonshiners who plied their trade right under the noses of the authorities. The flip side of this coin is that the practice is opposed by the "soak police" who promote, operate, and sanction the various racetracks across the country.
Let's take a look at the evolution of this phenomenon, the specifics of the treatments and why they might be effective, and where we stand today on all sides of this issue.
How It All Began Soon after the development of dedicated racing tires, teams quickly discovered that the sooner a tire was raced after leaving the mold, the better it gripped the track and the faster the car could go through the turns. The longer a tire sat on the shelf, the harder it got and the less grip it had. That basic principle is still true of today's racing tires. Many manufacturers will advise you to store your tires in a dark, cool place and wrap them to help prevent deterioration due to the evaporation of certain chemicals that help maintain the elasticity of race tires.
Dirt teams find tire soaking...
Dirt teams find tire soaking to be especially useful. A glaze will often appear on the surface of a dirt tire after a heat cycle, and the team must remove this hard crust before the next use. It is suggested that when using the treatments, the tire will not glaze over as easily, saving a ton of work. For that reason alone, tire soaking is well worth the effort. If the series uses only one design and hardness of tire, a team can adjust the tire characteristics by using the treatments.
As racers became aware of the shortfalls of advanced age in a race tire, they began to search for ways to introduce various ingredients into the tire so that it could live a longer life. In the mid-'90s, a few enterprising teams took advantage of the use of tire treatments to freshen up their tires. Most teams were not aware of the process. This left a select few winners who cleaned up each weekend. The soakers' world came crashing down when some of the sanctioning bodies declared that all teams were to purchase and use their race day tires on the day of the race. That ended the reign of many soak champions.
Almost overnight, teams that were considered unbeatable could not keep up and were struggling to finish in the Top 5 each race night. So, as it always happens in racing, everyone had to get smarter in order to circumvent the rules, and that they eventually did.
How Big Is It? In today's racing world, it is important for us to understand the magnitude of the "problem" in terms of the following: 1. In which classes does soaking exist? 2. What percentage of racers are in a particular type of racing soak? 3. Are the numbers growing? The answers to these questions will astound most outsiders and many who think they are in the know. The only people who know beyond a shadow of a doubt are the users themselves, who stay very quiet on the subject, and the actual manufacturers of the products, where discretion is mandatory. We talked with a number of people from both groups and discovered the real truth. We promised not to reveal their names, series, or any other information about them. We can say that the teams who use treatments are not who you would call outlaws or devout cheaters, but in most cases ordinary teams that are well-respected and only do what many others are doing.
A certain percentage of racers in virtually every segment of the circle track industry use tire treatments to enhance the grip properties and longevity of their tires. The companies who manufacture, market, and sell race tire treatments in various forms tell us that the number of users of their products is much greater than anyone would ever imagine. More and more, teams are discovering the advantages of soaking. They feel it is no different from seeking out the best engine or chassis builder in order to keep up with the competition.