Wheel technology is constantly improving. That, in turn, improves the safety of racing wheels. Like any other racing part, great improvement has taken place over the years to make the wheels more durable as well as offer more performance. Because of the failures brought on by using OEM wheels in racing applications, the need for specialized wheels sprang up. Today's racing hybrid wheels have evolved into products that have many innovations, which may go mostly unnoticed, but are there for a trained eye to see.

We wanted to get the latest on racing wheel technology directly from the people who manufacture racing wheels, so we asked a few of them some simple but pointed questions so we could learn more about today's wheel technology. Our panel consists of technical contacts at each of the four top circle track wheel companies. We received and included information from, in alphabetical order, Wayne Redmond of Aero Race Wheels, Rick Clement with Bart Wheels, Brian Gill of Bassett Racing Wheel, and Gregory Smith representing Weld Wheel Industries.

1. What market do you primarily service with your racing wheels?

AERO: We manufacture steel racing wheels used in competition in various forms of racing, from parking lot autocross, to short tracks, to the high banks of Daytona.

BART: We are a full-line manufacturer of wheels. The bulk of the products manufactured goes into the open-wheel Modified, Street Stock, and Pure Stock classes.

BASSETT: Bassett Racing Wheel serves the dirt and pavement circle track racing markets. Our most popular wheel sizes are 15x8, 15x10, 15x7, 13x7, 15x15, 15x14, and 15x9.5. The classes include IMCA dirt Modified, Stock Cars, Hobby Stocks, pavement Late Models, East Coast Modifieds, DIRT Sportsman Modifieds, Legends Cars, Mini-Stocks, USAR Pro Cup, NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, Busch Series, Craftsman Truck Series, and ARCA.

WELD: We offer forged aluminum racing wheels for most oval track racing applications, but Weld Racing caters to Sprint Cars (non-wing and winged), USAC Silver Crown, Midgets, Micros, dirt Late Models, DIRT big-block, and small-block Modifieds. Weld Racing also offers a steel NASCAR-approved wheel for Nextel Cup Series, Busch Series, and Craftsman Truck Series.

2. What areas of wheel construction are the most vital to endurance?

AERO: Several things factor into this, from the grade of material being used to thickness of the material and the placement of mass. Of course, the disc center is a very critical point because that is what holds the wheel onto the car. But the actual rim shell is also critical because material that is too light can allow the rim to collapse.

BART: I don't know that there is one particular area. Rim construction is vital for endurance, because a rim that is too thin or too light will fracture in the radii. Center construction is vital to endurance in two ways: lug nut retention keeps the wheel tight to the hub, and the design of the center itself allows for some flexing to occur.

BASSETT: Circle track race cars subject wheels to much greater loads than OEM or aftermarket street wheels were designed to handle, so it is important for racers to use a circle-track-specific wheel. The construction of a strong steel racing wheel begins with the raw material.

We use only HSLA formable steel purchased directly from nearby steel mills. Bassett's wheel centers utilize a deep-dish angle, a raised torque ring with coined lug nut seats, and specially designed vent holes with edges that are compressed to prevent cracking.

Bassett also produces its rim shells (the outer hoop portion of a wheel) in-house using a CNC spinning lathe for improved conformity and consistency, as well as lower weight. Spun-form rim shells also improve wheel strength by work hardening the steel.

WELD: The whole wheel is vital to endurance. From the construction of the wheel rim shell to the wheel center, each will play a vital role in the performance of the wheel. If the two don't work in sequence, then the wheel won't last.

3. What should a racer look for when choosing wheels related to a particular type of racing?

AERO: Quality, affordability, and a knowledgeable manufacturer that can help the racer choose the correct weight and design of wheel for the particular application.

BART: Don't be so concerned about weight. Pay more attention to construction. People like to talk about moment of inertia when it comes to wheels, but what racers forget is that they do not race on wheels, they race on tires. By adding a tire to the equation, it begins to zero out the effect of the weight of the wheel. Make sure the wheel has a good lug nut retention coining, and a strong torque ring to ensure proper wheel retention.

BASSETT: The racer needs to analyze the type of racing or series and decide what is most important. For example, a NASCAR Elite division or ASA Late Model team might want the lightest wheel on the market, while a weekly Street Stock racer might want to give up some weight in exchange for added wheel toughness.

We specialize in lightweight wheels that retain strength through precise placement of material in critical areas. It is important for racers and rule makers to remember that a well-designed, lightweight wheel will have a longer fatigue life than a poorly constructed heavyweight wheel. A well-designed, lightweight wheel acts much like a crumple zone on a car, absorbing crash impact and preserving other suspension and drivetrain components.

WELD: Look at a wheel's features and benefits of the wheel construction. Pay attention to the wheel material make-up, strength, trueness, weight, and safety.

4. What can a racer do with your wheels to make them less safe?

AERO: Hitting the wall! Misuse, grinding, drilling, and incorrect tire mounting or dismounting procedures will make a racing wheel unsafe. Running tires without enough air pressure and running a wheel that is too light for the particular application are two other ways to go wrong. Also, not having the lug nuts tight enough or overtightening the lug nuts are both unsafe practices.

BART: Drilling additional holes in the wheel for various reasons. These can become starting points for cracks that might migrate into critical areas, even if the original hole is located away from those areas.

BASSETT: The number-one issue is the use of an undersized hub hat or spacer plate. The racer should use a steel spacer plate with a minimum diameter of 7 inches.

The second issue is loose lug nuts. Always have a crewmember recheck the torque of your lug nuts before going on the track. We recommend 85 lb-ft of torque. Always use steel 1-inch oversize lug nuts with a 45-degree seat chamfer.

The third issue relates to inflating tires. We recommend that racers never exceed the tire manufacturer's max air pressure during inflation. It is also recommended that racers have a tire mounting professional mount the tires. The fourth issue is racers attempting to repair damaged wheels.

WELD: Many times, racers will try to lighten the wheel parts beyond the realm of the wheel's material makeup, thinking that they will have a lighter rotating mass. As a result, they risk part safety or part breakage. They also make the mistake of not checking out the parts after a hard wreck, thinking the wheels are OK if they roll straight.