by Mike Ruefer
Davenport, Iowa - I work during the week and on the weekend I go racing. Does this sound familiar? Sure it does. If you’re reading this; that’s what you do. Racing is an addictive sport and the passion for speed fuels the soul of all who call it their sport. Everyone has a story on what got them hooked on their drug of choice. Mine was over 40 years ago and during all these years I love the chase of the next race.
As I get older knowing that my best years of chasing are behind me, I tend to think about the future of Dirt Late Model racing and the drivers, cars, race tracks and events that shape the history of the sport. It’s important to me to think that all that mattered in the past which shaped the sport stays in place to give reference to the future. All things change with time, technology and knowledge but have we gone just a little too far with tires.
What I mean with this has to do with all the recent disqualifications that have happened after early 2013 marque events concerning chemically altered tires. It’s nothing new and it’s been taking place for a long time. Soaking tires in fuel oil, rubbing them with solvents has been taking place long before today. Bending rules and being creative to get a competitive edge has been part of racing since the Romans raced Chariots in the Coliseum.
The importance of tires in all forms of motorsports is paramount. Every form of racing outside of dirt racing police tires like a Brinks truck. Why? Because they are that important! In racing it’s all about getting the horsepower and torque turned into traction.
Where does that happen? With the tires!
Go to any Dirt Late Model super show and watch how much everyone looks at everyone’s tires. No one wants to be out guessed with tire selection when multiple tire compounds are available. Starting up front, having the right tires might just be your ticket to victory.
Tires of all kinds are modern chemical marvels that transform raw rubber into something that we can drive on. The tread gets the most attention because that’s the point where the rubber meets the road. With different chemical additives the tread can be made harder or softer or somewhere in between. Just like with the Three Bears and their porridge, Goldilocks will find the one she likes the best.
Harder and softer with tires equals a compound that has a durometer rating. That’s easy so if a tire is stamped at a number then it durometers at certain number. A problem with tires, because they are made out of rubber (natural and synthetic) degrade over time. The chemicals vent or off gas in storage thus changing the chemistry of the compound. So the tires you bought last year are chemically different and become harder. Not by much but still not as fresh as a new tire.
Let’s think about heat. Tires need to get heat into and out of the tread layer to work as designed. On dirt the groove and sipe cuts make this happen and the remaining tread pattern creates the contact patch to gain traction. A big problem with heat is that it also changes the compound and makes the tread harder after a cooling cycle. Sometimes this happens during the race and the outer layer of tread glazes or seals over during a caution and thus less traction. The temptation to alter the tire to give you better performance so the tire handles all these situations is real. Overall a lot time, money, sweat and worry go into tires. Success or failure each and every race can tetter on tires.
So why in the world would anyone want to mess with their tires and try to gain an advantage? Because so much is riding on them if you get my drift! Like I mentioned before, racers seek an advantage even if ever so slight. In today’s age of “buy it off the speed shelf world and you go fast,” race cars have become so equal. Drivers make a difference, crew chief knowledge makes a difference, engines and shocks make a difference. The combination when all bolted onto the chassis of your choice all make a difference. In racing when everyone is good or great and can win on any given night, any advantage is looked at and thus we have this tire problem that starting to raise its ugly head.
I think the recent disqualifications are just the tip of the Iceberg. If only a few are caught altering their tires does this mean they are the only ones doing it? The answer has to be no. If no one else was doing it then why would they take the risk of getting caught? While I firmly believe that most racers don’t alter their tires, probably enough do that some will take the risk to stay even. I don’t condone anyone for messing with a tire and trying to change the chemical compound but it’s been going on for a long time and very little or anything been done to stop it. The problem I see is that it’s going to hurt the sport if it continues to escalate at the current rate.
Fans go to races to see a race, cheer for their favorite driver and cheer or boo for the winner. Great races and the victorious champion become part of history or at least that’s how it used to be. Today it’s different. We cheer the champion and two weeks later we learn they altered their tires and become disqualified changing the race we all witnessed before. This will ruin our sport and our legacy for the future.
With tires being so important to racing I firmly believe that it has to be controlled now before more damage is done. If nothing is going to be done then get rid of the tire rules all together. Fans expect to see a race and a winner, not to hear he has been disqualified in later weeks. For those of you who have the influence, authority and power to get this tire problem solved, the ball is in your court. Doing nothing and ignoring the situation will forever change the dirt late model landscape forever.