One of the major storylines from this year’s Pinty’s U.S. Short Track Nationals was a rash of tire issues, particularly for Super Late Model competitors at Bristol Motor Speedway. After several racers expressed their displeasure with the tires, Irish Saunders of Hoosier Tire joined Speed51’s “The Bullring” to explain what happened and the steps being taken to prevent future issues.
Throughout Saturday’s event, several Super Late Model teams suffered severe tire wear and blistering. Many racers shared their frustration either in post-race comments or on social media following the race.
According to Saunders, the annual event at “The Last Great Colosseum” presents a unique challenge for Hoosier. They bring a special tire compound to Bristol each year, a compound used exclusively at the fast half-mile.
“We’ve been to Bristol a number of times, a number of years here,” said Saunders. “We’ve done a lot of tire testing from there. This is a one-off tire that is run only at Bristol. We want to keep inventory at a minimum, so we don’t have old tires sitting out there and we have everybody on the same thing.“
However, scheduling changes on production limitations during the COVID-19 pandemic meant the tires used for this year’s event were made one month ago. Typically, racing tires are given more time to age and cure before going to the race track.
“These tires, I can tell you, were made a month ago. With COVID, everything that has happened, we are trying to get caught up on production. We just feel these were fresh tires that probably should have had more shelf life to them before we went to this race.
“It’s like fresh bread and old bread. It is going to make the tire run cooler, having some age, and give it some better tire wear. It’s a softer version, and that shelf life means an awful lot.
Contrary to some claims over the weekend, there was not a change of tires provided to competitors on Saturday compared to Friday’s practice day according to Saunders.
“All the tires that they had there, Chad Wright, our development person was there with Hoosier Tire South. All the tires were made at the same time that the competitors ran. There weren’t new ones and old ones swapped back and forth.”
So what caused the significant difference in tire wear between the two days? Saunders believed much greater lap counts were the leading contributing factor. With only one round of practice during a shortened practice day on Friday, many teams didn’t experience a long run until race day.
“The first thing I can tell you is they didn’t run nearly as many laps on Friday as they did on Saturday. That’s a big thing. We’ve gone to tire tests there and said, ‘Okay, let’s make a 15-lap run.’ The 15 lap tires look great and you think, ‘Wow, this is awesome. We’ll run this, it has a lot of grip.’ Then you make a 40-lap run and in 40 laps, that extra time on the tires – you see 300 degrees in the tire.”
Moving forward, Hoosier hopes to make plans for a fall tire test at Bristol. That, in conjunction with other changes to the production process as well as the ability to produce and age tires ahead of next year’s event, will take place to prevent a repeat of Saturday’s tire issues.
“I’d like to have [next year’s Bristol tires] sitting in the warehouse four months before the event. Talking with engineering and compounding this morning, we’ve all discussed different things. We’re going to do some different things with constructions, molds and compounds.
“We want to plan another test this fall so we have time to build production. Hopefully we get the dates straight, that’s thrown a wrench for all the tire manufacturers. We’re going to go back there, and we’re going to have no problems when we go back to Bristol.”
Saunders made two assurances during the Bullring interview. For the immediate future, drivers have no reason for concern headed to the Winchester 400, as that event does not use the Bristol tire compound despite Winchester Speedway also being a high-banked half-mile.
“Winchester and Bristol are two different animals. Bristol is a monster, especially when we’re taking short track cars to that event. Winchester is fast, but we’ve run the [F50] compound so many times there. I don’t foresee any kind of problem. We have tires in the warehouse that have shelf life. You’re not going to have any issues, tire-wise.”
Secondly, Saunders fully expects Hoosier to provide an improved, properly aged tire to provide safe racing at Bristol in 2021.
“We don’t want to have any of these problems. Safety is number one with our company, and we don’t want to have problems like we had at Bristol. Moving forward, we’re not going to have that problem.”
Fans who missed Saunders’ interview can click here to watch an on-demand replay of Monday’s episode of “The Bullring.”
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor – Twitter: @ztevans