Dave Argabright
Dave Argabright

ARGABRIGHT: Tires & More Tires

So now it’s tires.

After all the disruptions of the past two years, today we find ourselves in a crisis with racing tires. Costs are up — nearly $300 for a right rear, in many cases. Even worse, there is a shortage. Events are being cancelled because the supply of tires is not adequate to meet the need and the impact on this season is likely not yet fully realized.

Fingers are being pointed — which finger, you ask? — at the manufacturers: Hoosier Tire and American Racer.

You can trace the current crisis back to the early days of the COVID pandemic, when nearly every industry — across the board, not just racing — scrambled to react to various shutdowns and interruptions and instead of stockpiling supplies and inventory, cut back and laid off employees. Those workers quickly found other opportunities, leading to a serious labor crisis in many sectors.

Meanwhile, the economy roared back to life and everybody wanted their (name nearly every consumer item here) right now, just like always.

But many elements are clearly outside the control of Hoosier and American Racer; the soaring cost and limited supply of materials, for example. They are hardly to blame for those realities.

Lots of people are quick to suggest remedies for the tire shortage. Bring back open tire rules, they say. Bring in additional manufacturers and put everybody on a harder tire, they say. But the reality is that current tire rules are based on an evolving process that dates back almost 50 years.

An open tire rule would resolve everything, you say? Man, talk about revisionist history. In the bad old days of open tire rules, a tire rep might bring a set of “development” tires to the track and give them to his star pupil, who proceeded to wax the field. Everybody else wanted those tires, but, well, they’re not available.

How about the idea of multiple manufacturers providing tires within a series? Well, that didn’t work out too well, either. Manufacturers built the softest, quickest tire possible (also meaning, the fastest to wear out) because beating the rival manufacturer was the ultimate goal. And another problem quickly came about: tire makers selected a few high-profile drivers and teams and provided money and free tires if they’d run their brand.

The tires and payola weren’t “free,” of course. It was funded by the rest of the teams in the pit area, meaning the poor guys were paying for the rich guy’s tires.

The road to Hell, they say, is paved with good intentions. Over the past couple of decades as tracks and series tried to find a viable way to deal with racing tires, unintended consequences always muddied everything up. Today’s tire deals are what they are because previous rules and arrangements were rife with problems.

If you think you have a simple, quick solution to our current scenario, you’re probably wrong. If there were a quick, simple, workable way to deal with racing tires, our sport would have figured it out by now.

Is our current scenario broken and dysfunctional? Oh yes, absolutely. The concept of a series receiving revenue by agreeing to give the tire manufacturer exclusive access to their teams is fundamentally flawed. It means the people making the rules have an incentive to see their teams use more tires and spend more money.

That element alone is hopelessly broken. Yet here is another hard reality: A lot of smaller series and tracks rely on that tire money to keep their doors open. No tire money, no racing.

All of this is made more difficult by the pathological belief among racers that fresh tires are needed every time the race car comes to a stop. Heat cycles, and all that. They will trade “quality and durability” for “fast,” every time. Many racers today simply can’t fathom the concept of using tires two, three nights or more.

If nothing else, the current crisis has revealed just how crucial tires are in our sport. Can you imagine events being cancelled because of a shortage of engine parts? Sure, engine parts are also in short supply at the moment, but those parts last for many nights. Tires? Their lifespan is measured in minutes, which means we need a BUNCH of them.

It isn’t productive — or fair — to solely blame Hoosier and American Racer for our current dilemma. This crisis has been brewing for a couple of decades, finally brought to the forefront with the complex fallout from the pandemic.

We are long, long past time for a serious conversation about tires. Many of us advocate going back to a hard tire that lasts multiple nights, for example. But in all fairness, today’s 900-horsepower sprint cars would probably spin a hard tire down to the cord in just a few laps. So maybe the idea of hard tires has passed us by.

If so, we need to turn our focus toward forcing down the cost of the throwaway tires. Is it time for all of dirt racing and all of pavement racing to get together on a standard size and compound, looking to reduce costs simply by scale?

What we do know — with absolute certainty — is that going back to open tire rules and the like will not work. All you’re doing is trading one set of problems for another. Winston Churchill said it best: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Been there, done that and learned the hard way.

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