Coming out of the Florida Swing, easily the hottest topic in open-wheel racing was tires.
Whether it be about supply, quality, price or controversy over tire samples and testing, opinions are plentiful. For a fan on the outside looking in, and even for many active teams, making heads and tails of all of the information swirling around can be confusing.
One issue that is glaringly clear is the sizeable increase in the price of tires which are currently around 15 percent higher than in 2021. Price increases are inevitable for any product due to extremely high inflation, however, many teams are finding price increases difficult to swallow on a product that is mandated by the series.
For those unaware, it is common for a tire manufacturer to contribute money toward the point fund of a series in exchange for being the exclusive tire permitted in that respective series. Material costs, increased wages and transportation-cost increases have all contributed to an understandable price increase, however, how much of an increase, which is fully absorbed by the race teams, can be sustainable, much less justifiable, by the series which mandates the selected brand?
I will immediately pause those who are championing “open the tire rules” by pointing out the tire supply shortages across all of motorsports.
Hoosier is the predominant supplier for open-wheel racing on both dirt and pavement, but there are not many other manufacturers that produce tires for these divisions, and if they do have the capability to manufacture them, they are facing the same production and supply issues as Hoosier for the tires that they are already committed to supplying.
It appears that all tire manufacturers are near maximum production capacity while barely meeting the demand for supply. The hard truth is that the fantasy of a “free market” in open-wheel tires that could lower prices is simply not a feasible reality under the current circumstances. For open-wheel racing’s sake, we must all hope Hoosier can continue to meet the supply and distribution needs for our series while avoiding any further price increases.
The tire issue that most people have an opinion about is the lab testing results that came out of the Xtreme Outlaw and USAC sprint car races in Florida. Xtreme took six samples of which four were clear and two “did not conform to the benchmark.”
USAC took four samples and all four were reported in lab testing to “not conform to the benchmark.” The Xtreme series issued penalties for the two teams whose tires did not pass. USAC chose to investigate the matter more closely with concern for the irregularity of all samples not passing the benchmark.
With Xtreme having only two bad tests, the course of action is understandable. USAC was faced with a much different set of circumstances and decided to get samples tested at other labs to ensure the validity of the results. The samples in question came back as clean and conforming to the benchmark at two other labs that were consulted.
As of the time of this writing, USAC has upheld the race results from the opening weekend of the season at Bubba Raceway Park and is pursuing further testing and evaluation to determine the cause of the inconsistent results.
I personally have thought about the situation in great length and had extensive conversations with officials and other teams. My largest observation is that people are most apt to believe what they want to believe and would rather not be bothered to use deductive reasoning regarding the available information.
It is much easier to believe that your competition is “cheating” than to ponder any other possibilities. The repercussions of a penalty for these teams would be much more far reaching than points and suspensions. This could easily alter or contribute to ending someone’s career.
I applaud USAC for the due diligence they have executed, which, I must point out, has cost them a great amount of time, resources and money to ensure that the proper decision is made. I would admittedly have the most to gain if these teams were found guilty and penalized, however, what if they are not guilty?
Many factors could potentially affect test results, whether it be differing lab equipment, tire manufacturing irregularities, etc. If these teams, which have all passed numerous tire sample tests in the past, did not alter their tires, what recourse for defense do they have?
If they did not alter their tires, what would prevent the same situation from happening to me or other competitors in the future?
USAC seems determined to get to the bottom of the situation and I hope that this process leads to a definitive answer. I will be the first in line to call for punishment if it is discovered these teams were doing something illegal but am also reserved in casting blame where there is an unusual amount of doubt that can be found in the complete scope of information that has been obtained.
While I do not claim to have a solution to any of these problems that have emerged, I encourage people to look at all sides of each issue before spewing “convenient” complaints, allegations and/or conclusions.
Once the spring weather begins cooperating and racing escalates, I predict that most of these hot-topic issues will fade from the spotlight and be replaced with the on-track excitement for which our sport is known.