Four infamous Goodyear Eagle racing tires can make you or break you on race day. We may think we know tires, but there is a lot “More-2-It” than we realize. And how many of us have actually tried to change all four of our tires in under 15 seconds with six other friends? Not many I reckon! Let me tell you what I have learned from the Miller Lite racing team about their tires.
First off, one tire costs about $450 and most teams buy between 10-15 sets of tires for each race weekend. That’s a lot of dough! The teams give Goodyear their wheels and Goodyear mounts the racing tire chosen for that particular race for the teams at the track. The Miller Lite tires are always easy to find because they are the only ones with blue wheels. The tires each weigh about 60 pounds when they have the inner safety liner (used at high speed tracks like Daytona) and about 45 pounds without the safety liner (used at road courses and lower speed tracks). Each set of tires has an average life of about 150 miles.
One last thing, these tires are “smooth”, they have no tread on them. When teams use new tires out on the track they are called “stickers” because they still have the sticker on them from Goodyear indicating the batch and once the tires have one “hot lap” on them they are called “scuffs.” Sometimes teams “scuff” tires in practice just in case their car setup works better on older tires.
The Miller Lite Dodge arrives at the track with a set of “Set Up Tires” that are clearly marked on the outside in blue writing. These tires come from the shop and are not counted towards the team’s tire limit for the weekend. They cannot be used outside of the garage area. Each team’s tires are labeled with the team numbers and are bar coded so Goodyear can track them if the teams have any problems with them. Dave “Mule” Nichols is the Miller Lite team’s “tire guy” and he is responsible for getting the tires from Goodyear for practice, qualifying and for the race and making sure they are all at the desired air pressure amounts as decided by the crew chief, Pat Tryson. One of Mule’s main jobs is removing the air from the tires and replacing it with nitrogen. By using nitrogen instead of air, they have more control over how much the pressure will increase when the tires heat up.
Each tire has five to six “wear holes” about the size of the tip of a sharpie marker in a diagonal across the tire. Mule uses a gauge that measures the depth of these holes and notes them before they put them on the Miller Lite Dodge. After the team makes a practice run and Mule again checks the depth of the wear holes to see how the different set ups are wearing the tires. Often when the car comes into the pits, there is a bunch of rubber and debris built up on the tire from the track. You’ll see Mule using a small torch to heat up that rubber and then he scrapes it off to clean off the tire so he can get back to those wear holes. Right after a pit stop, you’ll see Mule radioing the information he learns about the tire wear, tire temperature, and air pressure build-up to Pat Tryson (crew chief) and Brian Wilson, the team engineer who has to make sense of that data.
But I am getting ahead of myself. There is a whole lot of work that goes into the tires on race day before they are used in the race. Usually the pit crew is responsible for getting and preparing the sets of tires to be used during the race. Teams have anywhere between 5 and 10 sets of tires in their pits depending on the type of race. The tires are labeled with chalk “LF, LR, RF, RR” to indicate where on the car they go and numbered to indicate which set they belong to.
The pit crew then uses a strip of hot pink tape to indicate the left side tires and a strip of bright blue tape to indicate right side tires. They place this tape in the same place on each tire because it also indicates where the tire carriers should hold the tires as they carry them during the pit stops. This ensures they get the tire consistently and easily lined up with the studs for quick stops.
Each rim has to be “cleaned” and the team uses three different types of steel brushes on each tire to clean the holes for the studs and the center hole that slides over the wheel cap. After the grime and paint is removed by the brushes, the wheels are ready for the lugs. About four hours before the start of the race, the pit crew starts gluing on the bright yellow lug nuts onto the wheels with a weather stripping adhesive. Finally, they use a heavy, flat piece of metal that presses the lugs into the adhesive and makes for a good seal.
When the Miller Lite Dodge rolls out onto pit road on race day, the pit crew also lubes the studs on the car so the tires slide on and off easier. The studs are long and have no threads for the first three-quarters of an inch so the lug nuts glued to the rim don’t get cross-threaded when the tire changers are putting the tires on the car. When the wheel is placed on the car during the pit stop, the air gun torque breaks the adhesive and the lug nut is tightened normally. Sometimes the adhesive is too gooey and sometimes to brittle and it will interfere with the “feel” and rhythm of the tire changers. There is always a danger that the lug nuts might fall off while changing the tire, so the over-the-wall guys wear special gloves that have a couple lug nuts attached to them on top by their wrists so they can grab them quickly if needed.
Tired of reading about tires yet? Feel like your ready to be a Tire Specialist? Told ya there was “More-2-It”!