ExclusiveTech Articles

Hi-Tech Opinion – Tire Doping

Let’s spend some time talking about doping tires. Racers being racers, they will continue to search for any competitive advantage. Tires are no different than any other tunable, consumable component on the car. Tires are a tunable consumable part of the car. They are tuned by selecting the correct compound and type for a given application and when you are racing on dirt tracks that selection becomes critical. But, racing organizations under the guise of simplicity and of saving racers money have often times eliminated racer’s ability to have those types of options available by going with a specific brand and compound of tire that eliminates this option to the racer. Not an altogether bad idea if it actually levels the playing field.
We should talk about how tires work from a high altitude. Race car tires develop grip in a number of ways. By developing a chemical bond with the racing surface, as the tire heats up it will develop a chemical bond to the track. Generally speaking, but not always, softer tires, i.e., lower durometer rubber will develop more grip versus a harder, higher durometer rubber. Dynamic forces placed on the tires by mechanical means, weight transfer to the tires due to spring, shock tuning and aerodynamic loading created by aero loading develop as the car moves through the air. Those huge wings on a sprint car can develop some very high loads that push the race car into the track, loading the tires but the tires still have to have chemical grip to take full advantage of the mechanical loads being placed on them. How hot a tire gets also impacts its ability to grip the track. And, more heat is not always good, you can overheat the tire and it will give up grip. Place your hand on a right rear tire after a main event and you will see just how hot a tire can get. Be careful, because tires can get hot enough to cause burns.
The racer still has options for tuning, tire pressure, wheel width, and chemical treatment. This is where problems start. If chemical treatment is legal, this opens up a whole new bag of issues for all racers. Most racers have minimal chemical training. While the internet has lots of places that cover tire doping, they may not tell the whole story. I do not consider Facebook a good source for obtaining chemical training and the development of tire treating compounds. Developing a witch’s brew of chemicals is not something I find to be appropriate for racers to be doing. And, even if the population of racers has, at their disposal, a large number of PhDs in chemistry to formulate specific formulations of chemicals to treat tires, it is still not a good idea to treat tires.
Generally, the intent of treating or soaking tires is to soften the tire or bring a used tire back to the level of “softness” it had when new, which cannot really be accomplished successfully. The chemical formulations used to treat tires degrades the rubber and it also degrades the fabric casings that are used to give strength to the tires. This can cause some pretty dire failures of the tires. Because, in racer speak, if a little chemical treatment is good, more can only be better.
Then there are the processes used to treat tires. The treatment processes range from a simple wipe down of the tire softener with a hand-held rag and if we are dealing with chemicals that are designed to soften rubber it probably is a chemical mix that is most likely toxic to people, either from getting the chemicals on your skin or breathing the vapors or both. Not a good thing. Then there are the elaborate machines that have been developed to roll a tire and wheel combination in a pan of tire softening chemicals. So now a portion of the racer’s shop is dedicated to the machines to soften tires so the racer can save money on tires. It seems a bit incongruous to me. Invest in some fairly expensive infrastructure to save some money on tires. Plus, the cost of the tire softening chemicals more often than not just evaporates during use.
If tire treatment is illegal, then another issue rears its ugly head. How do you police tire treatment? Short of sending the tires off to a lab for testing there is not really another reliable method. So, at this point the racer must bear another cost, paying for a lab test. So, once again in order to save the racer money, we have another cost the racers have to absorb. This operation is just something else the promoter or club needs to budget into the cost of promoting a race and the racers will all share in this cost. This isn’t an a situation with any great options or easy solutions.
One more thing that needs to be considered beyond the physical damage that tire treatment can cause, that is the health concerns that these chemicals can cause to racers, pit crews and the fans when these tires outgas when used or are just sitting out in the pits. I have seen some of the chemicals used and they are nasty. So, when you open up your trailer and the chemical smell is overpowering you can be sure that there has been little concern for the safety of others while racers are searching for an advantage that may be imagined more than real. It seems like a better option to take care of the tires you have, keep them clean and out of the sun as much as possible and buy new as needed. You will be faster and save money in the short and long term. It is just that simple.