Recently, a group of Indiana tracks that regularly race non-winged 410 sprint cars agreed to come together and modify their tire rule, which had been in place for several years.
I am all in favor for tracks coming together to keep their rules aligned with one another, and I commend the tracks for attempting to help their local competitors.
However, I feel like this rule change will have a detrimental affect on both local and professional race teams.
The previous rule allowed only one compound of right rear tire to be utilized, the Hoosier Medium, which is the same tire that has been used in USAC since 2014 and ASCS competition for decades. The new rule will now allow teams to choose between both the Medium and the softer Hoosier H-15 compound, which is the same tire utilized by the World of Outlaws and All Stars.
This seems great for racers, right? The more options the better, right? Well, that is not necessarily the case.
The major reason cited for offering the softer compound as an option was to discourage teams from feeling the need to chemically alter their tires.
In recent years “tire doping” has become a major issue in sprint car racing, most notably in non-winged sprint car racing in Indiana. It has also been an ongoing issue in other disciplines, such as dirt late models, for much longer.
“Tire doping,” “soaking,” or politically known as “chemically altering” uses chemicals to change the composition of the rubber in the tire to theoretically create more grip. It is illegal in all major sprint car series, but is somewhat costly to enforce, as a tire sample must be sent into a laboratory for testing and results are not immediate.
USAC has recently ramped up their tire sampling and testing procedures and penalized several teams in 2020. Most weekly races at local tracks do not take much action in monitoring or enforcing this rule, and understandably so, due to the cost for testing.
My question regarding this reasoning is that if a team is willing to soak the medium compound because they feel it gives them an advantage, what is going to stop them from soaking the already-softer H-15 for an even greater perceived advantage?
My largest protest to the rule is that, in my opinion, it will cost the teams more money. The Hoosier Medium is a tire that all the current teams are familiar with and know will complete a full feature event 95 percent of the time regardless of track conditions.
The H-15 is softer and, though it works for winged sprint series, non-winged cars have much more wheel spin and are much harder on right rear tires. Now teams must spend more money on tires and buy both compounds to have on hand and have more wheels to mount these tires on to be prepared for different track conditions.
Another reason cited for the change was to close the gap for lower budget racers in the area of shock technology. The biggest advancements in recent years in sprint car and midget racing has been, hands-down, shock packages, and the newest builds and valving can create much more grip than those of even five years ago.
The best teams naturally utilize the latest advancements and, unfortunately, shocks are expensive and can run as much as $2,500 for a fully-adjustable set.
The theory, as I understand, was that lower budget teams could opt for the softer compound tire for more grip in leu of investing in the latest shock package.
My question to this would be, if the successful teams with new shocks have more grip with a hard compound, will they not also have even more grip with a softer compound?
Over the years, I have seen sanctioning bodies or series campaign for harder compound tires to reduce grip, therefore reducing the impact of horsepower in engines and enabling teams with less power to remain competitive. This ideology is how we have arrived at tires like the medium and RaceSaver compound.
A softer tire, I fear, will just increase the gap between the teams that “have” and those that “have not” by enabling more power to be transferred to the ground and potentially increasing the wear and tear on running gears.
Once again, I do applaud the tracks on attempting to create a better situation for the racers, but I think, perhaps, more research could have been conducted among the teams before making the final decision.
This topic was brought to the annual USAC Sprint Car Series rules meeting and the teams voted against it by a vast majority.
In truth, I do not think the difference in the compounds of the two tires will result in any noticeable difference in the on-track competition and may perhaps not be an issue of any significance at all, but I feel the racers should have had more influence in the decision.
I also predict most teams will stick to the medium because of familiarity and the fact that it is the only compound legal for USAC competition.
Teams will undoubtedly feel the need to experiment with switching back and forth and, while this might not be an enormous increase in expenses, it just adds to the already seemingly insurmountable pile of costs that both local and professional teams face.
In the end, maintaining sampling and testing regulations to deter soaking tires will do more to save the racer money than anything.