The driver has direct contact with his race car through the steering wheel, seat, and pedals. And the car has direct contract with the racetrack through it’s tires. So having a good set of race tires for your ride makes all the difference.
Other than cost, there are quite a few differences between roadrace tires and street tires, the biggest two being tread design and rubber compound. A street tire has deep cut grooves in a thick outer layer to provide all-weather traction over a long lifetime of mostly driving straight. A race tire has shallow to no grooves in a thin outer layer to provide maximum dry weather traction while doing a lot of cornering. Deep grooves create tall lugs in the tread that flex during cornering, and all that flexing creates a lot of heat. If the tire is constantly experiencing heavy cornering loads, excessive heat builds up and the traction capability of the tire breaks down. So the thin outer layer of a race tire helps keep the heat down and the traction up. But while you want to keep the tire from overheating, you also need it to come up to proper operating temperature quickly to provide maximum traction as soon into the race as possible. This is where the proper rubber compound is critical. A nice, sticky, soft race compound will warm up quickly, and provide instant traction, but will wear out quickly; whereas a harder race compound will take longer to come up to temp, provide maximum traction longer, and wear out slower.
For a budget racer, tires can be one of your biggest expenses. There are several ways to help keep this cost down:
- A lighter car uses up less tire. A 1000 lb FV race car may go a whole season on one set of race tires, while 3500 lb race cars may go through a set a weekend.
- Less horsepower uses up less tire. Tire dealers just LOVE 700 hp big block Chevys.
- Harder race compounds will last longer than soft ones. Turn-one traction is best with soft, sticky tires, but turn-one doesn’t usually win the race.
- Get a tire sponsorship. Most race tire companies offer some sort of contingency program: wear their stickers, win some races, and get cheap tires.
- Proper tire management. Veteran racers get a lot more mileage out of their tires. Smooth driving makes the biggest difference. Also using proper alignment settings and tire pressures will make your tires last longer. Ask your vendor for initial settings.
You can purchase your race tires three ways: mail order, at a shop, or at the track. I am an advocate of using your “at the track” vendors when ever possible. These guys might cost a couple extra bucks, but they are your best friend when quick service is required at the track, and for that alone they deserve your business. Topless Perfomance is an example of a vendor that offers great service for the tracks in the Southwest US (ed. note – Topless is no longer in business). But sometimes you just need to get your supplies in advance, or you might be shopping for internet specials. Some tire dealers will sell overstocked tires or last seasons tires at a discount. I’ve had good luck with Sierra Tires for late season specials, and I also order directly through DISCOUNT TIRES DIRECT.
The tires I am currently running are the Hankook Z214 in medium compound. I find them to be an excellent trade-off between expense, wear, and traction. They currently retail for about $175 each. Expect to pay about $20/wheel for demounting, mounting, and balancing.
My current rain tires are a set of full tread depth Toyo Proxes RA1s.
The services of a tire tread shaver is sometimes an option. If your sanctioning body requires the use of DOT legal, treaded tires, and no shallow tread tires are available in the size and compound you desire, you can have the treads shaved down to a thinner depth to keep the heat down as explained above. A tire groover can also be used to turn slicks into rain tires, or to custom make a set of intermediate rain tires. One such full-service race tire company is Roger Kraus Racing.
Read another post about racing tires.