Rain delays at NASCAR road course events are history now that Goodyear has introduced its
Andy Houstons Cat Rental Chevy Craftsman truck helps inaugurate Goodyears Eagl
Mike Skinner’s Lowe’s Monte Carlo at speed in 1997, during rain practice for the
Goodyear’s original prototype hand-cut Eagle Radial Road Course rain tire compared to
Ron Barfield’s Craftsman truck plows through streaming water entering Watkins Glen
Goodyear’s new aquachannel-derived Eagle Radial rain tire incorporates dual channel t
Mark Martin during qualifying in Suzuka. He feels confident with the new rain tires’
Seen here at Suzuka in , the Winston Cup exhibition road racing event became a lab
For Phil Holmer, it was the most amazing day he ever witnessed in racing.
Holmer, Goodyear Tire’s marketing manager for stock cars, chuckles as he recalls the first day NASCAR put rain tires on Winston Cup cars. The Winston Cup teams were at the Suzuka, Japan, road course for the 1997 NASCAR post-season exhibition race.
"I have never experienced a day before or since that was as wild as that day," says Holmer, "and I’ve been around a few years."
Prior to the Suzuka event, the race organizer had approached both NASCAR and Goodyear with a challenge--could Goodyear produce a rain tire for the Winston Cup cars? Worried that any weather cancellation would add prohibitive costs to the event, the organizer wanted a guarantee of racing, rain or shine.
"For Goodyear, it was, ’no problem’," says Holmer. "Having a bit of experience in the rain in Trans Am and sports car racing, we found a suitable construction and made the tire. Because we didn’t have an appropriate mold due to cost factors, we sent the batch of 600 to 700 tires to England to be hand-grooved. They came back and were then shipped to Japan for the event. We mounted a set for each team to give them an idea of what they had to deal with."
And that’s as far as it went. No rain for the weekend meant that the tires stayed in the shipping containers and then returned to the States. When the Suzuka race came around for , it was back in the containers and off to Japan.
"By this time, those tires definitely were eligible for a free flight upgrade," laughs Holmer.
"The first practice session in was dry," says Holmer. "But that evening, I deciphered the local weather report enough to see that rain was on the way for the morning. We released a mounted set to each team, watched as the crews made sure they had fender clearance, and then waited."
That’s when the fun started.
"Rusty (Wallace) and Mark (Martin) were standing next to me on pit road. The rain was light, but coming down steady. Everyone was just hanging around, waiting to see who might go out," remembers Holmer. "There was this fella driving for Dick Mitchley’s team over there, an Australian named Jim Richards. He had won a few Bathurst 1000s, the big Australian sedan endurance road race held on a mountainous circuit. He was known as the ’Rain Man.’
"For him, this was natural. He jumps in, roars down the pit lane and starts putting in times right away. The pit straight there is a bit like the Glen’s--it rolls down into a fast turn. Richards comes blasting down the straight the first time with the spray boiling out, and Rusty and Mark just look at each other as if to say, ’who is this guy?’ The next time around and they’re looking to see his times, and the times are beginning to look quick. He flashes past a third time and that’s it, they’re all running for their cars. It’s as if a gauntlet had been thrown down."
The quiet pit lane was suddenly barking with the exhausts of Cup cars in the hunt.
"It didn’t take them but a few laps to adjust," says Holmer of the Cup drivers. "A few minutes to find a rhythm and they were off. They all stayed out the entire session. And the times dropped every lap.
"Then, at the end of practice, they’re all jumping out and laughing and joking. I’ve never seen Winston Cup drivers having such a good time. It’s as if they were kids again."
When it remained raining for qualifying, there was no hesitation. A second set was mounted and the fun started again.
"Everyone stayed out the entire time," recalls Holmer. "The times kept dropping even though the rain picked up quite a bit. The times ended up being only a few seconds slower than the dry times. A Roush crew chief (with Trans Am experience) came by and told me it was the best rain tire he had ever seen."
The teams even chose to continue running during that afternoon’s wet ’Happy Hour’, interested in getting as much rain testing as they could. Following the positive Suzuka experience, NASCAR asked Goodyear to finalize a road course construction for Winston Cup, Busch, and the Craftsman Trucks. Unlike the hand carved test tires, this time the tires were molded, making the pattern exactly the same for each tire, helping to insure consistency lap-to-lap and stabilizing performance gains under race circumstances.
Borrowing from their proven aquachannel technology, Goodyear has produced a new Winston Cup tire: The Goodyear Eagle Road Course Radial rain tire that is dual-channeled with a directional tread.
"The channels incorporate an asymmetrical design, with sharp edges on the inside walls of the two side channels and a sloping edge on the outside walls," states Tony Freund, Goodyear’s lead engineer for stock car development.
In selecting the compound for the tires, the tire development group used the recent changes to Sears Point as a basis for standardizing its wet road course tires under a single specification.
"The track layouts at both facilities feature primarily right-hand turns, which means the car is working the left side tires the most," says Freund. "Therefore, we use a slightly tougher tread compound on the left side tires than we do on the right sides to enable the lefts to handle the increased work requirement."
The new rain tires were officially supplied to Winston Cup teams for the first time at this year&8217s Sears Point race on June 25-27, with wet tires also going that same weekend to the NASCAR Busch and Craftsman Truck paddocks at Watkins Glen.
This bi-coastal schedule also substantially increased the number of tires Goodyear made available, with more than 3,000 wet tires now being prepared for road course events at any time; 1,200 being dedicated to Winston Cup useage.
Since there is no set stagger in road course tires, the new wet tire’s circumference is standard at 87.4 inches. Pressures are set at 23 psi for right and left fronts. Both rears are set at 20 psi. Tire codes are D5596 for left side and D5592 for the right side. Tread wear is determined by ambient temperature, depth of track surface water, and heat buildup in the much softer compound, with tires naturally lasting longer the wetter they remain.
NASCAR Busch Grand National and Craftsman Trucks received a slightly different sized tire for the Lysol 200 and Bully Hill Vineyards 150 events at the 2.45-mile Glen. Tire circumference is 873/8 inches. Inflation remains the same, but tire codes are different--the left side is designated as D5690. Right sides are coded as D5604. The Busch teams had 800 tires on hand, while the Craftsman Trucks were allocated 600.
It was Craftsman Truck’s privilege to inaugurate NASCAR’s first venture into the wet in this country at the Watkins Glen event. Both qualifying sessions were rainy, with the second session providing the most data for the engineers.
"[The Eagle rain tire] performed pretty much how we expected it to, but there’s still a little bit of an unknown with them," stated Billy Hodges, Goodyear’s tire technician for the Craftsman Series. "No. 1, the racing surface at Watkins Glen has recently been repaved and resealed, and No. 2, we probably need a longer run in wet conditions to get a proper read on the tires."
The last chance this year for Winston Cup cars to cross paths with Mother Nature (at this writing) is the Frontier at the Glen, August 15. Hearing some of the drivers recall their Japanese adventures, it seems tires are the least of their worries.
"I had the fear of God in me when it started to rain during qualifying over in Suzuka," says Rusty Wallace. "But once we started, it was not bad--I felt comfortable on the Goodyear Eagle rain tires. The biggest problem we had to deal with was poor visibility due to foggy windshields."
Mark Martin agrees. "I feel comfortable qualifying in the rain, especially with my experience in the rain and testing Goodyear’s wet tire," he says. "However, I think it will be difficult to actually race in the rain, due to the spray of 43 cars on the road course at the same time. The low visibility caused by the spray as well as foggy windshields would make it very difficult to race."
Being true engineering professionals, you can count on the Cup teams to have their fogging problems solved in short order. Then, the next time you’re enjoying a Winston Cup road course race, try sticking around when the skies open up. Word has it you’ll see a lot of smiling faces through those clear windshields, belonging to drivers reveling in lots of wet grip from their Goodyear Eagle rains and rediscovering the excitement they had in their earlier days.
You’ll also be a part of a new page in NASCAR’s long history--this time... Winston in the wet.
Goodyear now delivers an additional 1,200 rain tires to each Winston Cup road race event, with the Busch and Craftsman trucks receiving 800 and 600 tires respectively.