Virginia Tech playing key role in developing better racing tires for Goodyear, others

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Regardless of several tire issues that occurred in Sunday’s Auto Club 500 in Fontana, Calif., Goodyear never stops trying to improve upon the tires NASCAR cars ride upon in races.

Even if it means going back to school, so to speak.

The types of Goodyear tires that will carry the Sprint Cup cars and Camping World trucks in this weekend’s races at Martinsville Speedway will have gone through extensive testing in a new one-year old program at the National Tire Research Center, a program overseen by Virginia Tech University and its affiliated Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

Goodyear Racing, NASCAR’s official race tire supplier, has quickly become one of NTRC’s biggest customers and proponents.

“Shortly after we opened for business last year, we established a very busy test schedule with Goodyear Racing, and we are excited to be a part of their massive effort to supply NASCAR with the best tires possible for each and every race,” NTRC executive director Frank Della Pia said in a story by Virginia Tech’s news service.

Instead of testing tires on vehicles, the NTRC simulates various conditions on a high-tech machine known as a LTRe. The 14-ton machine, which costs more than $11 million, is the only one of its kind anywhere.

It’s task is simple: to turn, rotate and spin tires up to 200 mph, which is right in the wheelhouse of tires NASCAR uses at high-speed tracks such as Daytona, Texas, Atlanta and Talladega (see video below).

But it also can mimic virtually any type of racing or road surface in the world that tires ride upon, from asphalt to dirt.

The testing involves a variety of conditions, weight and other forms of loads, forces (such as G-forces), and even one of the favorite things NASCAR crew chiefs like to play with: camber (the angle of the tires, particularly those in front).

“The racing teams and series that test with us are satisfied with our equipment and the knowledge and support from our staff,” Della Pia said. “The on-track results prove our ability, and the fact that our clients travel here to Southern Virginia from all over the world to be repeat customers speaks for itself.”

The NTRC is knee-deep in racing country. It’s adjacent to Virginia International Raceway in Alton, Va., a quick burnout from South Boston (Va.) Speedway, an hour away from Martinsville, two hours from Richmond and three hours from Charlotte.

The Center, which also does extensive work with partner General Motors, has grown exponentially in its first year of existence, and has even greater expansion plans over the next year-plus. It plans to hire more employees and eventually operate three daily shifts, as well as bring in other new machines to increase its testing capabilities.

“We are just getting started,” said NTRC president Tom Dingus. “We are building on the 65-year history of the Martinsville Speedway and the recent reemergence of the Virginia International Raceway.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski