AKRON-When Dale Earnhardt speeds his 3,500-pound race car through turn one at Daytona, he's not thinking about an airplane landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport-but Goodyear engineers might be. The right front tire of a NASCAR stock car at times has to support a weight equivalent of 5,000 pounds because of the forces acting on it during a high-speed turn. That allows engineers to glean information that could be useful in designing truck and aircraft tires.
In fact, the racing programs both at Goodyear and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. have yielded technological developments with far-reaching implications for other types of tires-including those that ride on the street-according to officials at the two tire makers.
In the words of Bob Toth, Goodyear's marketing manager for the Eagle performance tires, racing gives the company a unique ``laboratory'' for tire development: ``. . . an environment where we can forget about balance and focus on absolute max traction.''
The differences between the two companies' Indycar race tires has been apparent most of the season. Early in the year, Firestone Firehawks dominated Indycar racing with a faster tire on dry tracks.
But the rain that pelted the streets during the Detroit Grand Prix, June 9, put a damper on the Firestone juggernaut and dampened the spirits of BFS officials.
Indycar drivers riding Firestone-shod cars managed, at best, a fourth-place finish in Detroit, and even BFS officials called their Indy rain tire ``uncompetitive.''
It was particularly bad timing for the Nashville-based tire maker. Just days before the race, the company had pitched its new Firehawk SZ50 street tire as a ``descendant of the Firehawk Indy rain tire'' during a ride-and-drive for dealers at the Road America race course in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
The SZ50 features a water-channeling tread pattern and compounding similar to its racing cousin, according to Al Speyer, BFS manager of motorsports.
But according to Mr. Speyer, the rain tire used during the Detroit race was one developed more than a year ago. Production schedules prevented the latest version-upon which the SZ50 is based-from debuting until July.
The development of both the Eagle Aquatred and the Firehawk SZ50 rain tires followed similar paths-showing just how linked both the Goodyear and BFS race-tire and street-tire development programs are, officials said.
Twenty years ago, Goodyear began developing the technology that would eventually form its Eagle Aquatred for a wet-weather Formula One race tire, according to Stu Grant, Goodyear general manager of racing worldwide.
That technology was passed on to development teams working separately on the company's street tire and the Indy race tire that defeated the Firehawks in Detroit.
Perhaps surprisingly, however, both companies said they have re-incorporated technology developed from their street rain tires into their Indycar designs.
``Racing increases the competitive spirit of the whole company,'' Mr. Grant explained. ``It's challenged our entire company. Everybody is watching this and feeling better about being a part of the team.''
Because Indycar drivers, who can hit speeds in excess of 230 mph, have such a slim margin of error, their tires must be built to exacting standards.
Developments in tire building and production equipment at BFS' Akron technology center, where some of the company's Indycar tires are built, have led to better tire-building procedures for passenger and light truck tires as well, Mr. Speyer said.
The long-chain carbon black that is being incorporated into the company's newest products also was born from Bridgestone Corp. motorsport technology, he added.
Media attention on tires has heightened since BFS entered Indycar last year, giving Goodyear its first competition in 21 years.
Both Goodyear and BFS have attempted to capitalize on that attention by linking performance street tire lines with their race tires.
``Eagle,'' the name Goodyear has brandished on its racing and performance street tires for years, was created specifically to help make that link, Mr. Toth said.
And BFS said it had a similar goal in producing street versions of its Firehawk racing tire, complete with similar sidewalls.