NASHVILLE, Tenn.—If you're out and about on CART or IRL race tracks this year, you're likely to see the Firestone brand making a proud appearance.
Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. said despite last summer's recall of 6.5 million Firestone P-metric light truck tires, it has no plans to stop producing racing tires for its motorsports program.
"The motorsports program has always been important to us," said Woody McMillin, manager of motorsports and consumer products public relations for BFS. "I guess it sends a powerful message about your tires, because that's probably one of the most grueling environments and one of the most demanding environments you could put a tire in."
BFS produces tires for CART, IRL, Formula One and Dayton Indy Lights competitions. The Firestone brand is used in CART and IRL races.
During the last 50 CART competitions where there were two tire companies on the track, Firestone beat competitor Goodyear 48 times. That, Mr. McMillin said, is a sign of the company's accomplishments.
"Our involvement with racing has strengthened the (Firestone) brand. And in light of the recall, we look forward to perhaps it being more important than it's been in the past," he said.
"We're looking forward to the 2001 season and coming back this year with the greatest number of teams and the greatest number of events that we've had probably in 50 years."
Firestone's marketing campaign is meant to rebuild consumer trust in the company, said Phil Pacsi, BFS's director of marketing. Exposure on the race tracks, particularly the Indianapolis 500, and on television will continue. But just what the new campaign will contain has not yet been finalized, he said.
"It's not going to be too different from past years," Mr. Pacsi said. "It's going to remain very focused."
What will change, he said, is the company's message to consumers.
"It will definitely be our rebuilding campaign for Firestone."
Firestone began producing tires for motorsports racing in 1909, when its founder, Harvey Firestone, recognized two major benefits of racing for tire manufacturers—advertising and marketing value—and the chance to test and develop new technologies for tires that eventually find their ways to the street.
"Even today, we're looking at elements that go into the construction of the tire and the compound of the tire (on the race track)," Mr. McMillin said. The street tire Firestone SE50 and its tread pattern, he noted, is near in quality to the Firestone Firehawk race tire used in CART competitions.
BFS again will be the sole tire supplier for CART and IRL races this year. It lost Goodyear as a competitor on those circuits in 2000 and would like to see the company return to the tracks soon, Mr. McMillin said.
"When you have another tire company out on the track, then there is competition not just between the drivers and not just between the engines, but between tire manufacturers."
Mr. McMillin said he hopes Firestone's continued motorsports success will answer any questions doubtful consumers might have about the quality of Firestone tires. The Firestone name can still be trusted, he said.
"I hope they'll see cars out on the track going 240, 250 miles per hour lap after lap, with tires that are working just perfectly, and hopefully they'll understand what that level of technology means. That if you can do that on a racetrack, then you can do that on the street," he said.