Stu Grant has been involved in Goodyear's racing program for most of his 33 years with the company, so he definitely knows his way around the track.
Two days before the recent Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Florida, he took a few minutes to talk with Bruce Meyer, managing editor of Rubber & Plastics News, a sister publication of Tire Business. Mr. Grant touched on subjects such as the problems Goodyear had with its tires prior to the big race and what the Akron-based tire maker gets out of its exclusive supply deal with NASCAR.
There was a little glitch with the tires at Daytona prior to the Daytona 500?
``We had some tire-related issues on a couple of cars. Prior to the Bud Shootout, we had some delaminations in practice. We looked at some of our process dates and based on what we saw on the racetrack, we isolated one of the dates and took 300 tires out of the garage.
``Then we had practice on Saturday and the Shootout and it looked like everything was fine. Then we had a few more isolated instances with the Nextel Cup cars on Wednesday afternoon.
``We got a plane and flew tires back to Akron, sampling various tires throughout our whole production run; sent them to our laboratory in Akron; had the analysis done overnight; had a conference call at 5 a.m. to get the data; decided what we wanted to do from a race tire distribution standpoint by 6; met with NASCAR at 7; and informed them that we were going to expand that pool from 300 tires to 900 tires.
``So we isolated those tires and said let's not use those for the Nextel Cup Dual 150s. Of the 900 tires, 600 tires had already been used. We ended up pulling out less than 100 tires from the Cup garage on Thursday morning.
``Thursday's (Dual 150) races were fantastic; we had no tire-related issues whatsoever and we were really pleased.''
So it's nice to be exclusive except when something goes wrong.
``It's a tough environment. It was a real marginal situation in terms of, `Do we have a problem or do we not?' It's aggravated by car setups and inflation pressures and cambers and so on, so certainly there's a lot of variables and it's a complex situation.
``The fact of the matter is, we had 600 tires that all performed just fine out of that 900-tire bunch. It was certainly an isolated deal, but we thought we'd try to do whatever we could to address any issues we saw.''
Did you ever imagine NASCAR's getting as big as it's become?
``It's difficult to comprehend what has happened over the years. I've been around the sport a little over 30 years, and I remember being at a tire test with Benny Parsons in the mid-70s. We were at Charlotte and they were busy adding more grandstands and suites, and we said, `You know what, this is about as big as this sport's going to get.' And it's certainly got a lot bigger than that. Growth has just been phenomenal.''
What benefits does this relationship bring to Goodyear? Does it actually help you sell more tires?
``There's no question about it. It definitely does help us sell more tires, and we benefit by the growth in the popularity of the sport, certainly.
``There are 75 million people who call themselves NASCAR fans, and a lot of those people realize that these cars are out there racing on Goodyear, and we're going to make sure that they all realize that all these stars and cars are out there racing on Goodyears. We do think that there's definitely marketing potential, advertising potential, and we're trying to take advantage of that as much as possible.''
Do you miss being involved in Indy-type racing and Formula One at all?
``We're involved in a lot of motorsports still and, to be honest with you, with our particular position in the top three categories in NASCAR-the Nextel Cup, the Busch and the Craftsman Truck series-there are over 90 races to attend, so it keeps me pretty busy.''