The tire industry this summer got a little more competitive for eight tire dealers.
Yokohama Tire Corp., in its last of 18 seasons sponsoring the Champ Car Atlantic series, traded its nose cone decal position on the race vehicles with eight of its dealers' logos. The dealers each laid claim to three drivers during a blind draw and have been following their progress.
So far, Wheel Works' driver Andreas Wirth leads the pack, followed by Tire Rack's Simon Pagenaud and Tire Kingdom Inc.'s Graham Rahal. Other participating dealers are Big O Tires Inc., Conrad's Total Car Care and Tire Centers, Discount Tire Co. Inc., National Tire & Battery-which is owned by Tire Kingdom parent TBC Corp.-and Tire Warehouse Inc.
Dealers whose drivers are in the running for the title will be invited to the final race at Road America Sept. 24 in Wisconsin. The ultimate winning dealer will get the nose cone of the vehicle, said Robert Dole, product promotions manager for Yokohama.
The tire maker also has organized various other activities for the dealers and their representatives. ``Overall the response has been unbelievable,'' Mr. Dole said of the program.
Next season Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. will take over as the official tire supplier and presenting sponsor of the Atlantic series. Mr. Dole said Yokohama decided to end the sponsorship it has held since 1989-in a run that made Yokohama ``undefeated'' for 18 years, or 232 to 0, Mr. Dole joked.
``There's multiple factors and such, but at this point it was just a decision made at the corporate level to pursue other activities,'' he said.
Yokohama remains involved in the American LeMans Series (ALMS) and various off-road ventures.
In ALMS, Yokohama teams up with Porsche and BMW in arrangements that have many of the same advantages of original equipment fitments. Although Yokohama doesn't have OE fitments with BMW A.G., Mr. Dole said the racing affiliation still leads many BMW motorsports fans to think of Yokohama tires. Yokohama does have fitments with Porsche A.G.
``We've heard the stories of people driving off the lot and heading down to the local dealerships and putting some Yokohamas on their brand new BMW,'' he said. ``We like to hear that.''
Yokohama also plans more inroads with off-road racing, where it's set its sights on Michelin North America Inc.'s BFGoodrich brand. ``We're making some good progress in that area, and the off-road area looks to be even bigger for us in the next couple years because of our launch in 2006/2007 of the Geolandar A/T-S tire,'' he said. ``So we're going to coordinate that.''
Mr. Dole added Yokohama is looking into continuing the dealer promotion it began in Champ Car Atlantic in some off-road venues.
``We're looking at those options because again the reaction has been so positive,'' he said. ``We're still working on our exact 2007 plans, and we might be in a position next year in a different series to do something similar, but it's definitely opened some eyes, both internally and externally, and we're looking at those options.''
Yokohama came up with the promotion as a way to get its dealers energized about the tire maker's motorsports efforts. Since Yokohama doesn't have any company-owned stores, getting tire sellers pumped up takes more work than a corporate mandate, Mr. Dole said.
``On the flip side, as much as it creates a challenge, it's also a positive because it allows you to create more innovative programs and, I think, that's what we've done here,'' he said. ``I'm very positive about the future even without the Atlantic championship.''
Matt Edmonds, vice president of Tire Rack, said the program has created excitement among the online marketers' employees as they tabulate the standings. ``It's an interesting way to draw some attention to the series.''