LAKEVILLE, Ind. (Sept. 10, 2007) — As Hoosier Racing Tire Corp. turns 50, co-founder Bob Newton turns 80, prompting many to ask who's in line to take over when he and his wife Joyce finally decide to retire.
Officially, there's no answer to that question.
“I guess I'll die in my office here,” Mr. Newton quipped when asked about retiring.
Mr. Newton's office is not far from the spot where he did a lot of the retreading himself in the company's early days. That converted barn gave way to a larger plant/office/warehouse and eventually to the company's two-story headquarters on U.S. Highway 31 a few miles south of Lakeville.
Mr. Newton, with support of Joyce, got into the retreading business in 1957 after he had raced for several years and they figured out that racing was an activity that meant spending money, whereas selling tires to racers was something that could earn them money.
So Mr. Newton taught himself the basics of retreading and set about retreading street tires with softer compounds during the week, hauling them on weekends to local race tracks for sale. The Newtons named the company Hoosier in honor of the state of Indiana's nickname and made purple the corporate color because that had been the color of Mr. Newton's race cars.
A few years into this business, he said in a recent interview with Tire Business, he discovered the retreaded tires he was making started failing more often than they should, so he shopped around for a new tread rubber supplier and settled on the then Mohawk Rubber Co.
That solved the problem, he said, and when he told other retreaders about his experience, a lot of them switched, too.
The resultant spurt in business for Mohawk did not go unnoticed. One day in 1961 Mr. Newton said he got a phone call from Henry Fawcett, then chairman of Mohawk, who wanted to thank Mr. Newton for the added business and invited him to Akron.
“At that meeting I told Mr. Fawcett about my business and about racing, and before long he had his vice presidents and manufacturing and sales people in there with us, telling them Mohawk was going into the racing tire business!” Mr. Newton said.
That led to a 16-year business relationship and put Hoosier Tire on the map outside of the Midwest, where Mr. Newton was restricted to doing business on his own.
In 1978 Mohawk decided to close its Akron plant, forcing the Newtons to come up with a new plan. They decided to go into tire manufacturing on their own, mortgaging their house for capital and opening a modest factory in 1979 in nearby Plymouth, Ind., under the name R&J Manufacturing Corp. (after Robert and Joyce Newton).
Business grew and by 1988 Mr. Newton felt confident enough to take on Goodyear in NASCAR Winston Cup competition. Hoosier-equipped drivers won nine races that first season, but Hoosier withdrew a year later to concentrate on radials.
In 1991 the company opened a radial-capable factory in Plymouth, just blocks from the existing plant, and returned to NASCAR, supplying tires to the Busch Grand National Competition. Three years later Hoosier re-entered the Winston Cup Circuit, winning four races before deciding to withdraw due to cost ramifications of NASCAR's “tire count” rule.
Since then the firm has concentrated on making tires for racing series and tracks that can generate profits.
The Newtons live on an 80-acre farm adjacent to the firm's headquarters and main distribution center.
As he approached 80, Mr. Newton has cut back on his work hours, according to Don Sherman, vice president. “He's down to half days now—12-hour half days,” he quipped.
Mr. Newton keeps fit working out daily at the company's gym—and he encourages all who work in the headquarters to follow his example, Mr. Sherman said. The day Tire Business visited, Mr. Newton's signature was at the top of the list in the gym. Sign-in time? 6 a.m.
The Newtons are a fixture in Indiana's St. Joseph and Marshall counties, where Lakeville and Plymouth are located.
Seven years ago the couple donated 35 acres of land a few miles south of the company's headquarters for a park and also bought a local school slated for demolition and turned it into a business incubator.
Named Newton Park in the couple's honor, the complex features four baseball/softball fields, six soccer fields, a skating pond, a playground and a 1-mile paved walking path. It has become a magnet for baseball, softball and soccer tournaments, attracting teams from across the Midwest and Canada.
The town of Plymouth and the owners of Plymouth Speedway organized a celebration in June to honor the Newtons and their contributions to Plymouth and surrounding communities and to motorsports.
During those festivities, held June 13, two-time NASCAR Nextel Cup champion Tony Stewart—a native of Indiana and long-time user of Hoosier tires—raised $10,000 at a charity luncheon and donated it all to Newton Park.
Asked about the highs and lows of 50 years operating Hoosier Tire, Mr. Newton said competing head to head with Goodyear in NASCAR and winning was a high point, while not being able to make the Hoosier street tire program viable was a disappointment.