The only parts of a race car that actually touch the track, if all is going as it should, are the tires. Needless to say, those four patches of rubber are vital to the car’s performance and to the success of the drivers and teams who pilot and prepare those machines. But over the past few weeks and months, there has been more and more talk of a tire shortage in many forms of racing and the Dirt Late Model form of competition has been affected just as much if not more than others.
From the national touring series to the regional tours all the way down to weekly racers, adjustments have been made. Whether it be in the form of limitations on the number of tires that can be used at particular races, an allowance for compounds that might not normally be used by a certain series or division simply because those tires are what is available, or even cancellations of scheduled events due to a lack of tires, everyone is having to find ways to adapt to the current situation.
Many teams at all levels of Dirt Late Model racing have been forced to change the way they go about their business on race day because of the tire shortage. For the purpose of this piece, InsideDirtRacing.com sought out two national drivers and two regional drivers to get their thoughts on the situation.
World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series regulars Brandon Sheppard and Dennis Erb Jr. shared their thoughts from a national perspective while Valvoline Iron-Man Late Model Series points leader Jensen Ford and three-time Ultimate Super Late Model Series champion Zack Mitchell offered comments from the regional point of view.
Each driver was asked the same two questions with the first being whether or not the tire shortage has affected they way in which they go about preparing for each race.
“To a certain extent it does,” Sheppard replied when asked if his team’s preparation has changed. “Like this weekend, the tire rule was way different from what we would normally run here so it throws the program for a loop a little bit so you’ve got to be extra prepared for that. You’ve got to make sure you’ve got what you need to make sure you get through the weekend at least.”
Sheppard was particularly impacted by the WoO Late Models limitation on tires at the always abrasive Cherokee Speedway in the $40,000-to-win Rock Gault Memorial. After contact with another car, the No. 1 Rocket Chassis house car suffered a flat left rear, and thus lost one of its tires, before even taking the green flag for a heat race.
“The other night at Cherokee, we had a flat in the heat race and that puts you behind because we kind of just got enough to make it through the weekend,” the defending WoO Late Models champion pointed out. “Luckily, we had a few extras that we could get by with. If it gets any worse, it might get tougher on guys . It definitely makes it tricky.
Ford points out that the rules now in place have played a role in several aspects of his racing program, including when and where to race.
“We’re having to run them(tires) more, that’s for sure and we’re trying to get more laps out of them which don’t happen some of the time,” Ford explained. “It’s probably caused us not to go to some races we would’ve went to because we didn’t have enough tires. It makes you have to approach it differently. You’re not as aggressive in the way you groove them because you’ve got to make them last a little longer and stuff like that. The tires we’re getting are not staying together real well.”
Mitchell believes that the racing has not suffered because of the newly initiated rules. He says the harder tires used at this weekend’s WoO Late Models races served his team well.
“Honestly we’ve learned, and I don’t know about everybody else, but it seemed like our car was really good on the hard tires this weekend(Cherokee and Lavonia),” Mitchell said. “Actually we sat on the pole last night with a 15.3 and we were on a hard right rear and the last time we were at Lavonia we sat on the pole with a 15.2(on softer tires) and I don’t feel like the race track was too far off from one time to the other.”
But as the race night plays out, the Barry Wright Race Cars house car driver says limitations become a factor in decision making.
“It definitely plays a big factor, especially once you get to feature time, because sometimes you might want to change a right rear or change a left rear to take a little stagger out or put a little stagger in but now you’re stuck with four all night,” Mitchell declared. “If you want to change one and put a new one on for the feature, you can’t now. But you know, everybody’s on the same rule and everybody’s on the same race track. Personally, I think it makes the racing a little better but I’m sure some people will disagree. But that’s my opinion.”
Sheppard agrees. And he points out that drivers have been forced to race differently early in the night.
“We’re used to having unlimited options and plenty of tires so you don’t have to worry about hurting your left rear tire in a heat race because you can put a new one on,” Sheppard stated. “But this weekend you can’t do that. You can only put a right rear on. You’ve got to be considerate of your tires even in a heat race and make sure you don’t blister them or tear them up for the feature because you don’t have an option to put another one on. It just changes your whole mindset through the night.”
Erb says the shortages cause teams to have to scramble in preparation due to the fact that their tires sometimes arrive at the last minute. Still, though, the veteran driver says that he and crew chief Heather Lyne continue to groove and sipe their tires the same way despite the increased possibility of running low of this vital component.
“Yeah, it’s hard to get tires when you need to get them so you can get them ready for each race,” the Illinois driver pointed out. “It has been a little backed up on getting our work done for the races coming up. We haven’t really changed anything on that part of it(grooving and siping). It’s just tough getting them ready for the race because sometimes we’re not getting them until a couple of days before each race so that’s really the major thing.”
Each driver was also asked if these changes brought on by necessity might lead to permanent adjustments even after the shortage has abated.
Sheppard says the current state of affairs does not appear to be changing in the near future. But whenever it does, he thinks there is a chance that some of the restrictions recently put in place by the various series may continue.
“There’s a possibility,” Sheppard replied. “I really don’t have a good answer for that. I hope they get the tire situation figured out to where we can have our options and have plenty to go around. At this point, you never really know what’s going to happen. From the way everybody talks, I don’t see it getting any better any time soon as far as the shortage goes. We’re just going to play it by ear and see how it goes.”
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Erb hopes that things return to normal soon.
“I have no answer to that,” he replied. “I don’t know what’s going on. Things are different right now and times are different. I’d like to see everything get back to normal here so hopefully we can get through this and carry on after that.”
Mitchell echoes the frustration of many in the dirt racing industry over a situation that is beyond their control.
“We very well could have,” he predicted of possible future changes. “Like you said, there’s a shortage right now and it seems like if you order eight or ten tires you only get a handful which I know they can’t help that. Yeah, it may play a factor on down the road somewhere.”
Contrary to what many might think, Ford says the limitations may actually cost teams more money rather than less.
“To be honest with you, I think when they limited us on the amount of tires, we’re spending more money,” the TNT Race Cars driver explained. “We’re bolting three brand new tires on and by the end of the night, they’re junk. Before we might have a set that we run for qualifying that we would run two, three, or four times and they would stay good. When they limit us on what we’re running, we’re killing brand new tires. We’re not really having any old tires left. I kind of hope they do away with some of that stuff. It kind of sounds crazy but I think it’s cheaper not having limits on them .”
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