Whenever you mention tire wars to an older NASCAR fan, they?ll bring up something like this.
If you missed any of YouTube?s large font, that was Jeff Burton hitting a concrete wall hard after his right front tire blew during a tire war in 1994. I?ve taken the time to watch some races from NASCAR?s tire wars, and I?ve found that NASCAR allowed the wars to progress in a strictly laissez-faire fashion: teams were not only free to change compound and stagger during a race, they could change brands! On giving Goodyear a monopoly on tires, NASCAR has practiced a command economy where the sanctioning body dictates matters of stagger, compound, and sidewall construction, sometimes overriding Goodyear?s engineers and their better judgment.
However, for every 1994 SplitFire Spark Plug 500 or 2005 United States Grand Prix, there?s a 2005 Coca-Cola 600 or 2008 Brickyard 400. The command economy offered by a tire monopoly is no less dangerous than a laissez-faire tire war! After the 2012 season NASCAR?s exclusive contract with Goodyear will expire. INDYCAR?s exclusive contract with Firestone will expire after the 2013 season. I?m going to explain why NASCAR needs a tire war, and why INDYCAR needs a tire monopoly.
Let?s examine NASCAR?s tire wars of the late 80?s and early 90?s. In 1988, NASAR was still primarily a regional phenomenon; there was only one race in the Pacific Time Zone and that was at a track that no longer exists, Riverside. The Daytona 500 paid $202,940 to win. Clearly NASCAR was not a moneymaker for Goodyear or Hoosier. As a result, both companies would build the softest tires they could in the hopes of setting a fast qualifying lap. The problem is those soft tires do not hold up under race conditions. Of course everyone is content to bolt on soft tires and wait for a crash, because everyone will bet their car is not the one that crashes first.
By comparison, the 1988 Indianapolis 500 paid $804,853 (that?s four times as much as Daytona) to win. Indy hit the peak of its popularity by the mid-90?s when F1 drivers started coming to Indy while still in the prime of their careers. Then Indianapolis had a tire war, and nothing bad happened. Sure, it was pretty awful when the split came in 1996, divided the audience, and NASCAR stole all of the disillusioned fans, but for a few years, Goodyear and Firestone had a nice war before everyone realized a major sport cannot survive without a monopoly. But the important issue here is money. When the money left open-wheel racing, the tire war had to follow.
Tire wars are an expensive thing for manufactures and need a strong sanctioning body to referee. NASCAR now has the means to manage a tire war correctly. NASCAR should exercise a limit of six types of tires at the start of the year with two extra types allowed later in the season, and set limits how much a tire can degrade over a given distance. This is the mixed economy. Research and development costs are saved by having a limited variety of tires for the season. Duration testing will protect the drivers from what happened to Jeff Burton.
INDYCAR on the other hand needs to stay in the command economy. For the time being, it has to play second banana to NASCAR. It cannot afford to police tire makers right now, let alone entice them to spend top dollar besting each other. Obviously Firestone (and by extension, Bridgestone) have lost interest in racing, but there are plenty of other tire brands that would be a great fit for INDYCAR (provided none of them are Hoosier).
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