The chunked tire caused a conference in the Prudhomme team’s pit area.

During first round qualifying Sunday at Indy Don Prudhomme’s Miller Lite Top Fuel dragster driven by Larry Dixon lost almost the entire outside edge of one slick and chunked a portion of the left front tire.  There was enough concern over this incident that crew chief Dick LaHaie led NHRA’s director of Top Fuel & Funny Car racing, Ray Alley, through the damage to the tires. Soon afterward NHRA’s Don Taylor (Senior Director of National Technical Operations) and Cary Menard (VP - Technical Administration & Legal Affairs) arrived in the Snake’s pit about the same time as four Goodyear tech people who gather and record data after each occurrence of tire chunking.

When asked about his tires chunking at Indy, two-time Top Fuel champ Dixon responded, “It’s an issue they are working real hard on and they are trying to fix it. I can’t give you an expert opinion about how to construct a tire or how to build a racecar or a Chevy van. You would be better suited to ask Goodyear to answer any questions, ‘cause I don’t have an answer for you; that isn’t my department. If you want to take a poll out here on who’s chunking tires, we chunked a front one...” 

But this is a problem Dixon has had for some time. “Before I entered my first national event race I lost a tire at Bakersfield, so this isn’t something that’s new to me.” That incident happened in 1995 and Dixon crashed the Top Fuel car because the tire exploded.

“I have had four crashes in my career and three were because of the tire,” Dixon continued. “Goodyear looked into all three incidents and came to the decision that debris on the racetrack caused the tire to blow.”

Knowing that there is a serious problem with the tire, we spoke with Goodyear’s Carolyn Ashbee, Sales & Marketing Manager for the Racing Division and Goodyear Chief Engineer for Race Tires David Auffenberg.  The first thing they told us was that the Goodyear tire company does not derive a profit from the sales of drag racing slicks.

Ashbee said, “It’s not a money-making proposition. We are in it to build an image, build our technology base and then market that to sell passenger tires.” 

Tire engineer Auffenberg added, “There’s a lot to be said about what we (Goodyear) do out here; looking at new compounds, new construction, new mold shapes...we can do all that in a very quick turnaround and develop the technology very quickly. For passenger tire development, it may take months; here we can do things within days and weeks. There’s a lot of technology transfer that goes on here that we can pass along to the tire that your average consumer buys.”

Some Top Fuel teams aren’t chunking tires, however, including the teams owned by Doug Herbert and the Carrier brothers. We questioned Auffenberg about that and he said, “That’s part of the information we are gathering. We look at tire temperatures, tire pressures. There’s a lot of communications with crew chiefs as to what they are doing for those particular runs. What are they seeing, what is the data they are gathering, trying to figure out the different circumstances that the tire goes under... different track conditions, different car set-ups and all those play a role into why certain people are more prone to a problem and some people aren’t. It’s not a universal issue, it tends to be isolated to certain teams at certain track conditions.”

When asked if there was good communication among team owners, drivers, NHRA, nitro crew chiefs and Goodyear, Auffenberg responded, “There’s a fair amount, but I think we’d always like it to be more and I think with the state of where things are now there is a lot more communication because we are trying to advance the sport and make sure that the safety is the most paramount thing for everyone involved.” 

However both Auffenberg and Ashbee acknowledged there is no sharing of technological or safety advances between the major drag racing tire suppliers: Goodyear, Hoosier, M&H Racemaster, and Mickey Thompson racing tires.

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