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Friday, April 29, 2011

Firestone and the Indy 500

As a boy growing up, every year I would sit with my Dad and we would watch the Indy 500.  When I was a boy it used to take all day to run 500 miles.  The Indy 500 is about to be run for the 100th time.  I read a great article in the April Edition of Tire Business about Firestone and the Indy 500 and thought I would share some tidbits in today's post.  The Article "Brickyard's signature race marks its 100th", was written by Kathy McCarron of the Tire Business Staff.

Firestone tires debuted on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909 on a car racing in the Indianapolis 300, the precursor to the Indy 500.
In 1909, 3.2 million paving bricks were laid on top of the original crushed rock and tar surface of the speedway – hence the track's nickname, "The Brickyard."
Today, there is only a 36 inch strip of the original bricks visible at the start/finish line.
During the race these days the tread surface of the racing tires approaches 212 degrees F, which creates a tar like consistency to help the tires and car adhere to the track.  An Indy car will burn about 1.3 gallons of fuel per lap giving it an average of 2 miles per gallon fuel mileage.
Firestone tires have been on 61 winning cars out of the 94 500 mile races held since 1911.  If you're wondering why 94 races in 100 years, the race was suspended during both the World Wars.
For comparison purposes, 29 winners have run on Goodyear, 2 on Goodrich, 1 on Michelin, and one on Palmer Cord.
In 1911, Ray Harroun won the first Indy 500 in his Marmon Wasp running on Firestone tires.  There was no such thing as race tires in 1911, Mr. Harroun just put street legal tires on his his vehicle.  The Race at the time was called the International Sweepstakes.  Ray Harroun had heard that Firestone tires were subject to fail if they were run over 75 miles per hour.  There were many cars that day that ran faster than Ray Harroun's but it took a long time to change a tire back then so Ray paced himself and won the race with an average speed of 74.6 mph.  He didn't have any tire failures and only changed the right rear tire three times.  The faster guys who got flats on the back stretch took a long time to hobble around to pit lane.  Mr. Harroun's winning purse was $14,250, compared to Dario Franchitti last year who won $2.75 million.
This year during the race each car will use 10 to 11 sets, which is 40 to 44 tires per car.  They will run an average speed of 220 miles per hour.  Since they can change all four tires in the time it takes to refuel the car, they will change them every time they stop for fuel. 
I found it extremely interesting that staggering the height of the tires was found out by accident while testing with Mario Andretti in 1969.  He had tires of different construction and they were not the same height.  With larger ones on the right side and smaller ones on the left side, the right tire rolls further so the car naturally turns in arc around the oval track.  It really freed them up in the turns and greatly increased the speed they were able to run.  Everybody runs a staggered fitment today.  Mr. Andretti – who is a "celebrity spokesperson" for the Bridgestone and Firestone brands went on to win the Indy 500 that year.
The former Firestone Tire & Rubber Company took a hiatus in 1974 for 20 years so it could focus on retooling it's plants in the switch from bias ply tires to radial tire production.  After Bridgestone Corp. purchased Firestone Tire in 1988, there was uncertainty in the U.S. market about whether the Japanese company would retain the Firestone brand.  After Bridgestone executives visited Indianapolis, they saw the race, the people, and visited the motor speedway's museum, which showcased Firestone's history on the racetrack.  They pretty much decided on the spot, "We're going to take Firestone back to Indy."
In the period between 1993 and 1999, Bridgestone doubled the amount of Firestone tires sold in North America (U.S. and Canada).  In 1996 when Firestone re-entered the series it competed directly with Goodyear until 2000, when it became the sole supplier by default.
Early this year it seemed this relationship was going to come an end when Bridgestone announced March 4th it would no longer supply Indy Car racing after 2011.  The drivers stepped in to urge a resolution to keep Firestone tires and an agreement was reached on March 11, 2011.
I didn't come up with any of this myself, I just plagiarized and retyped bits and pieces of Kathy McCarron's article from Tire Business magazine.  It did list her E-mail address kmccarron@crain.com and her telephone number 1-330-865-6127.  I did not get her permission to use pieces of her article.
Being a fan of the Indy 500, and that it is the only race I follow at all, of all the racing that takes place in the world over the course of any given year.  Miss McCarron's article caught me as one of the most interesting articles the magazine has done in some time.  I thought I would share it in this post because as those who read my blog know my day job is moving rubber, my night job is writing adventure novels.  It is a shame more people will not get the opportunity to read this wonderful article.  There are way more Indy 500 fans than just those who work in the Tire Industry and happen to get Tire Business Magazine.

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