Race Weekend Central

Waid’s World: Tire Wars Escalate & The Casualties Begin to Mount

When the Tire Wars between Hoosier Tire Co. and the giant Goodyear began in earnest with the start of the 1988 NASCAR Cup Series season, the conclusion, as it is with most wars, wasn’t certain.

It was easy to predict that Goodyear, the long-standing tire giant that had been a part of NASCAR for years, would easily take the measure of Hoosier, a small company that had enjoyed success mainly on the short tracks of the Midwest.

But just after the Daytona 500, it was suggested that Hoosier might be a formidable opponent. Only a few used the tire in the race, but two of them, Neil Bonnett and Buddy Baker, finished among the top 10.

Then Bonnett won the next two races at Richmond Raceway and Rockingham Speedway, forcing Goodyear to admit it had been sluggish over the years and was now gearing up for battle.

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Well, that seemed easy enough at the following Atlanta Motor Speedway race, if for no other reason, Hoosier didn’t enter. Its tire supply – and knowledge of superspeedway racing – was still limited and thus it did not have the resources needed to compete.

An overall competitive strategy emerged. Goodyear and Hoosier would supply tires for all teams in each Cup event – when possible, of course.

Teams could use their discretion over which tire to use. They could stick with one throughout the race or switch whenever they desired, depending upon the direction competition was trending.

Simply put, a team’s selection was based on separate tire combinations. Harder compounds were generally stronger and thus lived longer – but they often produced slower speeds.

Softer compounds were not as durable, but they produced quicker speeds.

It was generally accepted the Hoosiers, often made the softer compound while Goodyear the harder.

Teams made sometimes difficult decisions. Should they start on harder tires for endurance and hope they do not slow down so much that they are no longer competitive?

Or should they select another compound that produces more speed but the lack of endurance may well lead to a blowout and bring an end to the day?

Then again, there was no rule that said teams could not switch brands at any time during a race and that is precisely what many of them did.

An example of the switching strategy took place at Darlington Raceway, the fifth race of the season.

Lake Speed, driving for his own team, started on Hoosiers and remained on them throughout the TranSouth 400. He won the first race of his NASCAR career.

Meanwhile, Alan Kulwicki, the 1986 Rookie of the Year racing for his own team, finished second, the best finish of his young career. He could have made a real run at Speed had he switched to Goodyears.

Kulwicki’s response was both surprising and prophetic.

“I intend to be in this sport 10 years from now,” he said. “You have to look at the long term. Goodyear has produced tires for many years and will likely do so for many years in the future. It may be an advantage to be loyal to them.

“Let’s see how that works out in the long run.”

Not all competitors practiced such loyalty. Many switched brands when they felt the need.

It was rumored that Goodyear recruited team services through deals on tires – and other means – that it hoped would result in brand loyalty.

Hoosier may well have done the same, but it certainly did not have the financial means to make it as widespread.

Perhaps the most prominent of Goodyear’s loyalists was Dave Marcis, a driver who had spent most of his career racing with limited financial support.

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Marcis declared that he was a Goodyear man if for no other reason than it had done him many favors during his career, and he was not going to forget it.

And he didn’t during his entire 35-year career.

By May, casualties in the Tire Wars began to mount. Terry Labonte won The Winston, NASCAR’s All-Star race at Charlotte on Goodyears.

But there was a price to pay. Many drivers suffered tire failure during the short race. Ricky Rudd, among others, crashed following a Goodyear blowout.

“I am just one of many who has been caught in this situation,” said Rudd, who suffered a knee injury. “There are more to come. Each tire company is trying to come out with a softer compound and many of them are not going to make it.

“We’d be better off with strictly one tire or another.”

Goodyear, which had produced a softer tire for The Winston to compete with Hoosier, discovered that it had developed a quick, perilous air loss.

“Our main interest is safety,” said Goodyear’s Director of Raicng Leo Mehl. “We saw things in The Winston we didn’t like. We have no choice but to pull out of The World 600. Drivers are our friends and we don’t want anything to happen to them.”

With no competition, Hoosier won the World 600 with driver Darrell Waltrip.

But ultimately, the race served as clear evidence that the Tire Wars had become a very dangerous situation.

And drivers began to grumble loudly. Their mantra became:

“NASCAR needs to do something about this.”

To be concluded next week

About the author

Steve Waid

Steve Waid has been in  journalism since 1972, when he began his newspaper career at the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin. He has spent over 40 years in motorsports journalism, first with the Roanoke Times-World News and later as publisher and vice president for NASCAR Scene and NASCAR Illustrated.

Steve has won numerous state sports writing awards and several more from the National Motorsports Press Association for his motorsports coverage, feature and column writing.  For several years, Steve was a regular on “NASCAR This Morning” on FOX Sports Net and he is the co-author, with Tom Higgins, of the biography “Junior Johnson: Brave In Life.”

In January 2014, Steve was inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame. And in 2019 he was presented the Squier-Hall Award by the NASCAR Hall of Fame for lifetime excellence in motorsports journalism. In addition to writing for Frontstretch, Steve is also the co-host of The Scene Vault Podcast.

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