The challenges for the short track industry amidst a national Hoosier tire shortage doesn’t end once a new shipment arrives barely in time for a marquee event.
In the case of this weekend at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, it was only the beginning.
Several Super Late Model teams experienced somewhat random tire failures during the Southern Super Series Twin 100s over the weekend on the abrasive beachside half-mile. The general consensus pointed towards a product that didn’t have time to cure — allowing it stretch under stress and return to its original shape when that stress is released.
In the absence of Myrtle Beach Speedway, Pensacola is now the most abrasive surface in the discipline, and tires are pushed to the maximum during Late Model events throughout the summer.
The Ronnie Sanders No. 18 of Hunter Robbins crashed out of the Friday race and their team pointed to a right front with irregular tire wear. Willie Allen and Casey Roderick suffered similar issues in the closing laps of the Friday race too.
“Usually, when we abuse the right front tire here, it will start getting a cut or dip on the inside edge, but I didn’t see that in the tire that blew last night,” Roderick said. “It just kind of came apart at the sidewall.
“I just think it’s a curing problem. They are so fresh they didn’t have time to cure and its hot and it’s hard on the right-side tires, so we had to adjust and come back with something a little different (on Saturday) a little less aggressive.”
It earned him a runner-up finish.
Jake Garcia finished third in both the Friday feature and on Saturday but conceded that the usual predictability of the F45 wasn’t there as he leaned on the right front and pointed to the general freshness of this weekend’s selection.
“We just used the right fronts too much there,” Garcia said. “I thought we had fixed it from last night and the right front was smoking again. I don’t know. I think these tires are really fresh and didn’t have time to cure. I’m not a tire expert but something has changed on them and they were just really hard to manage and predict from what they usually are this weekend.”
Stephen Nasse was running inside the top-five in the closing laps but needed to manage a vibration in the closing laps. This is what crew chief Chris Cater discovered after he nursed their No. 51 to an eighth-place finish.
These were tires that were released from the factory on July 12. The national shortage, which itself is a byproduct of a raw materials deficit resulting from the pandemic, has left Hoosier struggling to meet demand.
Several race tracks have had to cancel events, especially those in more obscure markets, while marquee races like the Master of the Pros and Twin 100s at Pensacola received priority. The Late Model Stock Hampton Heat over the weekend was run on tires that track general manager Vaughan Crittenden had stockpiled throughout the spring in summer.
As for Pensacola, Garcia issued a common sentiment amongst his peers over what it was like to drive on the uncured tires on an abrasive track over the weekend.
“I can’t tell you what I’m supposed to do on tires this fresh because I don’t know,” Garcia said. “Like, whatever I did to try to take care of my front tires or my rear tires, the things you usually do, they reacted the opposite of what you would expect.”
None of this is to assign blame to Hoosier. It’s just a byproduct of trying to match supply and demand in the hopeful aftermath of a generational crisis.
Team owner Anthony Campi indicated it was that dire.
“It was the worst right front tire I’ve ever seen here,” Campi said. “Yeah, they’re just not getting cured and that’s all there is to it. Just too new.”
Campi said he would have come to Pensacola with a completely different game plan if he had known.
Imagine being Erik Jones, who hasn’t raced a Super Late Model at Five Flags since 2014 and having to deal with both the evolution of the racing product in addition to an unpredictable tire. Back when he raced the discipline full-time, the tires were less forgiving.
So, the pace is much higher than what he remembers, which makes it even harder to manage a right front that required more diligence or a different set-up than what his McLeod – Braden team were able to give him on Friday night.
That’s what led to the flat tire.
“The stagger can be a little finicky with this, right, and that was probably a part of it,” Jones said. “For me, I don’t think I can say either way because I haven’t run these tires the last few years to even know what they’re supposed to feel like. I haven’t been on a F45 in seven years.”
While Travis Braden didn’t really see any curing issues on their No. 78 team, he did say it made tire selection a hassle on Friday.
“Honestly, all the sets we’ve had seem consistent, but we were having to take the wrong sizes and shrink them or stretch them to make the stagger work since we couldn’t get the right sizes.
“That was our biggest issue, honestly. Five Flags, Tim Bryant and Hoosier all did a great job in a really challenging situation. Trying to learn on the older sets of tires during practice, which were probably a mixture of older and newer tires, probably gave us a harder time in getting it right on Friday.”
The tire shortage will continue to be a factor for pavement Late Model racing throughout the summer with the next Southern Super Series race at Watermelon Capital Speedway and the next Pro Late Model show at Pensacola potentially at risk of cancellation.