Mickey Thompson's Ken Warenr
Accelerating from a standstill to 330 mph in 4.6 seconds, it's a Funny Car's nitro-drinking 7,000 hp that seizes most of the glory. However, although it plays what is arguably an even greater role in achieving such scintillating performance, few give due props to modern tire technology. "Wow, those tires sure do hook!" isn't exactly a common utterance in the grandstands of an NHRA event. Nonetheless, tires are what ensures that that 7,000 hp translate into 5 g's off the starting line and 0.890-second 60-foot times. Why, yes, tires are very underrated.
Helping put the power down for pros and weekend warriors alike-since day one-is Mickey Thompson Tires. It's a company that needs no introduction. On any given weekend on any given dragstrip, chances are the vast majority of racers will be running Mickey Thompson drag tires. To help you get the most out of your drag tires, we solicited the expertise of M/T's Ken Warner. Even if you're a seasoned track veteran, Ken's got a bundle of tips that should shave a tenth or two off of your e.t.'s.
Hard vs. Soft
Since drag tires are significantly softer than street tires, racers often assume that softer is always better. This isn't always the case. Creating a tire compound is a very complex process. The goal is to provide the best possible performance relative to the intended use of the tire. "Softer-compound tires are preferable for lightweight vehicles, and harder-compound tires work best on heavier vehicles," explains Ken. "If the compound is too hard on a light vehicle, it may reduce traction and braking ability. If the compound is too soft on a heavy vehicle, it can cause premature wear in addition to performing poorly in regard to traction and braking."
"Drag tires are designed to either dead-hook or spin in a controlled fashion," Ken says. "You must compound the tire for its intended use. Drag cars have many different engine, transmission, and power-adder configurations. A high-horsepower car that utilizes a manual transmission requires a different type of compound than a high-horsepower car with an automatic transmission. When you dump the clutch with a manual transmission, a dead-hook will shake the tires or bog down the motor. A slight amount of controlled spin is preferable, where the right amount of wheel speed and traction allows the car to accelerate rapidly while going through the gear changes. On the other hand, since automatics have torque converters and the launch is not as violent, a dead-hook usually works best. All these factors have to be considered when designing a tire."
Not only have racers run quicker times with ET Street Radials than with ET Streets, M/T also openly admits that this is the case. So did the company shoot itself in the foot? Not exactly. While M/T's drag radials are proven performers, Ken says they are far less forgiving than standard bias-ply slicks. "Due to a drag radial's stiffer construction, they are not as reliable in regard to traction and recovery from spinning as a bias-ply tire," he explains. "Drag radials have the potential to be quicker, but can be very finicky, especially with a manual-transmission car. They generally require a much more time-consuming chassis setup."