posted October 27, 2002 08:37 AM
I also thought it very necessary to post this article I pulled from another racing forum.....It's very long, but a VERY important bit of info.....
Is it possible that anyone still thinks tire softening is the way to go?
Last week’s news that veteran Late Model pilot Jim Cilley had been suspended from American-Canadian Tour competition for the remainder of 2002 and all of 2003 for illegally doctoring his tires was either a major surprise or an inevitable occurrence, depending on whom you talk to.
Cilley’s first tire-related suspension – at the midway mark of the 2000 campaign – sent a message to all concerned that ACT would no longer tolerate the presence of tire-softening chemicals in its pit areas. Apparently, it failed to make a big enough impression on Cilley, and some say there are other drivers on pit road who have still not gotten the message.
Less than a year ago, this writer penned an article for **** Berggren's Speedway Illustrated magazine, examining the growing debate over tire softener use in big-league motorsports. While researching that article, I spoke with tire softener manufacturers, medical experts, chemists, drivers, and racetrack promoters. While each group had its own unique take on the issue, virtually all agreed that the vast majority of tire softening products are dangerous stuff.
Tire softeners work by physically breaking down the rubber compound, making the tire softer and increasing its ability to grip and hold the racetrack. The active ingredients in all but a select few of the softening products are hydrocarbons – chemicals like toluene and benzene – that are proven to cause cancer when ingested in even small quantities. These chemicals are easily absorbed through the skin, or inhaled as microscopic, airborne particles. Virtually every expert I spoke to -- other than the manufacturers themselves – stated unequivocally that anyone using tire softener is literally taking their life in their hands. In fact, the manufacturers themselves put warning labels on their products, cautioning users to avoid physical contact with the chemicals, and recommending the use of respirators, rubber gloves, and indoor ventilation systems when using them.
In truth, however, few (if any) crewmen take these precautions. Most slather the stuff on with a paintbrush, paying little heed to spillage or adequate ventilation. Off the record, one ACT Late Model crewmember admitted that before the softener ban took effect in 2000, he personally went through four pairs of sneakers in a season, after tire softener ate the bottoms.
ACT is not the only series wrestling with this issue. Two weeks ago at Kentucky Speedway, ARCA pole winner Vern Slagh “withdrew” his Ford after officials determined that his right-side tires had been soaked. Slagh withdrew his car after a lengthy meeting with ARCA officials, during which he was reportedly told – in effect – to jump, or be pushed. Slagh, of course, denied treating his tires. Less than a week later, he put all his ARCA equipment up for sale and announced plans to move to the NASCAR Busch Series.
If tire softeners are such bad stuff, why don’t more tracks ban them? Simply put, because they don’t know how.
As one midwest promoter said, “My tire softener ban ends the day someone challenges it in court. In order to prove that a driver treated his tires, I have to send the tire away to a laboratory and have it run through a spectrum analyzer, which gives me a read out of every chemical compound in the tire, at a cost of $200 to $300. Then, I have to go to court and prove which product he used, when he used it, and how much he used. All in all, it makes more sense for a promoter to allow the stuff, or at least turn their head and pretend it’s not there.”
Unwilling to stick his head in the sand, American-Canadian Tour President Tom Curley found a way around the problem. After consulting with attorneys and fellow promoters around the country, Curley crafted a rule that does not require his series to prove that tire softener has been used. Instead, ACT officials need only to prove that the tires in question are different than everyone else's; a determination that is easily made using a standard durometer. The specific wording of ACT’s tire rule eliminates the need for costly chemical analysis, and eliminates the possibility of legal chicanery, as well.
“If we have a question about tires, we bring the top five finishers into the tech area,” said Curley a year ago. “We have the offending driver take a durometer and test all the tires. If his are different than the others, that’s all we need to see.”
ACT’s tire softener ban has been in effect since the start of the 2000 season. Every driver, in every division, knows about it. They know the rationale behind it, they are aware of the dangers of tire softener use, and with Cilley now banned for the second time in three seasons, they know the penalties for noncompliance. With all that information to work with, why would anyone continue to soak tires?
In short, to keep up. In five Thunder Road starts this season, Cilley had managed just one top-five finish; a fifth-place showing on June 13, after starting from the pole. In the other four races, he finished 25th, 17th, 16th and 11th, usually after starting inside the top 10.
"I think the technology passed him by,” said Curley this week. “When we were running stock equipment, he did pretty well. But as time went on, he fell farther and farther behind. In this league, it doesn't take long to fall behind the eight ball.”
"It's too bad,” Curley said. “Jimmy's been with us for 19 years. It's not like he's a newcomer. He knew exactly what he was doing."
In this writer’s opinion, there are a number of reasons to support ACT’s ban on tire-softening compounds. There is no reason to oppose it.
Talk about the expense of tire softeners; $100-$200 per gallon, with at least a gallon needed each week. Talk about the time it takes to use them; a minimum of 2-4 hours per tire, per week. Talk about the fact that softener use takes all the challenge and intelligence out of setting up a racecar. And talk about what happens when even a small amount of tire softener seeps into the groundwater at your local speedway, prompting government officials to shut it down for good and turn it into a superfund cleanup site.
Talk all you want about those issues. They’re all valid points. But to me, the real question is this. Do you want your five-year old child coming home from Thunder Road with a souvenir castoff tire that's going to give him cancer?
Tire softener adds nothing to the sport, and the risks are enormous. If drivers still aren’t smart enough to protect themselves and their teams from the risks inherent in tire softener use, sanctioning bodies and promoters must do it for them
[This message has been edited by KPLugnut (edited October 27, 2002).]