Rolling Along: Is Hoosier back in NASCAR's fast lane?


An Oct. 5 system-wide strike by some 15,000 United Steelworkers union members at 16 Goodyear Tire and Rubber manufacturing plants might have provided Lakeville, Indiana-based Hoosier Tire and Rubber a chance to get rolling again in NASCAR's...

An Oct. 5 system-wide strike by some 15,000 United Steelworkers union members at 16 Goodyear Tire and Rubber manufacturing plants might have provided Lakeville, Indiana-based Hoosier Tire and Rubber a chance to get rolling again in NASCAR's three top racing divisions, sources close to the situation said.

A meeting between Hoosier and NASCAR occurred last week at the latter's Daytona Beach headquarters to establish a contingency plan that likely will kick into action by the end of November so that NASCAR's Nextel Cup, Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series will have race tires on which to compete after the sanctioning body's first event of the 2007 season at Daytona International Speedway.

Presently, non-striking Goodyear workers -- most of whom normally perform white-collar duties -- are at full-tilt-boogie in producing enough tires to satisfy demand for Daytona Beach's Speed Weeks at NASCAR's 2.5-mile "home" track.

But it's Goodyear's inability to meet demand for the rest of the 2007 race schedule that has caused concern at NASCAR.

For 2007 Goodyear currently sees itself as producing tires only for Nextel Cup's three biggest races held at Daytona, Charlotte and Indianapolis.

With roughly a three-month lead time needed for manufacturing lines to ramp up and complete tire production, that leaves Goodyear needing to settle the dispute with its workers no later than about the end of next week so that tires can be made ready for the February 25, 2007, California Speedway race.

"From everything I've heard," said one well-placed Wall Street insider consulted for this story, "Goodyear is looking to outsource the manufacture of its product in the long haul."

"Like it or not, the reality is that the United States economy is no longer a closed, self-dependent system," he said. "The world economy is involving more and more of the five-billion souls who on average make less money in a year than most of the striking Goodyear plant workers used to make in less than a week."

"If the strikers really are foolish enough to stay out over a relatively small loss of wages, I believe Goodyear will help them make it a permanent loss of wages."

If Hoosier were to be called upon -- which at this juncture seems likely -- it would make the third time the company has made an appearance in NASCAR's elite racing divisions.

First arriving on the NASCAR scene in the 1980's, Hoosier-shod cars would win nine Cup races in 1988 and the 1989 Daytona 500 with Darrell Waltrip at the wheel of a Rick Hendrick Chevrolet (remember the icky "Icky Shuffle?") before its bias-ply tires would give way to Goodyear's radial tire technology.

Indeed, Hoosier would in 1992 open a plant exclusively devoted to the production of radial race tires and in 1994 again began supplying tires to NASCAR's top division, wherein Hoosier Tire booster Geoffrey Bodine would win four Cup races that year and the Hoosier-shod car of Rick Mast would claim pole honors for the first Brickyard 400.

However, Hoosier would also that year find itself in the middle of a contentious debate after unproven allegations blamed Hoosier tires for on-track accidents, causing Hoosier to pull its Cup program while citing an inability to maintain the numbers of tires required for each race.

Long devoted almost exclusively to production of racing tires, Hoosier tires were on the cars of Tony Stewart and J.J. Yeley as each drove to their respective USAC Triple Crown championships in 1995 and 2003.

Since the start of the 2004 season Hoosier has also been the sole tire supplier of NASCAR little brother Grand American Road Racing Association and its Rolex, Grand-Am Koni Challenge and Moto-ST racing series.

Hoosier has been the sole tire supplier for the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series, AutoZone West and Busch East Grand National Division Series, among other NASCAR-sanctioned racing series.

In addition, Hoosier tires have been the tire of choice for ARCA, SCCA, NHRA and other national-level series.

"NASCAR fans all over the country have made plans, plunked down traveling money and already scheduled vacation days in anticipation of the 2007 season," the source said.

"Then you've got thousands of NASCAR families that at the least need to be fed, housed, clothed and educated -- a count that extends well beyond just the teams when you consider the economic inter-dependencies at work."

"The fact is, tires are important to racing and we'll make sure we've got 'em."

-Exclusively for Motorsports.Com by DC Williams

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