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Auto Racing

Firestone Boss Sympathetic, But Would Like Shot At NASCAR

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: May 25, 2013 at 01:16 PM

Bridgestone Firestone racing director Al Speyer was flying home from the Indy car race at Edmonton on Sunday afternoon while Goodyear's NASCAR tires were blowing, deflating or wearing to the cords in barely 10 laps at Indianapolis.

He was kept abreast of the debacle through numerous messages and watched the final 20 laps on TV.

Tuesday, he wasn't going to kick an old rival while it was down.

"I guess the one thing I kept saying over and over to myself was a lot of people don't realize just how hard it is to get it right all the time," he said. "When you get it right, nobody pays any attention. But as soon as you mess up, you're the focus of the world almost."

The Allstate 400 at the Brickyard is one of the biggest races of the year, and yet NASCAR and Goodyear clearly hadn't done their homework.

The right-side tire compound chosen by Goodyear was so wrong for NASCAR's new car that caution flags were necessary every 10 to 12 laps so drivers wouldn't leave on stretchers. Two nearly did anyway.

Among the customers feeling cheated was Hillsborough High football coach Earl Garcia, a diehard racing fan who owns a house in the shadow of the great racetrack.

"I never saw anything like it," Garcia said. "It was a pit crew competition with 10-lap heat races in between. People were booing the track cleanup crews."

'It Won't Happen Again'

Garcia had the sympathy of driver Ryan Newman, who said Sunday, "That was a lack of preparation from NASCAR to Goodyear to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to put on a show like they did for the fans."

Tuesday, a contrite NASCAR vice president for competition Robin Pemberton apologized.

"I can't say how sorry we are," he said. "It's our responsibility, being NASCAR, that we don't go through this situation again. ... We will do everything in our power, and it won't happen again."

On Sunday, Pemberton and Goodyear executive Greg Stucker cited the difficult challenge of building a race tire for Indy's abrasive diamond-cut surface that's both durable and racy.

Adding to the challenge this year, they noted, is that the new car, run for the first time at Indy, has a higher center of gravity and heavier roll to the right, meaning greater load on the right-side tires.

Indy may be difficult, but Bridgestone Firestone competes there every year, supplying all the tires for the Indy 500. And while its tires haven't always been perfect, they've generally been very good.

Speyer allows that building tires for 1,565-pound Indy cars is quite a bit different than for 3,450-pound stock cars, but he doesn't concede that the stock car application is more difficult.

"The speeds are lower," he said. "A lot of the forces go up with the square of the speed. It's not a linear type thing. The higher speeds that Indy cars run about 225 mph to 185 mph at Indy really magnify some of the stresses far beyond what stock cars would see. It's certainly different but again there's always a solution somewhere. You've just got to look for it long enough to find it."

One solution is better preparation. Bridgestone Firestone tests at Indy once or twice a year whether the car has changed or not - in weather that's comparable to what's expected for the month of May.

Can It Be Done Better?

To prepare for Sunday's race, Goodyear conducted one three-car tire test in April, when the track was much cooler than it gets in late July. This, despite knowing the new car and tire combination was an unknown and unpredictable quantity.

At some point, Goodyear will have to ask itself whether the bad publicity it is getting in NASCAR is worth the exposure of racing in America's most popular series. Tony Stewart ripped the tire maker in March on national TV, and now this. Certainly, Goodyear will have to ask itself whether it can do a better job.

If the answer is that Goodyear wants to give up its spot as exclusive tire supplier, there's another tire maker that sounds ready to jump in.

"There's an awful lot of people at Bridgestone Firestone who would like to have a chance to do that, just to see how we would do," Speyer said.

And Speyer himself?

"Oh I'd love it," he said. "It would be a great challenge. That's what we're in motorsports for."

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