The tire wars were the different periods in NASCAR history where the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company competed with different tire manufacturers as the sport's official tire supplier. The most notable of these business wars involved Hoosier Racing Tire from 1988 to 1989, and in 1994. Following Hoosier's departure in 1994, Goodyear has become the exclusive tire supplier of NASCAR's three main series since 1997.
When NASCAR was founded in 1948, its sole tire supplier at the time was the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. In 1954, Goodyear entered the sport and engaged in a tire war with Firestone for the next two decades. In response to the deaths of Jimmy Pardue and Billy Wade, both Goodyear and Firestone started manufacturing the "Inner Liner Safety Spare" - also known in NASCAR as "Lifeguard", which was a second envelope inside the tire that prevented instantaneous deflating and allowed drivers to return to pit road after experiencing tire failure. Controversy erupted at Talladega Superspeedway's debut race in 1969, when drivers experienced tire failures during practice, resulting in Firestone withdrawing from the race and Richard Petty leading a driver walkout over safety concerns. Both tire manufacturers claimed race victories and speed records until Firestone left NASCAR in 1974.
In 1978, the McCreary Tire & Rubber Company entered NASCAR. Despite J. D. McDuffie winning the pole at Dover with their tires, McCreary never won a race and quickly exited the sport. This left Goodyear as the sole tire supplier of NASCAR until Hoosier entered the Busch Grand National Series in 1987.
Goodyear vs. Hoosier (1988–1989)
In 1988, Hoosier entered the Winston Cup Series. Hoosier gained an early advantage at the second race of the season at Richmond, where Morgan Shepherd took the pole and Neil Bonnett won the race and at Rockingham two weeks later using Hoosiers. During the season, NASCAR allowed teams to switch between Goodyear and Hoosier tires. Teams learned that Hoosiers were softer and faster while Goodyears were more durable and safer. Because of this, Goodyear spent money on developing a faster tire.
The tire war took its toll on several drivers, who were injured from accidents caused by tire failures. The most notable of these incidents was during the 1988 Coca-Cola 600. Goodyear withdrew their tires after practice when it was discovered that their compound was too soft for the track; as a result, all drivers except Dave Marcis switched to Hoosiers over safety concerns. The move proved disastrous in the race, as Hoosier tire failures resulted in crashes that injured Bonnett, Rick Wilson, and Harry Gant. Darrell Waltrip, who also ran on Hoosiers, won the race. Despite this setback, Hoosier rebounded when Bill Elliott drove the tires to victory lane at the 1988 Firecracker 400 at Daytona.
Goodyear was dealt a major blow at the July Pocono race when their tires were disqualified for being too wide on their treads, resulting in the manufacturer missing a NASCAR race since the 1956 Southern 500. Three weeks later, Hoosier was disqualified from the Watkins Glen race for the same infraction. The tire war intensified at Dover when several cars suffered from tire failures. Alan Kulwicki, who was one of the tire failure victims, commented: "Not only did it cost us our chance for a win or a good finish in this race, but we wrecked a race car in the process. It's not like this is the second week in a row it's been happening; it's been happening all year long. Really, a little bit disappointed that the tire companies can't get this solved by now. That people are still crashing cars like this, you know. Fortunately, the cars are pretty safe and no one got hurt." At the end of the 1988 season, Hoosier won nine out of the 29 races.
In 1989, Goodyear planned to roll out its new radial tires at the Daytona 500 to prove their superiority to Hoosier's bias-ply tires. However, when Dale Earnhardt and Elliott experienced tire failures during practice, with Elliott sustaining a broken wrist, Goodyear withdrew all radial tires from Daytona. This setback gave Hoosier a major head start, when Waltrip drove on Hoosiers to win the Daytona 500. Hoosier dominated the first four races of the season, with Rusty Wallace's win at the 1989 Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond eventually becoming the tire manufacturer's final win of the season. Goodyear's radial tires made their debut at the 1989 First Union 400 at North Wilkesboro Speedway. While Wallace won the pole on Hoosiers, he was lapped by the lead cars by lap 70. Using the Goodyear radials' high durability to his advantage, Earnhardt won the race. This was the death blow for Hoosier, who left NASCAR after the 1989 Winston 500 at Talladega when they could not sell enough tires to be economically viable.
Goodyear vs. Hoosier II (1994)
Hoosier returned to the Busch Grand National Series in 1991. Three days after the end of the 1993 season, Hoosier announced their return to the Winston Cup Series in 1994 with their radial tires. The company's return was marred by the deaths of Bonnett and Rodney Orr in separate crashes during practice for the 1994 Daytona 500, as both drivers used Hoosiers on their cars. Because of this, the media was quick to blame Hoosier for the deaths. Hoosier decided to release all concerned drivers from their contracts and encouraged them to switch to Goodyear. In addition, NASCAR set a rule allowing drivers to switch tire brands within the first 40 laps of the race.
An independent investigation by the Orlando Sentinel revealed a faulty right-rear shock absorber mounting bracket as the cause of Orr's crash and that the Hoosiers met all safety regulations. This was also theorized to be the cause of Bonnett's death, though no official cause of his crash was announced.
Hoosier claimed 12 poles in the 1994 season, including the inaugural Brickyard 400 by Rick Mast. Geoff Bodine won four races with Hoosier, including the The Winston. But like the 1988 season, both tire manufacturers saw catastrophic failures on their products. Ernie Irvan suffered near-fatal head, chest, and lung injuries in a practice crash at Michigan after one of his Goodyears blew and sent him colliding with the turn two wall. Bodine and Loy Allen Jr. experienced horrifying crashes at the season-ending Atlanta race due to their Hoosiers failing. Mark Martin, who won the Atlanta race, blasted the tire war, saying: "We need one tire company. Then we would have the tire at each track that we need. I'm really proud I lived to talk about the '94 tire war. It's not worth it man."
The day after the end of the 1994 season, Hoosier left NASCAR for good, citing high production costs, stiff competition, and the lack of driver support. This marked the end of the tire wars.
Hoosier became the official tire supplier of the ARCA Racing Series from 1995 to 2015, when the tires were rebranded by Continental AG, which had a business relationship with Hoosier for motorsport tires, to the General Tire brand in 2016. Continental acquired Hoosier later in 2016.
In April 1997, Goodyear officially became the exclusive tire supplier of NASCAR; this deal was subsequently extended until 2022. This was seen as a measure to prevent another tire war. However, in late 2006, when Goodyear workers went on strike, NASCAR once again approached Hoosier and proposed a backup plan for the 2007 season. The plan fell through after the strike ended.
As of 2019, both Goodyear and Continental are official NASCAR tire suppliers, depending on series. Goodyear supplies tires to the three national series (Cup, Xfinity, Truck). Continental supplies tires to NASCAR's regional touring series: K&N Pro Series East and West, the ARCA Racing Series (which NASCAR acquired in 2018, all with General branding), Whelen Modified Tour (the only series with Hoosier branding), and all three international series (Canada, Europe, and Mexico, all with General branding). Most NASCAR Whelen All-American Series tracks have contracts with Continental. Continental's NASCAR tires are produced at their Lakeville, Indiana plant.
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