Ever wonder about all those tires that make the race cars go round? This week’s NASCAR Behind the Scenes takes a look at just that, with an exclusive interview with Justin Fantozzi, Marketing Manager for Global Race Tires for Goodyear.
“Just as the race cars have a rhythm around the track, Goodyear, the official tire supplier of NASCAR has a rhythm all its own for every race weekend,” Fantozzi said. “And this cadence is cyclical from the start of the season in Daytona to the final race to crown NASCAR’s champion in Homestead.”
“It really all starts the race before,” Fantozzi continued. “We take what lessons we learned from the race and have meetings with the teams off-site, whether it be by phone calls or face to face, post-race on Monday or Tuesday after they have returned to the shop.”
“Then we take that set of data and we analyze it, including lap times and what our engineers have seen at the race,” Fantozzi said. “And they we make a determination if we need to bring something new or we need to test for the next event.”
“We take that data, analyze it and the engineers go to work back at the shop.”
Goodyear manufactures their NASCAR race tires in Ohio and that is not only where the tires are born but where the logistics of getting them to the track begins.
“We manufacture in Akron, Ohio and then it’s handed over to our logistics,” Fantozzi said. “We have a warehouse and we use radio frequency where every tire has an ID tag cured into the side wall.”
“That way we can have a ‘born on’ date if you will and that is the way we know where the tire is at all times.”
Once the tire is ‘born’, Goodyear has to get them to the race track. And that is where the fun really begins as their journey to each team and race car evolves.
“The first thing that happens is that the load or inventory of the tires arrives at the race track,” Fantozzi said. “The radio frequency ID team will work with the mounters and the balancers to make sure that the wheels that the teams own have arrived at the race track.”
“They match them up with the tires, mount and balance them and those are distributed to the teams.”
Fantozzi said that most fans would be surprised to know that all of the tires are mounted by the order of the points. And it is all about parity as Goodyear ensures that no one has any tire advantage throughout the field.
“One of the interesting parts about parity in NASCAR is that the mount order happens by points,” Fantozzi said. “So, it depends on the point order that week.”
“We start with one set, go all the way through the field and then came back for the next set,” Fantozzi continued. “The tires are loaded at random at our warehouse and then they are mounted at random at the race track.”
“The whole idea is parity so that there isn’t a group of tires that is different.”
Goodyear’s job is not over, however, once the tires are mounted on the race cars. They are constantly up and down pit road during practice, qualifying and the race to ensure that all is going well with their product.
“After the tires are mounted and distributed and handed over to the teams, our engineers are on pit lane during practice,” Fantozzi said. “As the vehicle has the opportunity to hop on pit lane, the tire temps are taken by the engineers.”
“They have a thermometer, which is basically like a needle with an electronic gauge,” Fantozzi continued. “They will physically insert the needle into the tire and take that profile, record it and hand it to the driver.”
“After practice, we check wear rates, check with the tire specialists and crew chiefs and drivers and get everybody’s feel on balance, wear rate and then we repeat that for each practice,” Fantozzi said. “During qualifying it’s the same sort of deal.”
“And then during the race, we’re wandering up and down pit lane,” Fantozzi continued. “There’s probably ten of us on pit lane during the race event itself, working with the teams, monitoring and checking wear rates during the race.”
“And then the whole cadence starts all over again.”
Fantozzi knows all about that particular aspect of Goodyear’s role as that is how he started his career with the company and the sport.
“I used to be one of the engineers on pit road poking the tires,” Fantozzi said. “I started off with an engineering degree and came into the company as an engineer in motorsports.”
“And I’ve been in almost every venue that we’ve ever competed in, whether it be drag or dirt sprint cars or Cup cars,” Fantozzi continued. “I’ve been all over the globe racing.”
“The very first race I went to, I slept in a van as it rained for the Indianapolis 500,” Fantozzi said. “It’s always been in my blood.”
“They say that if you can find a job that is your hobby, you do well,” Fantozzi continued. “There’s definitely a passion here for going fast and turning left.”
So, what would the fans be most surprised to know about Goodyear? Probably two things according to Fantozzi, first the sheer volume of Goodyear’s involvement in the sport and second, just how seriously they take their partnership with NASCAR and its fans.
“I don’t think people realize the number of bodies that we need to bring to the race track,” Fantozzi said. “At Atlanta, we went through almost 3,000 tires and had sixty folks on the ground every race.”
“And it’s not just one race, it’s week after week,” Fantozzi continued. “There’s a tremendous amount of planning and discussion to make sure that the race comes off without a hitch.”
“We need to make sure that things are done the right way because we know that our role in the sport is not just a sponsor role,” Fantozzi said. “It’s truly on the partnership level.”
“It’s a long day for a team if an engine were to have a problem or if a team has a mistake on pit road,” Fantozzi continued. “But if we get it wrong, it’s a long day for everyone.”
While all of the folks at Goodyear take their role in NASCAR very seriously, they also do their jobs with a great deal of passion and commitment.
“We take a tremendous amount of pride, knowing the responsibility that we have to make sure the event comes off successfully,” Fantozzi said. “The return is knowing that the avid fan that watches the sport knows of our involvement and is more determined and likely to go out and buy a Goodyear consumer tire.”
“We don’t like to boast,” Fantozzi continued. “We’re a humble bunch.”
“But that pride in the brand and our product for the race fan is what it’s all about.”