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Used Rubber


Story by Per Schroeder

Tires are the most consumed item in any racer’s garage. Top teams can go through multiple sets throughout the course of a weekend quest for gold, as fresh racing tires and the grip they can provide are the keys to victory in nearly any series.

So how can the rest of us maintain a reasonable tire budget? Can we stay out on track and also keep a roof over our heads?

Used tires might be the answer we seek. Thanks to the ambitions of front-runners, their cast-off tires can be bought for pennies on the dollar. Of course, there’s usually more involved than just picking up the phone and placing an order, but secondhand tires can be a viable alternative for many racers.

The Used Tire Dealers

Top-level competition often requires fresh tires every time the car hits the tarmac. After a major event—say the ARRC, SCCA Runoffs or the NASA Championships—teams typically leave their qualifying and race tires with trackside tire dealers. This means hundreds of otherwise good tires are left ripe for the picking.

Of course, we can’t all hang around the trackside tire vendors looking for castoffs. The required travel, time and logistics keep this from being a practical endeavor for most of us. Thankfully, there are companies that specialize in the resale of these nearly new tires. Think of them as extending a tire’s life before it hits the recycling center.

A used tire dealer will clean and analyze each castoff before selling it. Retail prices generally range between $40 and $75 per tire, depending on condition.

“We’ll work with you on the pricing,” notes John Berget of John Berget Racing Tires. “While typical prices for one-heat-cycle tires will run about $75 apiece, we can find you slightly older tires if your budget is, let’s say, $200 for the set.”

With new race tires generally running about $150 or more apiece, you can save at least 50 percent on your tire bill right off the bat. And you’re making the tires fit your budget, not the other way around.

Timing Is Everything

The best time to buy a set of used tires is after a major event: the various national championships in the fall, the springtime season kickoffs, or maybe the June Sprints. The race tires are at their freshest, and they haven’t been allowed to sit unused or exposed to the weather for any length of time.

Keep in mind, however, that everyone else is following this same plan. The early bird gets the worm, and you need to be that bird.

Selection, Selection, Selection

The art of finding an ideal set of preowned tires can be challenging to master. Unlike a new tire dealer, those who stock used goods are limited to what the market brings them, and sometimes compromises must be made.

For example, if you want a 20x9-13 Hoosier racing slick in the soft R25B compound, you may or may not be in luck. That’s a tough tire size to find, especially in a soft compound. Be prepared to settle for something else, say that same size but in a harder version.

The trick is finding a matched set of exactly what you need, both in terms of compound and heat cycles. The resulting quest is almost like a game of Old Maid: You can easily find one or two tires that fit your needs, but the full complement takes some work. John Berget has a suggestion: While most racers are looking for tires that were originally purchased as a complete set, sometimes it pays to look further. “There are some tracks that are harder on the left- or right-side tires,” he explains, “so we will often get the customer the best two or four possible out of multiple sets. The best tires are typically within 2 to 5 durometer points of a new tire at the same temperature.”

Lee Graser of USD Road Race Tires measures the remaining rubber to paint a picture of a tire’s health. “I feel it is important to get a specific description of the amount in percent of race rubber remaining on each individual tire of the set that you are purchasing,” he explains. “I measure from the outer shoulder, center and inner shoulder—this really tells you what you are buying.” Lee also offers a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee on the tires he sells, so you can be sure you’re getting a solid value.

Take-home message: You simply can’t be that picky with used racing tires. It’s also a good idea to have a standing order with a used tire dealer; when they get the right tires for your application, they’ll know who to call.

Spec Surplus

Of course, some brands and sizes are easier to find than others. Looking for a big supply of used tires? The spec series are a great resource.

For example, Hankook makes the spec radial racing slick for the IMSA Lites sports racers, and the tire is available in several different compounds and sizes. The professional teams that run in this series will dump huge numbers of tires after big races—tires that then can be picked up for less than $60 apiece. While they’re probably not going to help you win a national-level race, they’re great for regional events, testing and track days.

The tire characteristics also determine their value in used form. The Toyo Proxes RA-1, for example, is still capable of a championship win right up until it begins to cord. That’s great news, as used tire dealers carry literally tons of RA-1s. Plus, the 205/50R15 size required by Spec Miata rules fits many other smaller cars.

The Dark Side

Unfortunately, there can be a downside to used tires. Jeff Speer of Hoosier Racing Tire notes that there’s no easy way to determine a tire’s age. Non-DOT slicks are particularly tricky, as they aren’t date stamped at the factory.

“Unless you know the person that you’re buying the tire from and can get an accurate account of how many heat cycles the tire has, you have no idea how it will perform,” he explains. “You can wind up with a set where your rear tires have 12 heat cycles and the fronts have three, leading to all sorts of handling issues that will be hard to solve without a matched set of tires.” This fact can make used tires less than helpful when doing suspension tuning, as tire ills can mask other problems.

Adding to issues with the tire’s age is the fact that it’s impossible to know how the tire was stored. Be especially wary if the tire lived in a climate that sees freezing temperatures. “Racing tires can be rendered worthless with a few freeze-thaw sequences and must be stored properly,” Speer adds.

John Rastetter, Director of Tire Information Services for The Tire Rack, adds that used tires should always be inspected for outward signs of trauma: cuts, punctures and cracks. Check for tears in the bead area, while blue-hued shoulders are a sign that a tire has been overheated. “And while that examination may be considered the racing tire dealer’s responsibility, it should also be part of the used tire buyer’s pre-purchase inspection,” he notes.

Take Home Advice for Takeoffs

Used tires can offer a low-buck way to experiment with your setup. Will a particular tire brand, size or compound work for your application? How will your rubber affect gearing, fitment or other sorting issues? Go the used route to find out. After all, there’s no need to burn through a pile of fresh tires if you’re just trying to determine which size and type fits best on your car.

Once the main event rolls around, you can spring for fresh tires. Plus, with the money you saved earlier in the season, you won’t have to subsist on peanut butter and jelly to visit the new tire dealer before that big race.

This article is from an old issue of Grassroots Motorsports. Get all the latest how-tos and stories for just $20 a year. Subscribe now.

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Comments

View comments on the GRM forums
dean1484
dean1484 MegaDork
3/9/17 3:05 p.m.

For a moment that thread title had me worried.

Kylini
Kylini Dork
3/9/17 4:05 p.m.

For a moment that thread photo had me worried!

dean1484
dean1484 MegaDork
3/9/17 4:57 p.m.
Kylini wrote: For a moment that thread **photo** had me worried!

HapDL
HapDL New Reader
3/10/17 5:57 p.m.

Hell, I didn't even know they did that. I thought everybody kept their tires for testing, practice, whatever. Guess I haven't been running with the right crowd. Or maybe I am? Yes, I think so.

MGS10
MGS10 New Reader
3/12/17 10:52 a.m.

Just ordered some tires from John Berget a month or so ago. Put in an inquiry on the website because I figured it was after hours and got a call within about 15 minutes. Used racing tires are kinda the way to go, spend less than 300 a year on tires and run them till they chord, then do the same the next year. USDRRT is awesome as well. The article is dead on, get your tires early and look all the time because there might not be what you want when its available. Right now I have almost 2 full sets of tires for use this season because once the season starts they get harder to find.

akamcfly
akamcfly Dork
3/12/17 1:05 p.m.

AClockworkGarage
AClockworkGarage Reader
3/12/17 3:27 p.m.

I've found surgical gloves are the way to go. They come in packs of 100 and you get five uses out of each one. 10 if you turn them inside out...

HapDL
HapDL New Reader
3/13/17 11:51 a.m.

In reply to AClockworkGarage :

If you can fit inside a finger on a rubber glove, oh, never mind.

AClockworkGarage
AClockworkGarage Reader
3/15/17 7:59 p.m.

In reply to HapDL:

You know what they say: No glove, no love.

snailmont5oh
snailmont5oh HalfDork
3/15/17 8:39 p.m.

I've used John Berget and USDRRT as well, and haven't been disappointed.

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