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What’s the Difference Between Racing Tires and Your Street Car Tires?

Have you ever wondered why some of the racing tires that you see on TV have no treads? While there are plenty of things that your car tires have in common with the race tires that are used on the track, there are just as many differences between the tires.

Racing Tires vs. Street Tires

formula one car tireRace tires in general are designed to maximize contact with the track, which is accomplished by creating a tread that is completely flat and a tire that is significantly wider than other tires. Most race tires cannot even be used on the street legally.

Street tires, by comparison, are narrower and have a tread pattern that helps them deal with a variety of circumstances in real-world conditions. This allows them to have better traction in rain, on gravel roads, and on a variety of types of asphalt, pavement, and concrete.

But what if you want one tire to do both jobs? There are some street-legal racing tires that fit the bill quite well. They won’t perform as well as dedicated racing tires on a track or street tires in inclement weather, but they will work well if you only have the one set of tires available.

Different Types of Racing Tires

Beyond the basic differences between street and racing tires, there’s also a lot of differences between racing tires as well. This is based on the driving conditions for different race tracks, vehicle types, and local weather conditions on race day. Here’s a bit more on these differences:

  • Indy Car vehicles and their equipment are strictly limited by the association, requiring specific tires to be used in competition. The current requirement is the Firestone Firehawk in dry slick and race treads; 305/45 R15 in the front and 415/40 R15 in the rear.
  • NASCAR uses stock cars and on tracks over one mile, NASCAR requires an inner tire so that if the outer tire blows, the driver can still make it safely back to the pit for replacement. Current tires include a barcode that can be scanned at the pit to determine the tire’s history and exact specs.
  • Formula One cars use serious racing slicks, up to a maximum width of 355 mm for front tires and 380 mm for rear tires and a maximum diameter of 660 mm for dry track tires and 670 mm for wet track conditions. In 1998, grooved tires were introduced which featured three grooves in front tires and four grooves in rear tires to slow down the cars on dry pavement.
  • Racing slicks provide the best ratio of “rubber meets the road” in tires. They’re used to gain time early on by getting the car moving as quickly as possible, and are made from softer materials, providing better grip on the track surface but wear out much more quickly than standard tires.
  • Rain tires are used during wet track conditions and allow the tires to move the water to increase traction. These often include different types for wet pavement versus standing water.


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