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Spitting out Rubber

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 Have you ever watched an auto race and thought about what it would be like to become one with a machine? Pushing yourself and a car right to the edge of catastrophe, yet be in total control? If you’re like me, there’s only one answer:

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Heck, yeah!

Across this nation, people of all ages and demographics are flocking to grassroot racetracks to sit in the driver’s seat and be a part of the world of auto racing. No big endorsements, no sponsorships, just average people competing against others and themselves in SCCA-sanctioned (Sports Car Club of America) amateur events.

The SCCA sanctions club races in district, regional and national events. With so many different series and classes, anyone can find a place and level in which to compete. The increased popularity of international rally events shown on several networks has also sparked a desire for thousands of wannabe racers to take to the track or dirt road.

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At a recent regional SCCA Solo II event, I got to experience some of the thrill and excitement, tearing through an autocross course that pushed my limits and that of the car, tires and suspension. Looking at the field, there was a healthy mix of nameplates on hand.

The World Rally events mentioned earlier have influenced the buying habits of many participants. Our field consisted of Subaru WRXs and WRX STis, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions, Honda Civics, Acura Integras, and assorted other vehicles of all ages and types. And then there was me with my 1986 Buick Regal, all 3,800-plus pounds of Detroit metal.

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I have been building the car for a couple of years to run an autocross, but this was the first chance to see how well thousands of dollars worth of the aftermarket’s best parts would stack up against some tough ®“ and lighter ®“ competition.

Let me tell you, these guys are serious about their racing. Several participants went so far as to buy a trailer to haul their racing tires and custom wheels along with tools to the track.

Once there, they spend an hour swapping out road tires for their racing rubber and prepping the car for inspection.

Now, if I were a tire/wheel dealer, you could bet that anyone owning a spare set of wheels and sticky high performance tires would be someone I’d want as a close friend. Those track tires are getting chewed up every few months and someone is getting paid to sell them. Why not you?

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I asked some participants where they bought their tires. Some bought mail order company because they didn’t feel they could get the right information from a local dealer about the products and sizes needed for this specific type of driving.

At this particular event, there were 99 drivers, the biggest turnout at any event in the history of that SCCA region. Many people were there for the first time, just to check it out and learn more about the sport. Many were driving newer import cars and had already started upgrading tires, wheels and suspension components.

Nowhere did I see a local tire/wheel dealer. The only dealer sponsorship was from Koby Subaru, a local car dealer who offered the popular WRX models and Subaru performance parts. Roger Koby not only sponsors the event, but he races a street-driven, race-prepped WRX. Complete with dealership’s logos and sporting almost every conceivable upgrade, he can turn this 3/4-mile track in just over 60 seconds, one of the best times of any car in the event.

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Take a look at the strut tower brace and performance camber adjustment plate in Photo C. Both are a relatively quick install which can be performed easily in any shop. These types of products could help your sales and create more traffic flow. Remember that cross-marketing with other performance products and components can open many new doors and sales opportunities.

All of which leads to more race-related and non-related service work. Brakes and alignments, especially custom alignments, could generate substantial income and repeat business.

Topper Jones, director-at-large and solo chairman for the local SCCA event, told me that last year he and his wife drove a S2000 in club events. "In one year, we bought $2,500 to $2,700 worth of tires, not including the mounting and balancing."

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Kumho Tire USA is a national sponsor of the SCCA and Jones told me that he put Kumho tires on all of his vehicles to support them, as well. Also, Hankook Tire America is a national sponsor of the 2003 MazdaSpeed Miata Championship Cup.

The company is launching a huge ad campaign to increase consumer and dealer awareness about its new tires, but on the racetrack Hankook has already made some impressive strides by setting records and placing several cars among the top 10 finishers.

"The whole idea is to have fun, build camaraderie and challenge yourself to be a better driver," Jones says. "Here, a driver can safely explore the limits of their vehicle and learn how to handle the car in various situations."

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Sounds like a perfect opportunity for a dealer to sponsor an event for the local high school students who are just beginning to drive and need qualified instruction. Imagine the amount of goodwill that you can generate from this type of promotion. Bond with new drivers (remember the "My First Sony" campaign to get children attached to the Sony product and name?) and their parents, who will reward your involvement the next time that they need service or products for their vehicle.

In the quest for performance, light weight wheels will help a car turn better, launch quicker and stop faster. This is another great opportunity to offer specific products that meet the demands of autocross racers looking for every edge they can get. The wheels for this Miata are three-piece, light weight alloys ®“ and they ain’t cheap! Log onto our Web site at www.tirereview.com and research companies that provide tires and wheels for this market.

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Lastly, spend time studying products and understanding tire, wheel and suspension dynamics. Ask your distributor for help if you aren’t familiar with high performance products and their application and get involved in the community. Racers are consumers too, and they are begging for someone to meet their needs.

How well did I do on the track? Well, let’s just say that more than a few were surprised when I ran less than a half-second difference vs. a supercharged Miata. My son’s car seat with a stuffed animal strapped in really rubbed the salt in!

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For more information on SCCA racing, contact your local chapter or contact SCCA directly at 800-770-2055, or check online at www.scca.com.

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