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Road Tires vs Track Tires- Which Should You Choose?

sport tire burnout

A lot of vehicles owners barely know how to buy and maintain their tires. Even fewer are aware of the differences between the classes of tires. A big one is the differences between road and track tires. What does it mean to have racing tires versus having street or road tires? They are completely different animals even if you think the terrain of a racing track and a highway is minimal (hint: they are very different).

The most obvious difference is that you typical set of road tires were made to operate in all sorts of conditions. Racing tires, on the other hand are pretty much only good when it’s warm or hot outside (something I myself learned the hard way). Mostly, racing tires are only ever prepared for smooth asphalt and high heat. This is a simple distinction. However, we think that it is a good starting point for our discussion. Now let’s hit the ground running and take this lesson further!

The History of Racing Tires

classic racing tires

Among automobile innovations, racing tires did not truly come about until the late sixties. They are sometimes called “racing slicks.” The name came in reference to the fact that early racing tires have had all the grooves and treads removed or minimized for a smooth and flat surface. All the surface area makes for more grip on the asphalt. Back in the say they were kind of soft and squishy too. That texture was to keep the tall sidewall and cushion the load.

There is a trade-off however: a soft sidewall minimizes the stability at high speed conditions. That is one reason why you see racers swapping out tires during the race. It was not until the 70s that they invented the radial tire. This kept the sidewalls of racing slicks much stiffer and overall kept footprint much more consistent under any and all pressure changes during the race

The Limitations of Racing Tires

driving-on-water

One weakness with racing tires is that they only operate best within a fairly narrow temperature window. The rubber composition and tread is affected by the cold and may not be able to grip or hold traction as well as it would otherwise.  They are susceptible to hydroplaning. Their treads simply cannot dispel water. The stiffness inherent to their design refuses to bend and grip in cold conditions. That’s why you end up with a snappy start when moving from a stop.

Racing tires are not the same as “sport” tires. Sport tires have some of the benefits of racing tires but they are simply another type of road tire. A big difference is to know that the life of a racing tire can last anywhere from thirty minutes to three hours. “Sport” tires more or less last the same lifespan as all season tires. A key is that street-ready road tires have to adhere to different set of criteria than racing ones. They sacrifice pure performance for diversity of use.

Road Tires

winter road tires

As we mentioned before “sport” road tires give drivers *some* but not all of the benefits of a racing tires And of course there are far less drawbacks. It is expected for road tires to be able to operate in a variety of circumstances. Of course, that means drivers get a better feedback to gauge traction. The everyday driver, no matter how experienced, is not expected to be like Dale Earnhardt Jr or have a mind connection with the tire.

Another big difference is that road tires use different compounds. Some formulas can be for performance but mostly they need to have a reasonably long life. Hardcore gearheads and amateur racers have neither the budgets nor resources through three sets of tires a day. Road sports tires can last several thousands of miles. And of course, unless you’re in NASCAR or Formula One, the benefits of racing tires never outweigh the value of road tires.

Racing or Sport Tires: Which to Choose?

all season tires

If you’re a racecar driver with access to unlimited rubber and are expected to use slicks on the track every day, by all means: go for it. However if you’re her on ShopTalk, chances are you’re an everyday driver and probably want to save money first and foremost: road tires are all you need. If you want a little spice, sport tires can upgrade your performance a bit, just be sure to swap them out with winter tires when the days get below freezing or close to it.

Author: Stefano De La Cuesta

Stefano is a 2013 Communications and Film graduate of Lake Forest College. Stefano has been a fan of cars since seeing countless car chases in movies and TV leading him to follow up on the culture surrounding them and the automotive industry. Always looking for new outlets to share his enthusiasm and passion for serious discussion about everything from Automotive to Arts, Stefano believes that anything creative, "good" or "bad" has something to say and can be enriching experiences that help us further understand the world.

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