2023 World 100 at Eldora Speedway

Right-Front Tire Blowouts Draw Scrutiny During World 100 At Eldora

Right-Front Tire Blowouts Draw Scrutiny During World 100 At Eldora

A handful of right-front tire blowouts drew scrutiny from drivers and teams during the 53rd World 100 at Eldora Speedway.

Sep 11, 2023 by Kevin Kovac

Right-front tire blowouts were a major story during the 53rd annual World 100 weekend at Eldora Speedway — perhaps not an epidemic-level issue with the vast majority of the 102 entered competitors not experiencing the problem, but certainly one that struck a notable number of contenders. 

Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., saw his hopes of a $56,000 triumph in Saturday night’s finale evaporate on lap 47 when a tire explosion sent him into the turn-three wall. Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, was running sixth on lap 40 when he suffered the same fate. Donald McIntosh of Dawsonville, Ga., lost a chance to start on the outside pole in the World 100 when his Billy Hicks-owned car popped a tire and shot into the third-turn concrete while leading the fifth heat race.

And during Friday’s preliminary program, there were at least four drivers — including eventual World 100 first- and second-place finishers Hudson O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., and Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga. — who were struck down by cut right-fronts, though O’Neal and Davenport were fortunate enough to avoid car-crushing smashes of the outside wall because they were running low on the track when their tires gave out.

When Hoosier Tire dirt oval product manager Shanon Rush arrived at Eldora on Saturday after spending three days tending to Hoosier’s concerns at Boone (Iowa) Speedway’s gargantuan IMCA Supernationals, he walked into the type of situation that a man in his line of work hates more than anything.

“I don’t want anybody to blow out (tires),” Rush said following the completion of Saturday’s 100-lapper. “I want tires to be the least story that you talk about at any of these races.”

But it became a storyline, one that grew especially outsized on Saturday’s big stage with the blown right-fronts of McIntosh, Moran and, most notably, Pierce, who was robbed of a very real opportunity to complete a sweep of the weekend with his second career World 100 triumph.


VIDEO: Dennis Erb, Jr. slams into the wall while leading World 100 heat race. 

Pierce, 26, had advanced from the 13th starting spot to third place by lap 41 and had O’Neal and Davenport in his sights when his bid ended abruptly against the turn-three wall on lap 47. The blown tire came as he was ringing the top of the half-mile oval and veered him quickly into the barrier, inflicting frame damage to his Longhorn Chassis that necessitated a tow truck ride back to his trailer.

“It was a hard hit,” Pierce said. “It bent the (front) clip over — we’re gonna have to get that fixed — but I’m all right. Just a little scrape on my arm.”

Pierce wasn’t certain if he had the speed to battle O’Neal and Davenport for the win because “we weren’t as good as we could’ve been” after adjusting his car a bit too much for the feature, but he would’ve liked to have had the chance to find out.

“The track looked great there at the end, the way J.D. and Hudson were battling for the lead, throwing sliders and what not,” said Pierce, who as a spectator eagerly eyed how the track built up a cushion during the event’s second half. “I wanted so badly to be in the race right there. I don’t know if we could’ve been right there with them, but if we hit the setup right, we probably could’ve been.”

Pierce’s father and crew chief, Bob, was anticipating a run at victory by his son down the stretch.

“I was gonna let him stay (running) on that top until right there at the very end, because you saw, Hud won it on the top,” Bob said. “Davenport wouldn’t move up and he got passed back (for the lead by O’Neal in the final laps), so I was gonna leave him up there until all hell froze over.

“We were third when (the crash) happened and pulling away from fourth, so we were catching Davenport little by little. And I know him (Bobby) — sparks weren’t flying yet, so he had more.”

Instead of celebrating a win, or at least a strong finish, the Pierces found themselves stripping down the front end of Bobby’s wrecked car and grumbling about the tire failure (a cut “on the inside” of the tire, according to Bobby) that led to his demise.

Both Pierces tossed out the word “junk” when discussing the construction of the Hoosier National Late Model Tires mandated at most events for the division this season. They also suggested that Hoosier officials didn’t provide the feedback they needed to decrease the chances of blowing a right-front tire on the high-speed Eldora oval.

“They told a few people in the pit area, supposedly, what air pressure to run … and for some reason it didn’t make it to our pit area,” said Bobby, who heard that Hoosier was recommending 20 pounds of air pressure in the right-front tire but “we ran somewhere around 13 (pounds). And it’s lap 50 of the race (when the blow-out occurred) … air pressures grow, so by then it was probably a few more pounds, but quite a ways off 20. That’s like Bristol (Motor Speedway dirt) air pressures. I ran Bristol with like 16 pounds of front air pressure. The G’s there are probably double this place and I didn’t blow a right-front tire.”


VIDEO: Bobby Pierce was in 'video game mode' Thursday night at Eldora. 

Bob Pierce said Hicks spoke to him after McIntosh’s heat crash and said Hicks had heard that Hoosier “told (Mark) Richards (O’Neal’s car owner), Davenport, (Ricky) Thornton’s crew, somebody else, that you gotta run 20 pounds of air in the right-front.” He reiterated Bobby’s comment that their car had about 13 pounds of air pressure in the right-front tire, which is typically what they run at Eldora “when it’s hammer-down earlier in the night, not (in) this feature …(when the track has) slowed down a couple seconds.”

“Now we got a junked race car, (Hicks has) got a junked race car, Moran blew a tire and crashed (and will need frame repairs),” Bob added. “It was a good race car. I don’t mind clipping ‘em, but it’s the idea that we’re racing all the time. We gotta go 12 hours to (Longhorn’s shop in North) Carolina to get it fixed.”

Hicks maintained that Hoosier had “only told select people” about issues with the right-front tire and possible fixes rather than informing the entirety of the field with a bulletin or statement during the drivers’ meeting.

“If they’re gonna monopolize the market (as the sole provider of tires), they gotta give everybody the same information, the same support,” Hicks said. “I don’t want to trash Hoosier, but they need to make it right. It’s gonna cost me $10,000 to fix this car, and a $5,300 start (money). If you have a problem, admit to your problem. Don’t hide it, and don’t tell certain people.”

A 30-year-old who was seeking his first World 100 feature start after failing to qualify in his first five attempts, McIntosh agreed with his car owner.

“They should’ve warned us. They should’ve gave us a number (for air pressure),” said McIntosh, who complained of a sore right shoulder after his crash and discovered after being X-rayed near his home on Monday that he had dislocated his collarbone (though it wasn’t fractured and he expects to be back racing soon). “They knew what they had, so they should’ve gave everybody a safe number. Whether we ran it or not, that’s on us.”

“They told me 15 (pounds was the recommended air pressure). Why didn’t they give us that option in the drivers’ meeting? Had we blown it and been low, then we would’ve been like, ‘At least they warned us.’ It’s heartbreaking because there’s only so many chances you get to start on the pole, or the front row, of the World 100, and I felt like we had a good race car and very well could’ve started on the front row of the World 100 (with a victory in the fifth heat).”

Rush, meanwhile, strongly pushed back on the notion that only a select few teams were informed before Saturday’s action that Hoosier was recommending additional air pressure in the right-front tire to deal with the forces in play at Eldora.

“I got here today, went to the four people that had issues last night — Spencer Hughes, O’Neal, Davenport and Dennis Erb (Jr.) — and talked to them,” Rush said. “I talked to those four people, gathered all that information, hauled those (blown) tires to my truck, and then I walked around the entire pit area. There was plenty of opportunity to find out information if you wanted to.

“So I did not hide anything from anyone. I did not keep information for just someone. If anyone would have asked me today, I’d have said, ‘Run 14 pounds and reduce the camber.’ No different then we did at Bristol where we were concerned (about right-front blow-outs).”

Rush paused and then asserted: “No conspiracies. No nothing. I’m sorry that I didn’t get to them personally. Honestly, I was too busy gathering information until 6 o’clock, so I didn’t even know what the issue was. And I was studying every one of those four (blown tires). So no, I did not personally go to every team, and I didn’t make it to the drivers’ meeting because I was still gathering information. That’s all I can say.”

The “20 pounds of air pressure” number that apparently floated around the pits wasn’t Hoosier’s recommendation, said Rush, who added that he couldn’t offer an immediate reason for the right-front tire problems that developed at Eldora.

“I don’t know … that’s the problem,” Rush said. “We’ve had, I’d hate to say zero tire problems — you always have some here and there — but it’s been a very positive year with the NLMT tire. The racing’s been good.

“I’m not even gonna speculate (about particulars contributing to the weekend’s issues). Does air pressure seem to help it? Yes. Does reducing camber seem to help it? Yes. Is that the magic formula? I don’t know, because I don’t know what’s going on. You can’t solve the problem unless you know what it is.

“The funny part is, of all the (blown) tires I have in my van, only two are the same date code. All the rest of them are from different batches. They were all very similar looking, yes. It’s the inside (of the tire); there’s definitely an increase in temperature on the inside of the right-front tire — and here, this weekend. I don’t remember seeing that much temperature in my 21 years of doing this job. Why? I don’t know. Was it the tire, was it the track, was it the speed, was it their (suspension) settings? I don’t know.”

Rush also shook his head in dismay at suggestions that Hoosier’s NLMT line are “junk” tires while emphasizing that he will finely analyze the weekend’s issues upon his return to Hoosier headquarters in Lakeville, Ind.

“Are they the baddest, fastest, awesomest tire we can build? No. They’re not meant to be,” Rush said. “They’re meant to be consistent, repeatable.

“Obviously something is going here that maybe needs to be looked at, but I don’t know. You have to attack the problems that come forward, because you can’t do something on a whim. We’ve got thousands of racers to take into consideration with everything that goes on, so to change something just to be beneficial here (at Eldora) might actually hurt us at 80 other tracks, so we gotta be careful.

“Can I build a one-off tire for here? Well, yeah, but that means all 102 cars would have to buy a one-off tire. And I don’t even know if that would solve it because I don’t even know what the problem is yet.

“If we have to look at adjusting something or changing something, we will look at it,” he added. “But I’m not gonna do it for Knoxville (Iowa’s Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series-sanctioned Nationals) next week, because I don’t even know what we’re facing yet.”