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Goodyear Tires of Indy-Car Feud

Auto racing: Company ends 36-year association with open-wheel circuits, leaving Firestone alone.

October 27, 1999|SHAV GLICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Motor racing's ongoing feud between the Indy Racing League and Championship Auto Racing Teams has prompted the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. to end a 36-year association with open-wheel racing.

Disappointed by the inability of the two organizations to reconcile, Goodyear said Tuesday it would discontinue supplying racing tires for the IRL's Indy cars and CART's champ cars.

The abrupt withdrawal left Firestone as the sole supplier for IRL and CART racing teams.

"Our decision is based, in part, on open-wheel racing's present state of affairs in North America and the ongoing split between CART and IRL," said Stu Grant, Goodyear's general manager for global race tires. "Our long-standing commitment to racing has made this an agonizing decision. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify the significant capital and resources the company devotes to CART and IRL.

"Like many suppliers, we are certainly disappointed that no reconciliation between the two groups is in sight and therefore believe it is in the best interests of our shareholders, customers and the racing division to take a sabbatical from the CART and IRL series."

Since Tony George formed the IRL in 1995 and split from CART, manufacturers, sponsors and fans have looked for a way to bring the groups together. Just when it appeared that a dialogue was developing, George announced in August that he was ending all discussion and that the IRL would continue to go it alone, using the Indianapolis 500 as its showpiece event. With a few exceptions, CART drivers have not competed at Indianapolis since 1995.

George's announcement was followed by rumors that sponsors and suppliers might drop out of both series in frustration.

Goodyear apparently has dropped the first shoe.

This decision does not involve other forms of racing, however. Goodyear will continue to make tires for NASCAR, the National Hot Rod Assn., World of Outlaws and the International Race of Champions.

Dan Gurney, whose cars have exclusively used Goodyears since 1964, said, "It looks like the Goodyear blimp has become the Goodyear wimp.

"They just got whipped since Firestone came back into racing a few years ago, so they folded up," Gurney added. "That's not the American way."

Firestone, after being out of Indy car racing for 20 years, returned in 1995 and almost immediately made inroads into what had been a Goodyear parade of victories.

In CART this season, Firestone has won 18 of 19 events and has clinched a third consecutive championship as both contenders, Dario Franchitti and Juan Montoya, will be on Firestones in Sunday's season-ending Marlboro 500 at California Speedway.

"It surprised me, and it's kind of a shame to happen," said Franchitti, the CART points leader. "I know they have had their problems in our series, but it's too bad to lose a competitor."

Tim Mayer, CART senior vice president of racing operations, said he expected no difficulty with only one tire supplier.

"Firestone has committed to supply tires to all of our teams until such time as a second tire manufacturer enters the sport," he said. "We feel that this decision will have no effect on the high quality of racing that we deliver to our fans worldwide."

In the IRL, whose season is over, Goodyear won six races, among them the Indianapolis 500, and Firestone four. Firestone won its third consecutive IRL title, however, with Greg Ray driving to the championship.

"It kind of shocked me that they dropped out," said Leo Mehl, IRL executive director and Goodyear's former director of worldwide racing. "I knew they had lost a lot of CART teams, but the last two years they had done pretty well in the IRL.

"It's disappointing, but the people at Firestone tell us they will be able to handle all our teams next year."

At Firestone headquarters in Nashville, there was a feeling of victory, but it was tempered with the acknowledgment that competition is good for racing.

"In one way, it's a time for celebration," said Al Speyer, Firestone's motor sports director. "On the other hand, it's extremely disappointing not to have competition. It keeps engineers challenged and when we're the only supplier, it takes away the possibility that tires could make a difference between winning and losing."

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