Historically, drag racers have utilized the largest tire they can fit under their car to put as much power as possible to the ground in the quest for quicker elapsed times. In the late 1990s, and into the early 2000s, a niche began to form for racers that bucked the typical massive slicks, opting instead to rely on DOT drag radials for traction. The basis for the movement was progressive, relying on finesse to extract the most performance possible from a combination as opposed to raw horsepower, taking away the advantages previously enjoyed by the racer with the biggest bank account and leveling the playing field. A decade later, that niche has grown into a massive segment of the drag racing landscape, thanks in large part to one company: Mickey Thompson Performance Wheels and Tires.
According to Jason Moulton, Mickey Thompson’s senior product development manager, the company saw a market opening and jumped into drag radial racing, offering DOT-certified drag radials that, put simply, bit harder than the competition’s drag radial. While the other companies looked for compromises in treadwear, streetability, and performance to offer a streetable drag radial, Mickey Thompson focused much more on the performance aspect. In short order, radial racers saw their elapsed times dropping in massive chunks, going from eight-second 1/4-mile times to numbers knocking on the six-second zone in just a few short years.
Of course, drag racing is a sport of diminishing returns, so while the elapsed times continue to fall even today, the chunks are considerably smaller. Currently, Roger Holder and his twin-turbo Camaro hold the 1/4-mile record at 6.075 seconds and has reached well into the 240 mph range, on basically the same tire that was introduced in 2004 and made waves when it pushed cars into the eights.
The Pro Drag Radial: Bridging The Radial/Bias Ply Gap
Early in 2015, a rule change allowed the premier radial racers to use Mickey Thompson’s Pro Drag Radial. While being over one-inch narrower than the previously mandated ET Street Radial, the Pro Drag Radial had an immediate positive impact on performance. The Pro Drag Radial facilitated new records in both elapsed time and speed in Radial vs. The World, plus it offered the benefit of fewer aborted runs, which pleased racers and fans alike.
When asked about the technology that facilitated better performance from a narrower tire, Moulton played his cards close to his chest, which is to be expected for a company with a market share to protect. “Well, if you look at the compound being the same, the technology is everything else.
The 29.5×10.5-inch (3062R) Pro Drag Radial featured here is identical in construction to the 26×8.5-inch tire (3052R) that we featured here on Dragzine back in June, only taller and 1.7-inches wider. On the exterior, one would guess these were bias-ply slick tires, but that simply is not the case. Instead, all trace of the treads common on the earlier ET Street Radials have been removed from the equation, creating a truly all-out race tire. Under the surface, these are without a doubt a radial, with all of the characteristics common of a such a tire. Mickey Thompson is currently offering Pro Drag Radials ranging from the aforementioned 26×8.5 all the way up to a 33×14.5-inch rubber.
Dragzine’s very own Project BlownZ is currently the quickest true magazine-built project car on the planet, and it claimed that throne while riding atop Mickey Thompson’s Pro Drag Radials. The Camaro started the season on MT’s 275 Pro Radials while competing in the NMCA West’s Street Outlaw class.
Out here, we raced on 140-degree tracks and had to make the best of it. The Pro Drag Radials allowed us to make some really solid runs, despite the conditions. – Sean Goude, BlownZ Crew Chief
Opening the season with a win and runner-up, the team was forced to miss the next race, dashing any hopes of competing for the season points championship. With that, a move up to Xtreme Drag Radial was made, and the rear rubbers were swapped out for Pro Drag Radials. The car responded well, and despite being 350 pounds overweight for the class, Project BlownZ qualified second and made the semi-finals in its first XDR outing.
The team finished the season with a best pass of 4.38 at 169 mph with a best 60-foot of 1.11, despite doing a lot of racing on hot, gummy tracks. BlownZ’s tuner, Sean Goude, pointed to the Pro Drag Radials as a big factor in taming the car’s traction issues.
“It’s just a lot more tire. We were able to throw more at it, earlier in the run, and it would stick. And we weren’t racing on the typical killer tracks the radial guys get back east. Out here, we raced on 140-degree tracks and had to make the best of it. The Pro Drag Radials allowed us to make some really solid runs, despite the conditions.”
Project BlownZ was able to lay down some solid elapsed times on Mickey Thompson's Pro Drag Radials while competing in the NMCA West's Xtreme Drag Radial class. The Camaro, currently the quickest magazine-built project car in the world, laid down bests of 4.38 at 169 mph with a 1.11 60-foot time, despite being 350 pounds overweight.
Longtime radial racer Brad Edwards, the first radial competitor to make a 3-second 1/8-mile run, had tremendous praise for the new Pro Drag Radial.
Longtime radial racer Brad Edwards, the first Radial vs. The World competitor to run a sub-4.00 time in competition, has high praise for the Pro Drag Radial. Edwards is certain the tire will help radial racers reach elapsed time plateaus never before thought possible!
“There’s no comparison in the new Pro Drag Radial, even compared to the famed 315 [ET Street Radial]. We have been no faster on the new tire, but we have far fewer aborted passes, which equates to more gathered data, and that will lead to a consistently quicker car,” Edwards says.
Edwards offered the following as an example of what is to come from his camp thanks to the Pro Drag Radial: “We’ve been able to leave very soft, as much as four hundredths slower to 60-feet, then apply enough power to match our best 330-foot split.”
We have been no faster on the new tire, but we have far fewer aborted passes, which equates to more gathered data, and that will lead to a consistently quicker car. – Brad Edwards
Breaking that down, Edwards is able to launch the car more conservatively and get rolling past the point where most tirespin occurs, then ramp in the power more aggressively than before, covering the ground between the 60-foot and half-track timers in the exact same amount of time as when he launched the car harder. Don’t take that to mean the Pro Drag Radial won’t hold a stellar 60-foot time, though, as Edwards has more than 20 passes with 60-foot times in the 1.0-second range.
For a few years now, radial tire performance has become dependent upon stellar track prep and weather conditions, but Edwards says he has been able to lay down excellent numbers on less-than-perfect surfaces with this tire. His team battled parts attrition for much of the season, but Edwards is confident that the Pro Drag Radial will propel them to times never considered realistic for radial racing as soon as they work out the bugs in their combination.
Further cementing the Pro Drag Radial as the tire of choice, BAD9ER Racing’s Jason Michalak blitzed the radial record books at the end of the season. Michalak took his blown C6 Corvette to Northstar Dragway in Denton, Texas and ripped off a mind-blowing string of deep 3.90 passes before putting up the first 3.8-second pass in radial history. His 3.87 currently stands as the quickest pass for any “small-tire” car on the planet.
Current Radial vs. The World record holder Jason Michalak stunned the radial world when he scorched Northstar Dragway’s sticky 660 to the tune of 3.877 seconds at 194 mph.
Moulton points to the introduction of the 275 Pro in 2010 as a sort of event horizon, opening the door for even more performance-oriented radial technology, breaking out of the street tire mindset and focusing solely on straight-line performance. The Pro Drag Radial is an even more focused effort, freed from the necessity of DOT approval, which is why the Pro Drag Radial is sized in a more traditional method. As opposed to ordering a 315/50R15, the Pro Drag Radial of choice for Radial vs. The World is listed as a 29.5×10.5 for a 15-inch diameter wheel. Moulton states, matter of factly, that the Pro Drag Radial is the quickest radial tire in the world, followed by a keenly-placed “for now.”
The 275 Pro: A Catalyst For Change
More than once during our talk with Moulton, he referred back to the Pro 275 tire as the facilitator for radial performance to reach its current level. He said that around 2010, other tire makers were producing DOT-approved tires that carried a “not for highway use” disclaimer — an obvious and confusing contradiction. So, Mickey Thompson reached out to various sanctioning bodies and race series promoters and was told, in so many words, that for their tires to be allowed, all they needed was a DOT approval.
“With the DOT approval process, there’s some testing, but the major point is sizing. In real-world use, a customer has to be able to buy a 275/60R15 from source A, and it fit the same as the 275/60R15 from source B. Other than that, we were pretty much wide open to do as we pleased.”
David Pearson’s ProCharged small-block Mustang is currently the quickest 275-tired car on the planet, clicking off a 4.10 late this season at Huntsville Dragway’s Radial Fest.
What they created was a true game-changer in the radial world. Moulton stated the team at Mickey Thompson would chuckle to themselves at times at just how extreme this tire was going to be, and when it hit the market, the performance numbers were equally extreme. In fact, as the 2015 season winds down, the current world record for 275-equipped cars is 4.10, held by David Pearson and his ProCharged, small-block Ford-powered Mustang — only a heartbeat away from the 3-second zone. All of this from a tire that has less than 10 inches of tread width. As with the Pro Drag Radial, the technical details are kept under wraps, but Moulton says the 275 Pro was a major factor in bringing the Pro Drag Radial to market.
The Pro Bracket Radial: A Radial For The Grassroots Racer
If the Pro Drag Radial and the 275 Pro are the homerun sluggers of the radial world, the Pro Bracket Radial is the reliable, consistent contact hitter. Designed as a viable radial alternative to bias-ply slicks for bracket and sportsman racers, the Pro Bracket Radial opened up yet another massive market for radials.
While they are often overlooked when it comes to press and marketing, sportsman and bracket racers continue to be the backbone of the sport, providing a steady, consistent flow of cash to drag strips and manufacturers. There are also tens of thousands of them who race somewhere every weekend the gates are open, so Mickey Thompson wanted to offer these weekend warriors a legitimate radial option.
We went to some tracks that you wouldn’t want to take your everyday car down to test the Pro Bracket Radial. They absolutely did great. These tires need no special prep to perform. – Jason Moulton
The design of the Pro Bracket Radial focused on the things all grassroots racers focus on: consistency, durability, and price. Moulton points out that while the Pro Bracket Radial may be a few hundredths slower than the heads-up radial offerings, racers will find it is still quicker than the traditional bias-ply slick while being as consistent, if not more so.
“We went to some tracks that you wouldn’t want to take your everyday car down to test the Pro Bracket Radial. They absolutely did great. These tires need no special prep to perform,” Moulton adds.
The radial construction will keep the tire from growing in height as the car moves down the track, which Moulton says will offer more consistency and better performance, due to lower rolling resistance. And the compound is formulated to provide a long life, while the price is on par with similarly sized slicks. Thanks to the radial construction, there is also no need to run tubes, eliminating the expense and hassle associated with them.
Mickey Thompson has Pro Bracket Radials in five different sizes, from 26×8.5 up to 29.5×10.5 to cover a range of race cars.
Drag Radials: Becoming An Option For Many
The 315 Pro: Another Game Changer
Mickey Thompson dropped another bomb on the radial world at this year’s SEMA show: The 315 Pro! At the moment, there isn’t much info available, but rest assured the buzz about this tire isn’t without merit. It will be a game-changer, and we will bring you more info as soon as it’s available.
It would certainly be premature to say the days of the traditional slick are over, or even on a downward trend. Bias-ply slicks will likely always have a large customer base, and a home on the fastest cars in the sport. However, the radial has truly become a viable option for a great many racers, including some of the quickest doorslammers in the world. Just five short years ago, the quickest radial racers were running 4.40s. The current record stands over a half a second quicker, and if 2015 has been any indication, there is quite a bit of elapsed time left to be finessed from these machines.
But, the radial is also beginning to show its versatility, finding a home in a wide variety of race cars, from Radial vs. The World to Stock and Super Stock to bracket cars. There’s even a growing number of no-time grudge racers who show up to races where they might only get one pass down the track with a duffel bag full of money on the line, and they choose a radial tire to ride into battle. That shows the supreme confidence racers have in these tires to deliver reliable performance, regardless of track or weather conditions.
Mickey Thompson is proud to remain at the forefront for tire performance and technology. For more information on these tires as well as the full catalog of performance wheels and tires, head over to their website.