Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Tire Makers Race for Victory at Indy

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Tire Makers Race for Victory at Indy

Article excerpt

INDIANAPOLIS -- Forget the 33 drivers going faster than 200 mph in open cars. The real competition at Sunday's Indy 500 is between tire companies.

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and Bridgestone Corp.'s Firestone, which supply all the tires in the race, are living by the racing maxim, "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday."

An Indy 500 victory gives a company bragging rights, inspires its dealers and boosts sales because consumers believe that whatever makes a tire a winner at Indy makes it a better choice for the family minivan.

"There certainly appears to be a trickle-down effect to the consumer," said Nick Lobaccaro, a tire industry analyst with Bear Stearns & Co. in New York. "Prestige is a factor in winning a race with as high of a profile as the Indy 500."

A third tire company, Michelin, will receive billing as the wheels of the 1996 Indy Pace Car -- the 1996 Dodge Viper GTS Coupe. Chrysler President and Chief Operating Officer Robert A. Lutz will be at the wheel of the first production coupe sporting Michelin's wide Pilot MXXE tires.

While Bridgestone, which employs 1,200 manufacturing tires in Oklahoma City, and Goodyear, which operates a plant in Lawton, compete all season on the Indy car circuit -- both at the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) and Indy Racing League events - - Sunday's race is the major prize.

"The Indianapolis 500 is a race that people who are not normally racing fans will watch," said Stu Grant, general manager, Goodyear Worldwide Racing.

Winning the big race boosts moral among the troops, which translates into higher sales, said Bill Doyle, head of the motor sports division of Performance Research Inc., a Newport, R.I., firm that tracks sports marketing.

"There definitely is a psychological side to winning the tire wars, particularly among the dealers," he said.

To be sure, winning this year's race might not have the status of other years. A dispute between Tony George, owner of the Indy 500 name, and CART resulted in top drivers such as Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittapaldi skipping the race for the rival U.S. 500, to be held on the same day in Michigan.

Doyle's firm, which conducts exhaustive fan surveys, found that fans stick with winners. …

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