Building a Racing Legacy

Building a Racing Legacy

At BFGoodrich® Tires, we don’t cruise down memory lane. We race down it. As a part of our 150th-year celebrations, we took a high-speed look back at some of the vehicles, engineers, and drivers that built the wins, wows, and “world’s firsts” of our rich racing legacy. Here’s to 150 years of excellence and innovation — both on and off the pavement.

1970: “IF IT CAN WIN ON THE TRACK, IT CAN WORK ON THE STREET.”

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By the late ’60s, the pony car war had car makers in Detroit building vehicles that came with high horsepower engines, and the daily driver tires of that day simply couldn’t keep up. They weren’t made to handle that kind of torque, speed, or cornering. In a bold, performance-gap-closing move, BFGoodrich® developed a low-profile radial performance tire in 1969 — and in an even bolder move, decided to showcase it on the racetrack. The idea was simple: if it can win on the track, it can work on the street.

In 1970, this Pontiac Trans Am — running BFGoodrich® Radial T/A® 60-series tires — won its class at the Watkins Glen SCCA National. The Radial T/A beat out all the pure race slicks on the track at Watkins Glen, and launched the unparalleled, 50-year tradition at BFGoodrich® of racing the tires sold for performance driving.

 

1972: MAKING WAVES AND EARNING WINS AT HOME AND ABROAD

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The pictured Corvette is a tribute created by Detroit Speed, Inc.

With the BFGoodrich® Radial T/A® 60-series making waves in the auto and racing worlds, the team turned its attention towards applying the technology to bigger and faster cars. Their first target was the “Great American Sports Car” — the Corvette — running at the “Greatest Race Circuit” — Circuit de la Sarthe at Le Mans.

In 1972, BFGoodrich® partnered with John Greenwood to create the “Stars and Stripes Corvette” which ran the first 50-series radial performance tire in the world. The team captured the pole position in the GT class, tackling the famed 3.7-mile Mulsanne Straight at over 200 MPH, putting BFGoodrich® on the map in both the US and Europe as a serious performance tire brand.


1977: TAKING RADIAL TIRE TECHNOLOGY OFF-ROAD

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By the mid-70’s, BFGoodrich® was well-established as a winner on the pavement, beating pure racing slicks with radial street tires. So the team took on their next challenge — to build a radial, off-road, light-truck tire capable of maintaining the traction, durability, and toughness required to survive varied off-road terrain, while still working well on pavement.

In 1976, BFGoodrich® met with driver Frank “Scoop” Vessels to convince him to test and run radial tires in Baja. He said “no.” At this time, all off-road tires were of bias construction. The idea of a successful off-road radial tire was alive only in the minds of BFGoodrich® engineers. The eventual “yes” from Scoop took some convincing.

After a year of learning, testing, and development, in 1977, the team took home a Class 8 win at both the SCORE Baja 500 and Baja 1000 running the world’s first radial all-terrain tires. BFGoodrich® All-Terrain T/A® tires. It was an entirely new category in tires, and a new chapter in motorsports history.

 

1979: BLAZING TO VICTORY IN BAJA

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In 1979, BFGoodrich® purchased the “BFG Blazers,” originally built by Parnelli Jones’ shop to run in SCORE Class 1 and 2. The first car was raced by Frank “Scoop” Vessels, who had piloted his F-100 truck to success in Baja on the 1st-generation BFGoodrich® All-Terrain T/A®. The second sister Blazer was piloted by “Baja” Bob Gordon and co-driver Gary Pace, Director of Motorsports for BFGoodrich® at the time.

With up to 10” of suspension travel, these Blazers — when paired with the unique 3-ply carcass of the 2nd-generation All-Terrain T/A®s — quickly proved their superiority over other makes and tires. While raking in the wins, the team took its lessons from the desert, and began development of a new tire with enhanced off-road traction and toughness. This project became the BFGoodrich® Mud-Terrain T/A® — the world’s first radial mud-terrain tire.

 

1982: WINNING LE MANS ON AMERICAN STREET TIRES

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In 1981, BFGoodrich® started developing a new street tire that could withstand the high-cornering limits of the day’s high-performance cars. The tire was designed to compete with Goodyear, Pirelli, and Michelin on UHP cars in the US and Europe. The development program started just like all others for BFGoodrich® — on the track.

After some successful initial testing, in 1982, BFGoodrich® commissioned a pair of Porsche 924 Carrera GT cars with the goal of competing on the global stage in the GT class against leading tire manufacturers from across the globe. The project brought together two highly-respected American race teams, Brumos Racing and Herman-Miller. They were testing another world’s first in tires — the BFGoodrich® Comp T/A® — the first American V-Speed Rated tire.

The results of this effort were again legendary, with the Herman-Miller car capturing a GTO class win at Le Mans on street tires, and paving the way for BFGoodrich® to develop OE tires with Porsche. Soon after, the BFGoodrich® Comp T/A® tire became the OE homologated tire for the Porsche 911.

 

1984: “JUST HOW GOOD CAN A STREET TIRE BE?”

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Just how good can a street tire be? The team at BFGoodrich® was determined to find out. In 1984, they developed a partnership with Jim Busby Racing to field a team of two Mazda-powered Lola chassis cars to compete in both the IMSA Championship and the World Sportscar Championship series.

The project wasn’t without its challenges. The engineering team had to find new ways to alleviate the punishment of faster speeds, higher cornering limits, and hotter temperatures while still utilizing all the features and components of a radial street tire. Test after test asked the question: how do we get the 275/35RVR13 and 385/35VR13 tires to compete against pure racing slicks, and win?

In 1984, this BFGoodrich® Mazda Lola-T616 car, on BFGoodrich® Comp T/A® “street tires,” gave a resounding answer. It won its class at Le Mans, and finished 10th overall against a host of much more powerful cars — all on race slicks. The sister car finished 3rd in its class and 12th overall. And the world began taking notice of those BFGoodrich® “street tires.”

 

1985: A CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT ON THE TRACK

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By the mid-80s, BFGoodrich® was competing in the highest level of domestic sportscar racing: the IMSA GTP (Grand Touring Prototype). The Porsche 962 was the most popular car in the IMSA GTP series, as well as in the FIA Group C series. This BFGoodrich® 2-car Porsche project was again managed by Jim Busby Racing, and was driven by legendary race car drivers like Pete Halsmer, John Morton, Jochen Mass, and Bob Wollek. In 1985, the BFGoodrich® Porsche cars finished 1st and 2nd at the IMSA Riverside 600 km race.

The team’s crowning achievement came in 1989 when the Busby Racing BFGoodrich®-Miller High Life Porsche 962C finished 1st overall at the 24 Hours of Daytona race, piloted by John Andretti, Bob Wollek, and Derek Bell. This was the 50th win for the Porsche 962 in IMSA competition.

 

1986: BEGINNING A TRADITION OF WINNING

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1986 would prove to be a landmark year for BFGoodrich® for several reasons. It marked the first overall win for the BFGoodrich® All-Terrain T/A® at the SCORE Baja 1000, kicking off a string of 20 consecutive years of BFGoodrich® capturing the overall win at the prestigious and brutal off-road race.

This first victory was shared with McMillin Racing and this Class 1 Porsche-powered Chenowth buggy. It was the start of a close relationship and legacy between the McMillin family and BFGoodrich®. Over a period of 35 years and three generations of McMillin racers, this partnership has captured countless overall and class wins for BFGoodrich® in the desert, including the 2020 Baja 1000, won by Mark’s son Luke.

 

1991: WHEN THE TRUCKS GET FASTER, THE TIRES GET TOUGHER.

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1991 was another “world’s first” year for BFGoodrich® when the team unveiled the first purpose-built, desert racing tire — the BFGoodrich® Baja T/A®. This product stretched the limit for what previous tires could achieve amidst the high-speed topographic torture found on the Baja peninsula.

But by the mid 90’s, new high-power “Trophy Trucks” were being developed by vehicle manufacturers to go faster than ever before. This called for an entirely new approach to tire development. When the trucks get faster, the tires get tougher. It’s a cycle of innovation that still carries on to this day.

One of the first and most highly-recognized trophy trucks of this time was the PPI-built Toyota for Ivan “Ironman” Stewart. This 4,000 lb rocket with nearly 700 horsepower, 17” of ground clearance, and a staggering 22” of wheel travel earned Ivan Stewart and BFGoodrich® many 1st place overall finishes in the desert throughout the 90s.

 

TODAY: WE’RE STILL BUILDING

It feels good to look back at the racing legacy that BFGoodrich® has built over decades of bold moves, ideas, tests, developments, wins, losses, and progress — but it’s even more exciting to think about the racing future that lies ahead. Both on and off the pavement, racing vehicles demand more and more from their tires. We haven’t hit the ceiling yet, but you can bet BFGoodrich® will lead the development of motorsports tire technology for years to come.

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