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Drag Radial

Q&A: Mickey Thompson’s Tommy Kundrik

Mickey Thompson Tires and Wheels has been synonymous with drag radials, and all things racing, really, for over 50 years. They’re an integral part of the fabric that makes up the small-tire racing community. Leading the Stow, Ohio-based company’s charge in drag racing for over a decade has been Tommy Kundrik, the Motorsports Manager for Mickey Thompson. He works with the company’s engineers to develop innovative tire technology based on the feedback he receives from racers and crew chiefs. As the man in charge of Mickey Thompson’s drag racing sponsorship programs, he’s also helped to grow the drag radial racing scene as a longtime sponsor and proponent of the segment of the sport.

While cruising around the pits at Lights Out 9 at South Georgia Motorsports Park in Valdosta, Georgia, DRAG ILLUSTRATEDcaught up with Kundrik to talk tire technology and the incredible numbers that have been recorded on Mickey Thompson drag radials.

We can talk about power management, horsepower, shocks and the other racing components that have played a part in the numbers we’re seeing, but I want to know what’s going on at Mickey Thompson that’s taking these tires from 9-10-second quarter-mile times to 3-second eighth-mile times. What’s the machine that’s changed everything?

Originally, we had the ET Street radial –  the first radial ever, right? It was designed on a 9.90 car. That thing ran its course, 13 years. DeWayne Mills, if I remember right, went an .89 on that tire – a steel-belted, DOT radial. What you’ve seen change now when we decided to go to the ET Street Radial Pros – the 275s and now the 315s – we went to a nylon-belted radial, OK? Same compound. We haven’t changed the compound. It’s the same compound that was designed on the 9.90 car 20 years ago.

So the rubber compound has not changed?

Has not changed. Very intricate design. We’re partners with Avon Tyre. Cooper Tires owns us and Avon is a partner of ours over in the U.K. They design F1 stuff. They helped us design this rubber compound along with Cooper Tire. We’re a group and we can do different things. Once you have a really good base compound, you can do a lot of things with the construction. The Nylon absorbed more power, almost like a slick. That’s why you’re seeing these quicker 60-foot times – I’ve seen .964, .970-second 60-foot times.

It wasn’t that long ago when we’d be at an NHRA Pro Stock race or ADRL Pro Nitrous event, and that would be pretty stout in those classes.

If you look at Pro Extreme Motorcycle when it was ADRL, those are light, nitrous-assisted motorcycles with a 28×10.5 tire on the back and I remember when they went sub-1-second 60-foot times for the first time. Took forever to happen. To see these cars at 3,000 pounds going sub-1-second 60-foots is amazing – on a DOT-approved street tire.

I’ve heard racers saying things like, “I’ll never put a slick back on my car. I’ll run a radial forever.” They talk about the way the cars drive, especially on the top end. What’s the reason for that difference?

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There’s no sway. It drives just like you’d go down the road in your car. Going from a bi-spliced slick to a radial, you’re guaranteed a tenth (of a second) and 2 mph. Boom – instantly. Just get it to go down the racetrack and it’ll be a tenth and 2 mph. There’s less rolling resistance. The tire has zero growth. People say, “Ah, my radial grew, I saw it on the dyno.” I’ve argued this a hundred times. This new nylon-belted tire might grow a smidge because it’s got a little stretch to it compared to the steel-belted tire.

We saw Josh Klugger go 3.983 on a 275-series tire last night. He told me he thinks the car will go 3.8s on that 275 tire. Do you believe that to be possible? If you can go that fast on a 275, what’s the point of running the 315?

Well, the 315 is going to take more. It’s more forgiving, more tread on the ground, taller rollout, so it covers more ground in less revolutions. Personally, I think you’re going to see high 3.7s, low 3.8s on the 275 and high 3.4s, low 3.5s on the 315s.

Those are times that the top Pro Extreme and Pro Nitrous cars are running. You’re saying these radial cars are going to catch those cars? That’s insane.

Look at what we’re seeing now. The record in Radial vs. the World is 3.71. An NHRA Pro Mod car goes 3.80s and they’re 2,600 pounds. These things weighh four or five hundred pounds more. Now, they don’t have the same limitations of the NHRA cars, but they’re still blower-assisted or turbo-assisted suspended door cars.

Mickey Thompson tires are on practically every car here. How proud are you personally of that? You’re a big part of this thing and you’ve been promoting this scene since before it was popular. I hope you’re as proud of that as you should be.

I’m a pretty humble guy. I like to see everything move forward. Everybody has their piece of the pie. This is what I love. Jason (Moulton, product development manager) back in the office, he’s responsible for all these things. We’ll come up with crazy ideas, he’ll throw me out of his office, and he’ll come back over and be like, “You were right, let’s do this” or “What do you think of this?” I’ll say it’s nuts, then it’ll end up happening. That’s how our Pro Bracket radials came up.

Everybody at Mickey Thompson has a passion for this stuff, and I believe that’s why our company does so well. They give me the opportunity to come out here and meet the people and sponsor races and racers. We’ve always looked at helping people. We make the best tire, but we still need the help. Our radial dominates – almost everyone here has it – but we still need help from the racers to put it to work and get the word out.

This story originally appeared in DI #131, the Outlaw Issue, in March of 2018. 

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