M&H Racemaster Tussles with Goodyear in a ‘David & Goliath’ Battle
In the “Tire Wars” of ’67, not a shot was fired, but the combat on the drag strips throughout the U.S. was fierce.
The basics of the battle were truly a David vs. Goliath saga. On one side stood the little guy, Marvin Rifchin, owner of M&H Racemaster Tires out of Watertown, Mass. On the other was his rival, the mighty Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio. The two companies had their own approach to drag racing and they varied greatly. Marvin, the creator of the first modern racing slick in 1957, took a very hands-on approach when it came to developing compounds for new slicks and dealing directly with the racers. Goodyear relied on the giant corporate approach to design and development. Both business strategies proved successful as a flood of newly conceived tires surged from both companies’ design facilities.
Next: The first official 6-second pass in drag racing history …
Differing greatly in tire design, Goodyear introduced slicks with inner liners. This strong liner, which amounted to a smaller tire within the drag slick itself, was inflated to 40-50 pounds and provided a base for the soft outer slick, which could be spread out to its full tread width with only two-to-five pounds inflation pressure. This design gave them their unique “wrinkle wall” appearance. With the sidewalls wrinkling, the traction off the starting line was considerably better than before.
Working with a different strategy, M&H provided an unforeseen bonus to racers with a tire that “grew” so much during a run it provided an extra five miles an hour. The sensation was akin to going into overdrive. The design permitted the tire to expand in circumference as speed increased, providing more speed at any given rpm, over less-flexible models. You have to keep in mind, back in the ‘60s, big speed was almost as important as low elapsed times.
For better or worse, Don “The Beachcomber” Johnson and I will always be attached to the Tire Wars and several other pieces of drag racing history. I started driving Don’s SPE-fabricated, Ed Pink-tuned digger in early May 1967. Shortly after our association began, NHRA held a Divisional points race and record run. In the months prior to the race, many “experts” had stated the seven-second bracket was the epitome of elapsed times and the “sixes” were simply unattainable. The NHRA had set up not one, but three Chrondek timing systems for the record runs to ensure total accuracy.
I had a special set of slicks Marvin Rifchin had provided for testing, but under no circumstances was I to use them at that race. Ernie Hashim, one of Marvin’s big West Coast distributors, was also competing, but didn’t have access to my experimental editions. Marv didn’t want to ruffle any feathers, so that’s why the tires were supposed to stay on the trailer. But, you know me, on the car they went. On my very first pass, I tripped the triple timers with a jaw-dropping elapsed time of 6.9-seconds (!) at 227 miles an hour. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the first official six-second pass in drag racing history. Of course, the other competitors sniveled about my one-off tires, but the record stood. Marv was a bit miffed, but that six-second time slip soothed a lot of wounds and I was quickly back in his good graces.
Shortly after that race in Carlsbad, Goodyear lured me into its camp to become its unofficial chief tire tester. Many inside and outside the company give me the majority of the credit for the development of their new 11.75 slick.
The next skirmish in the Tire Wars took place at NHRA’s new Springnationals, held at Thunder Valley in Bristol, Tenn. I became disenchanted with my relationship with the tire giant. The rift culminated in The Snake and me rolling a new set of 11.75 Goodyears over to Lou Baney’s Brand Ford trailer. They eventually used them to win the race, while we ran the Springnationals shod with M&Hs. Marv and I were back together.
I guess we know how the War eventually ended. M&H, though no longer under Marv Rifchin’s ownership, is still making tires, and of course Goodyear won the war. They’re the one-and-only manufacturer of slicks for the nitro classes. Where would we be without Goodyear?
The Snake and I had another one of our titanic struggles on the first of July at Irwindale. My stock was still soaring, following that first six-second 227-mph pass, so Johnson and I were feeling pretty confident. As usual, I left Prudhomme in the first two races, only to have him nail me in the lights. After the race was over, I discovered our engine had a split cylinder wall.
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