Tips For Selecting Wheels And Tires For Drag And Drive Racing Events

Drag-and-drive events are fun to participate in because you get to maximize the amount of time behind the wheel — both racing and driving — of your vehicle — of your vehicle. One of the major factors that will determine said degree of fun at drag-and-drive event is how prepared you are. Today, we’re sitting down with the teams at RC Components, Mickey Thompson, and ARP about drag-and-drive wheel and tire selection.

Your typical drag-and-drive event is going to last close to a week, cover upwards of 1,000 miles, and require a mix of driving and types of road surfaces going from track to track. On top of that, you’ll be making at least one hard pass per day at the track, so your tires are going to take a beating. If you want to even think about finishing an event, let alone doing well in your class, you need to make sure you can make it to each track. The wrong wheels and tires can make that difficult for any drag-and-drive racer.

The wheels you select for drag-and-drive duty need to strike a balance between performance and strength.

Rolling On The Right Wheels

You need to take a few more things into consideration when you’re looking at wheels for a street/strip car versus an all-out race car. A vehicle that will see heavy street use needs wheels that are strong…that’s a given, but they also need to account for the brakes. When you’ve modified your vehicle’s suspension and brakes, it becomes even more important to measure for a set of wheels.

RJ Clutter from RC Components explains how you can avoid brake-related headaches when buying wheels for a drag-and-drive application.

“For older vehicles and vehicles that have modified suspensions, you’ll need to take some precise measurements. We have tools on our website that show people what they need to measure. There are quite a few direct-fit options for late-model muscle cars that will clear OEM brakes. If someone wants to go to a smaller wheel than the OEM size, they’ll need a brake conversion of some kind so smaller wheels will fit. It’s always best to check with a wheel company and measure before you buy anything,” Clutter says.

Proper brake clearance should be the first thing you consider when sizing wheels and tires for drag-and-drive duty.

Besides making sure the wheels will clear your brakes, you need to look for wheels that are SFI-certified. A wheel that’s SFI-certified has passed SFI testing and is much stronger than a non-SFI-certified wheel. Your plan is to drive a high-performance vehicle on public roads for long distances, while racing it too, so the wheels you’re using need to be ready for that kind of abuse.

For drag-and-drive events you need a wheel that’s strong and can deal with the harsh condition of the drives between tracks. – RJ Clutter, RC Components

“It’s easy to make a lot of horsepower these days with a street car, but a weak wheel won’t take that abuse, especially if you’re going to use it on the street at one of these drag-and-drive events. There are both forged and cast wheels out there that are SFI-certified, so it comes down to what wheel works for your application. The types of vehicles that participate in drag-and-drive events are going to be heavier than purpose-built race cars, so that additional strength the SFI-certified wheel provides becomes important,” Clutter states.

SFI-certified wheels are going to provide plenty of strength for a street-driven vehicle.

We talked earlier about how the size of your vehicle’s brakes will impact the size of the wheels you can run. Now, the size of your wheels is also going to dictate the tires you can run. While big wheels are going to look nice, your tire options are going to be more limited, and they aren’t going to ride as smoothly, due to the shallower sidewall. This is why people who own modern muscle cars often opt for a 15-inch brake and wheel conversion, so they can have access to more tire choices and a better ride.

“Going to a 15-inch rear wheel will give your more options for tires that have a better sidewall. That tire with the bigger sidewall is going to have more give versus a 17-inch tire. That additional sidewall will help with traction and make it easier to get the vehicle to hook up on most surfaces,” Clutter states.

A 17-inch front wheel will give you better tire choices for a drag-and-drive application.

The wheel selection process for front wheels on a vehicle that will be used in drag-and-drive events takes a slightly different approach. Larger and wider wheels will give you a better contact patch with the road versus a smaller wheel. This will make your vehicle more stable, handle better, and provide better braking when you’re driving on the streets.

“Moving to a 17-inch front wheel is going to give you better tire choices for driving on the street. It will also fill in the wheel opening on most vehicles, too. A narrow 3.5-inch wheel and tire up front are going to force you to drive way differently on the street, and that’s not for everyone,” Clutter says.

Going Into Battle With The Street Fighter Wheel

Project Red Dragon is a street car at heart and we plan on entering some drag-and-drive events in the future. When it was time to move to an SFI-certified wheel, the RC Components Fusion Street Fighter wheel checked all the boxes for us. We decided to stick with a 15×10 wheel on the rear for better tire options. A 17×5-sized wheel was selected for the front for a better driving experience versus the 15×3.5 wheel we were running on the car.

RC Components uses a high-quality 7075 aluminum as the material for its Street Fighter wheels. The wheels have the right amount of material in the right places, and this approach to the design of the Street Fighter wheels is what makes the wheel so strong and helped it earn its SFI certification.

RC Components spent a lot of time designing the Fusion series of wheels to ensure they would look good and survive on the streets.

RC Components rigorously tested the Street Fighter wheels before they were sent to the SFI foundation for certification.

“We put the Street Fighter wheels on a test vehicle here and did a lot of real-world driving. The wheels were run on RC Components owner Rick Ball’s Dodge Viper and taken to the Corvette Museum’s track for testing. The goal was to make sure they could handle real street driving. We took the wheels to Beech Bend Raceway, as well, to see how well worked on a dragstrip. These wheels are tested in street conditions to ensure they can be considered a real street wheel,” Clutter states.

Street Fighter rear wheels are available with beadlock options for those who are making big horsepower.

RC Components wanted to make sure it was easy to get a set of Street Fighter wheels for many different vehicles, and the company offers the Street Fighter as a direct fit wheel for most modern muscle cars. RC Components has 18×5 fronts available, so a brake conversion isn’t needed to run these wheels for those who own modern muscle cars.

Why Wheel Studs Matter

Drag-and-drive events are brutal on racers and their equipment, and it’s a victory for many just to finish one of these week-long mechanical torture tests. Wheel studs may seem like a simple item, but upgrading them could be the difference between you finishing an event, or being stuck along a dark country road in between tracks.

Aftermarket wheel studs are something drag-and-drive racers should consider since they provide better durability over OEM parts.

According to Chris Raschke from ARP, upgrading to an aftermarket set of wheel studs is a great investment since they are stronger than OEM parts.

“Aftermarket wheel studs like the ones ARP manufactures are made from high-quality materials. The wheel doesn’t ride on the stud during acceleration or deceleration; instead, you’re relying on the clamping force of the wheel and lug nuts. You need to make sure the wheel is tight to the hub — if it’s not clamped properly, you could have an issue that leads to the studs being sheared off. Aftermarket wheel studs are going to ensure you have the ability to create the correct amount of clamping force.”

You can see just how much bigger and robust the ARP wheel stud is compared to the OEM part.

There’s actually a right and wrong way to install wheel studs. It can be tempting to use brute force to get the wheel studs into your wheel hub, but that really isn’t the best method. If you’re just beating wheel studs into a hub you could be damaging them.

“We would always prefer studs are installed using a press; pulling them in with washers and a nut isn’t the best way. You should pull the hub out and verify the size of the stud first. Then, you’ll want to use a press to install the studs into the hub. If you use washers and a lug to install the wheel studs, you could damage the threads. If you don’t use a press, you also can’t tell if the stud is seated properly which could cause it to loosen later. The studs might also not be straight as you try to pull them through, and that will cause wheel alignment issues on the hub,” Raschke says.

You should also consider a good set of lug nuts to go with your aftermarket wheel studs. Lug nuts like these from RC Components not only look good, but they're lighter and stronger.

Not every vehicle is going to use the same type or size of wheel stud. Wheel studs for an OEM hub are going to be different than an aftermarket wheel hub, and selection is key to ensuring they’ll work work with your front wheel hub or rear axle.

“Make sure the studs will fit the hubs on your vehicle if you’re running aftermarket hubs. You need to check the knurl size that’s required, along with the diameter of the hub hole for the studs. Some hubs might be tapped for a screw-in wheel stud, so you need to make sure you get the right studs that will fit that setup,” Raschke explains.

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

A good set of wheels aren’t going to do you much good unless you have the right tires wrapped around them. Drag-and-drive events require tires that can deal with traveling 200-plus miles a day, and also performing at the track.

Be sure that the front tires you select for your drag-and-drive vehicle are going to be able to work for your application. Jason Moulton explains how Mickey Thompson approached designing tires that you can use for these unique-use events.

The ET Street front tire combines radial construction with a great tread pattern for street-driven cars that see lots of track action.

“Mickey Thompson has two different styles of DOT front tires that racers can use: we have the Sportsman SS tire that’s skinny, lighter, and has less rolling resistance than an OEM tire. It gives you durability, too. Because it gives you that durability and longer tread life, it’s going to be heavier than your typical non-DOT rated racing tire. We also have the ET Street front that gives you the DOT certification, is a radial construction, and is lighter than the Sportsman SS. You won’t get the same mileage as you would out of the Sportsman SS, and it doesn’t perform as well in wet conditions, but it will be a better track tire.”

Front wheel width is something that we talked about earlier and it plays into tire selection. These tires are going to be wider and will give you better handling characteristics for street driving. Now, you will compromise some performance, since these tires are heavier, but they will provide a much better driving experience in between tracks during a drag-and-drive event.

Your vehicle’s performance on the track will dictate which tire you should use. – Jason Moulton, Mickey Thompson Tires

You’ll also want to make sure the front wheels and tires have been balanced correctly before you begin a drag-and-drive adventure. The drive portion of these events is harder on parts than the racing, and if the front tires aren’t balanced properly, they can cause some serious issues. Since many drag-and-drive cars have aftermarket front suspension parts, the vibrations from improperly balanced wheels and tires can cause a lot of damage.

You need to make sure your front tires are properly inflated for a drag and drive application.

According to Moulton, the air pressure in the front tires is also very important in a drag-and-drive application.

“Air pressure is a big thing. People tend to be more worried about speed ratings on tires, but those really don’t apply to short bursts of speed. Air pressure on a long drive is a bigger deal, because heat will build up in the tire over longer driving distances. This is more prevalent with a skinnier tire when it’s underinflated. That heat is more of an internal heat, and if too much heat builds up it could cause a tire failure. You’ll want to keep them inflated to the maximum inflation pressure when cold that’s listed on the sidewall of the tire, and make sure you don’t exceed the load rating of the tire.”

The rear tires you select for drag-and-drive racing need to have a suitable tread pattern and plenty of sidewall.

The rear tires on a drag-and-drive car also play a big role in how the car will perform. You want to find a set of tires that will strike a good balance between performance on the track and how they will handle extended periods of driving. A DOT-approved tire is what you’ll want to look for when shopping for drag-and-drive tires.

“We have three different DOT-approved tires that could be used for a drag-and-drive application. The ET Street Radial Pro does have a DOT stamp on them, but we don’t recommend using them on the street for long drives. Because in wet conditions, they just won’t do well. The ET Street R is a race tire you can drive on the street. The construction and compound are the same as an ET Radial Street Pro, however, the ET Street R has a more street-friendly tread pattern. What separates the two is the number of grooves we put in it for wet conditions. The ET Street SS is a street tire you can take to the track. Its construction is closer to a passenger tire and is built like a steel-belted radial. It has more grooves and a pattern that will help with wet conditions,” Moulton says.

The ET Street R is a popular choice for drag-and-drive racers. This tire had a great compound for racing, the tread pattern can deal with damp roads, and it's DOT approved.

Rear tires are going to see more air pressure adjustments than front tires at the track. Drag-and-drive racers have to make changes to their vehicles based on the different conditions they’ll face at a new track each day. Racers that participate in drag-and-drive events need to pay close attention to the air pressure of their rear tires, both on and off the track.

“You need to run the right inflation for the street with your rear tires. When you’re driving them on the street, you’ll need to run them close to max inflation, especially if you’re pulling a trailer. The compounds of these tires are aggressive and can build up heat, so you don’t want to underinflate these tires,” Moulton says.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what you need to look for in a set of wheels and tires for a drag-and-drive event. The right set of wheels and tires will make your drag-and-drive experience a positive one by allowing you to lay down some solid runs on the track, and make the drive to each track worry-free.

Article Sources

About the author

Brian Wagner

Spending his childhood at different race tracks around Ohio with his family’s 1967 Nova, Brian developed a true love for drag racing. Brian enjoys anything loud, fast, and fun.
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