The Breakdown: Hard Pack

The Breakdown Hard Pack

February 20, 2013 11:00am
Texas Motor Speedway is one of the most popular stops on the NASCAR circuit. The Dallas crowd turns out in droves to see the racers high tailing it around the rock hard asphalt course at record speeds. Unfortunately, the Dallas Supercross is not run with Goodyear radials and SX riders need a better surface than Jeff Gordon does. Every year the Dallas race surface is comprised of the same blue grooved, concrete-ish dirt, and many times it makes for poor racing. Many said last year’s Dallas dirt was a little better, but in general, hard and slippery is the rule here. And when the dirt is that hard and slippery, the inside lines are basically useless. Everyone is sent looking for traction on the outsides and berms, which in turn leads to one lined race tracks. It’s a recurring theme, and someone smarter than me could maybe find a solution. It’s certainly not a rider favorite and in my opinion it makes for boring racing.

As for setup, there are a few different tricks that the paddock uses to help with a rock hard circuit. Of course, tires are a huge factor when it comes to traction. Going with a wider rear tire is a typical move but with most guys already running the 120 variety, as that isn’t always viable. A bigger tire is also heavier, and riders can notice the difference. Switching to the 90/90 or 90/100 front tire spec helps also, giving a bit more bite and also adds cushion. You’ll notice some teams run grooves in their tires. It would appear that this adds more biting edges to improve traction, but the real reason to add cuts within each knob is because it makes the tire more flexible, and the tread then follows the ground a little different, helping it hook up better.

"Every year the Dallas race surface is comprised of the same blue grooved, concrete-ish dirt, and many times it makes for poor racing." - Jason Thomas.
Simon Cudby photo

You can also drop a tooth on the rear sprocket to mellow out the power, or with the “traction control” revolution, you can literally change the power delivery mid-race. Playing with the holeshot device height can also help quite a bit. The more you pull the front end down for the start, the less traction you will receive in the rear tire. Finding a happy medium is key here, as a wheelie and wheel spin is equally detrimental.

Overall, no one really cares for these hard packed courses. They don’t have much upside and the negatives can go on for days. Worst of all, if you actually have a big crash, you might as well dive out of a high rise onto a freeway. Soft dirt gives a bit, even if marginally, but that can be all the difference between riding the next race or riding to the hospital. The racing suffers, too, as it becomes less of a race track and more of a trail, and finding viable passing lines is cumbersome. When no one can pass, the excitement wanes and that isn’t good for anyone. Supercross is billed as one of the most exciting sports in existence and tracks like the one Saturday night are not conducive to that bill. I don’t have the answers to fixing the problem but I do feel that better dirt creates better racing. Until that happens, riders will resort to the usual tricks to find traction on the stuff—it helps a little, but not enough.