Steve Baur
Former Editor, Modified Mustangs & Fords
January 1, 2009

You can make all the horse-power you want and all the suspension upgrades you can, but none of that matters if you can't get the tires to stick to the ground. Everything you do to the car, short of waxing or painting it, relies on the tires to make the fun happen. Although they are often an afterthought, especially when it comes to the average enthusiast, they are arguably the four most important components of your vehicle. That being said, we opted to take a look at the high-performance tire market as it relates to late-model Fords.

As with any vehicle component, there's always an upgrade you can make, and since you probably already have stock tires on your ride, we're going to show you what's available to help you make the most of your high-performance modifications. To gather more data, we called on the experts at American Muscle to give you some insight on wheel and tire fitment, and we dug up the latest information on what specific tires are required to run some of the popular racing series.

We focused on getting the word out on this hot rubber, so be sure to contact the manufacturer for more information on things like specific sizes, tire diameters, and more specific information regarding the UTQG, traction, and temperature ratings. We've also limited this discovery of information to just radial-constructed tires. There are a number of drag racing tires that are bias-ply in construction, and carry a DOT approval. Mickey Thompson, M&H Tires, and Hoosier all carry products like these. It's pretty much self-explanatory that they are for drag racing ,and most of them are optimized for straight-line acceleration.

Many readers have heard the DOT terminology thrown around with drag racing tires, but the truth is, there are a good number of tires designed for road racing that have been given the stamp of approval from the Department of Transportation as well. DOT-legal tires generally meet the minimum requirements established by the U.S. Department of Transportation for tires used on public roads. However, this approval doesn't necessarily mean that a tire is well suited for regular use on public roads, especially in inclement weather.

In putting together this article, we found both drag and road racing tires for you, and even a few high-performance radial tires that have reached the pinnacle of performance when it comes to maximum performance both on and off the track. Without further adieu, here are your contenders.

Hankook
Ventus Z214
Use: Designed for road racing, autocross, and other classes where a DOT tire is required.

Tech Notes: UTQG Treadwear 40, Traction C, Temperature ACompounds: C30 & C31 - Hard - Recommended for road racingC50 & C51 - Medium - Recommended for road racingC70 & C71 - Soft - Recommended for autocrossSize Range: 225/45/13 to 275/35/18

Hankook Tire
www.hankooktireusa.com

Hoosier
DOT Drag Radial
Use: Soft compound drag radial tire for competition use.

Tech Notes: DOT-labeled Hoosier racing tires meet Department of Transportation requirements for marking and performance only, and are not intended for highway use. It is unsafe to operate any Hoosier racing tire, including DOT tires, on public roads.

Size Range: 225/50/15 to 335/35/17

Hoosier Racing Tire Corp.
65465 U.S. 31Lakeville, IN 46536574/784-3152
www.hoosiertire.com

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Tech Talk
A briefing on tire specifications courtesy of Discount Tire Direct.

Treadwear
The United States government established the Uniform Tire Quality Grading (UTQG) system to assist consumers in their purchase of tires. This system is a relative comparison system, and is not a safety rating, nor a guarantee that a tire will last for a prescribed number of miles. Under the UTQG, manufacturers use three criteria to grade tires: treadwear, traction and temperature. The treadwear grade is a comparative rating based on the wear of a tire when tested carefully under controlled conditions. For example, the useful tread on a tire graded 400 should last twice as long as a tire graded 200. However, another tire manufacturer may grade a comparable design 300, so a grade of 150 would last just half as long under its grading scheme. The key here is to not use one manufacturer's grade versus the other, but instead to compare tire grades within a given brand. Also, keep in mind that actual treadwear performance varies tremendously depending on the tire's real-world use. Driving habits, air pressure maintenance, road conditions, and climate affect tire life as well.

Traction grades represent the tire's ability to stop on wet pavement as measured under controlled conditions on asphalt and concrete test surfaces. As of 1997, the traction grades from highest to lowest are "AA," "A," "B," and "C." A tire graded "AA" may have relatively better traction performance than a tire graded lower, based on straight-ahead braking tests. The grades do not take into consideration the cornering or turning performance of a tire.

Temperature grades represent a tire's resistance to heat and its ability to dissipate heat when tested under controlled laboratory test conditions. The grades from highest to lowest are "A," "B," and "C." The grade "C" corresponds to the minimum performance required by federal safety standard. Therefore, the "A" tire is the coolest running, and even though the "C" tire runs hotter, it does not mean it is unsafe.

Speed Rating
The United States government grants speed ratings when tires meet a minimum standard for reaching and sustaining a specified speed. Generally, a higher speed rating will result in better car handling. Downgrading the speed rating of your tires is not recommended, as poor handling and unpredictable steering may result. However, if you want better cornering response, you can install a higher speed rated tire on your vehicle. Tire manufacturers recommend not mixing and matching tires with different speed ratings on your vehicle. Remember, the speeds are test speeds, not recommended speeds.

  • Q- Up to 100 mph
  • R- Up to 106 mph
  • S- Up to 112 mph
  • T- Up to 118 mph
  • U- Up to 124 mph
  • H- Up to 130 mph
  • V- Up to 149 mph
  • W- Up to 168 mph
  • Y- Up to 186 mph
  • Z- 149 mph and higher

Reading the Sidewall
The following is a breakdown of the components of the size of the tire: Example P205/65/R15.

P=Passenger car tire. If there is no "P" before the size it would indicate it's a European metric tire. An LT before the size would designate a light truck tire.

205=This is the section width in millimeters. This measurement is taken from sidewall to sidewall.

65=This number refers to the height of the sidewall, or the aspect ratio, as it's a percentage of the section width. In this example, you would take 65 percent of 205 millimeters and this would give you the sidewall height.

R=Radial tire construction.

15=Wheel diameter in inches.

Heat Cycling
Like any high-performance component, competition tires require careful break-in to achieve the full benefit. Competition tires are capable of sustaining traction throughout a much wider temperature range, but they are also very sensitive to the first heat cycle of use.

A proper break-in and heat cycling results in a tread compound that lasts longer and provides better traction. However, if the first cycle is not performed correctly, the tread may develop irregular compounding, leading to poor wear and inconsistent traction. Manufacturer's instructions should be followed for proper break-in.

This service costs $15 per tire. All competition tire manufacturers recommend heat cycling service. To learn more about Discount Tire's heat cycling service, or the process involved, contact them at www.discountiredirect.com.

Spec Tire Special
Toyo Tires is an official contingency sponsor of the 2008 The Tire Rack SCCA Solo National Tour. Competitors must use Toyo Proxes R1R tires on all four wheel positions during all runs to qualify. Classes include STS, STSL, STU, STUL, STX, STXL, STS2, and STS2L. Cash awards are presented to the First, Second, and Third Place drivers per event in the 2008 SCCA Solo National Tour competition only. There must be five or more competitors in a class to be eligible for awards. Toyo's R888 is the spec tire for the Speed World Challenge, both touring and GT class.

In the NASA Pro Racing series, the Toyo Proxes RA1 is currently the spec tire for both Camaro/Mustang Challenge classes, and will be replaced by the R888 for the '09 season. In the American Iron categories, the RA1 is currently the spec tire. American Iron Extreme allows for any size readily available commercially sold DOT-certified tire. Be sure to check with NASA regarding tire and wheel size for each class.

The Drag Radial and Factory Stock classes of the National Mustang Racers Association run off of a spec tire list, which allows for BFGoodrich Comp T/A or g-Force Drag Radial, Nitto NT555R Drag Radials, or any approved radial-construction tire with a DOT treadwear rating of 180 or greater that fits all other criteria and sizing.

Yokohama Tire
Advan A048
Use: DOT-legal competition tire designed for vehicles participating in autocross competition, track schools, lapping days, and circuit-type club racing

Tech Notes: UTQG Treadwear 60, Traction AA, Temperature A, 60 AA, and 60 BA. Tread Depth: 6/32 inch. Optimal operating temperature: 165 degrees F to 195 degrees F. Recommended break-in procedures: can be heat cycled.

Size Range: 205/50/R15 to 235/45/R17 (Medium Compound)

195/50/R16 to 315/30/R18 (Medium Hard Compound)

Yokohama Tire Corporation
601 S. Acacia Ave.Fullerton, CA 92831800/722-9888www.yokohamatire.com

American Muscle Mustang Tire Guide
(Check with American Muscle regarding tire diameter and speedometer concerns)

'05-'08
Tire SizeRim SizeFitment
255/50-1717x9Front & Rear
255/45-1818x9Front & Rear
275/40-1818x10Optional Rear tire
285/40-1818x10Optional Rear tire
305/35-1818x10Optional Rear tire
255/35-2020x8.5Front & Rear
285/30-2020x10Rear Only
'99-'04
Tire SizeRim SizeFitment
245/50-1616x8 Front & Rear
245/45-1717x8 or 17x9 Front & Rear
255/40-1717x9Optional tire Front & Rear
275/40-1717x9Front & Rear
315/35-1717x10.5Rear Only
245/40-1818x9Front & Rear
265/35-1818x9Front & Rear
275/35-1818x9Front & Rear
285/35-1818x10Rear Only
305/35-1818x10Rear Only
245/30-2020x8.5Front & Rear
'94-'98
Tire SizeRim SizeFitment
245/50-1616x8 Front & Rear
245/45-1717x8 or 17x9 Front & Rear
255/40-1717x9 Front & Rear
275/40-1717x9Rubbing could be an issue if used as a front tire
315/35-1717x10.5Rear Only
245/40-1818x9Front & Rear
265/35-1818x9Front & Rear
275/35-1818x9Rubbing could be an issue if used as a front tire
285/35-1818x10Rear Only
305/35-1818x10Rear Only
245/30-2020x8.5Front & Rear
'87-'93
Tire SizeRim SizeFitment
245/50-1616x8 Front & Rear
245/45-1717x9Front & Rear
255/40-1717x9Rubbing could be an issue if used as a front tire
275/40-1717x9Rubbing is an issue if used as a front