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Unique Machine Can Spin Rubber at 200 Miles Per Hour
April 8, 2014

NASCAR race fans recently converged in Martinsville for the STP 500, watching dozens of race cars zip around the Martinsville Speedway at speeds exceeding 130 miles per hour, tires screeching and leaving rubber on the track.

Workers at the National Tire Research Center in Alton, Va., located adjacent from the Virginia International Raceway, load a Goodyear racing tire on the $11.3 million, custom-designed Flat-Trac LTRe tire machine. The mammoth machine can run tires up to the speed of 200 miles per hour during lab testing.

The same type of tires used in the race and every NASCAR competition were specifically tested for the Martinsville track weeks before by Virginia Tech researchers located an hour away in Alton, Va.

At the National Tire Research Center, Goodyear Racing — the official supplier of race tires for NASCAR — has been testing a sample of the tires it designs specifically for each track. “Shortly after we opened for business last year, we established a very busy test schedule with Goodyear Racing, and we are excited to be a part of their massive effort to supply NASCAR with the best tires possible for each and every race,” said Frank Della Pia, executive director of the tire research center.

An affiliated company of Virginia Tech and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, the center is a third-party research and test lab working with dozens of other clients, including several tire makers and various motorsports teams and series from around the globe. The center helps these clients gather the data critical to create the best tires for the job at hand, whether for racing or on-road use.

Located adjacent to the Virginia International Raceway, tires are placed on a massive force and moment machine known as the LTRe. As the $11.3 million, 14-ton machine turns and rotates up to speeds of 200 miles per hour, the fastest machine of its kind in the world, a massive arm holding the tire can mimic not just the common road, but any specific race track in the world, from the texture of the asphalt surface to the slant of the track.

If a motorsports team, tire company, or auto manufacturer wants to understand how the tire construction will impact the vehicle, the center is the only place in the world that they can go to achieve realistic highway or race track speeds, said Della Pia.

The center was the result of a grant from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission. Matching funds were supplied by General Motors — one of the other major users of the facility — and the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, the latter located in Danville.

“This Goodyear partnership is another example of how we can move the needle in Southern Virginia by developing world-class facilities that build on both the history of the region and its existing capabilities,” said Tom Dingus, president of the center, an endowed professor with Virginia Tech’s Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. “We are building on the 65-year history of the Martinsville Speedway and the recent reemergence of the Virginia International Raceway.”

This story can be found on the Virginia Tech News website.

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