The Failure of Reason – Sharpening An Old Saw

by Robin Hostetter

In the mid 60’s, a young Mario Andretti worked his way through the ranks of professional drivers by racing stock cars. A rubber company sponsor delivered the tires to the track without treads, so that the proper pattern could be cut in on site, customized for the conditions and track and driving style. This was state-of-the-art, for everyone knew that a tire had to have treads to grip the track.

One day at practice, Mario anxiously awaited the delivery of his tires so he could shake out a new car for the race that weekend. But the delivery was delayed until an hour before the track closed. Mario, not wishing to lose a day of practice, asked that they be installed as they were- slick, uncut. Every one warned him he would slide right off the track for everybody knew a tire had to have grooves to function properly.

Mario insisted, saying he was more interested in just getting to know the car, and would push for speed another day. He challenged the track, pushing only as fast as he felt he could control the car.

He set a new track record that day, not just by a few seconds, but by fifty per cent.

Reason said that tread gripped the road, kept the car from sliding off due to angular momentum on the corners. No one doubted the assumption. Mario demonstrated the actual physics, overlooked by a generation of reasonable people. The grip of the tire is determined in large part by the area of rubber in the contact patch, the more the better. Cutting grooves into the tire only diminished the amount of rubber in contact with the track, making them less “sticky” than having no tread at all.

AndrettiNow everyone runs on slicks- it is the reasonable thing to do.

4 thoughts on “The Failure of Reason – Sharpening An Old Saw

    • Glad you liked it. Maybe I can work up something about your Uncle Art. There’s a good story about how he knew more about the jet engine than the air force that scrapped it.

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