A slick tire (also known as a "racing slick") is a type of tire that has no tread pattern, used mostly in auto racing. The first production "slick tire" was developed by a company called M&H Tires in the early 1950s. It was a drag racing slick. By eliminating any grooves cut into the tread, such tires provide the largest possible contact patch to the road, and maximize traction for any given tire dimension. Slick tires are used on road or oval track racing, where steering and braking require maximum traction from each wheel, but are typically used on only the driven (powered) wheels in drag racing, where the only concern is maximum traction to put power to the ground.
Slick tires are not suitable for use on common road vehicles, which must be able to operate in all weather conditions. They are used in auto racing where competitors can choose different tires based on the weather conditions and can often change tires during a race. Slick tires provide far more traction than grooved tires on dry roads, due to their greater contact area but typically have far less traction than grooved tires under wet conditions. Wet roads severely diminish the traction because of aquaplaning due to water trapped between the tire contact area and the road surface. Grooved tires are designed to remove water from the contact area through the grooves, thereby maintaining traction even in wet conditions.
The first drag racing slick was developed by a company called M&H Tires (Marvin & Harry Tires) in the early 1950s. It was the only company in the world that produced and sold original drag racing tires. Later, competitors stole or reverse-engineered molds, and began making their own tires.
Drag racing slicks vary in size, from slicks used on motorcycles to very wide ones used on Top Fuel Dragsters. For "closed wheel" cars, often the car must be modified merely to account for the size of the slick, raising the body on the rear springs for the height of narrower slicks, and/or replacing the rear wheel housings with very wide "tubs" and narrowing the rear axle to allow room for the wider varieties of tires. Open wheel dragsters are freed from any such constraint, and can go to enormous tire sizes (the opposite of tripodal which are quite minuscule). Some use very low pressures to maximize the tread contact area, producing the typical sidewall appearance which leads to their being termed "wrinklewall" slicks. Inner tubes are typically used, to ensure that the air does not suddenly leak catastrophically as the tire deforms under the stress of launching.
"Wrinklewall" slicks are now specifically designed for the special requirements of drag racing, being constructed in such a way as to allow the sidewall to be twisted by the torque applied at launch, softening the initial start and thus reducing the chances of breaking traction. As speed builds, the centrifugal force generated by the tire's rotation "unwraps" the sidewall, returning the energy to the car's acceleration. Additionally, it causes the tires to expand radially, increasing their diameter and effectively creating a taller gear ratio, allowing a higher top speed with the same transmission gearing.
In Formula One, slick tires were not used from the 1998 to 2008 seasons. Dry weather tires with mandatory circumferential grooves intended to reduce total grip and reduce cornering speeds were used, and were still often referred to as "slicks" as the grooves were not intended to disperse water and could not be used effectively in wet conditions. Slick tires were reintroduced from the 2009 season.
Street slicks also known as "Cheater Slicks, is a technically street legal version that has minimal tread to comply with certain street car racing restrictions. The tread is too minimal to be used in the rain, and the soft compound will not last long when driven on the street. They're basically race tires that bend the "Street Legal" requirements with technicalities.
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