Best Racing Tires

Updated February 2021
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
Bottom Line
Pros
Cons
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

52 Models Considered
20 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
182 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best racing tires

Nothing grabs the road quite like a racing tire. Racing tires offer outstanding grip and stability thanks to their wide contact patches and sticky rubber compounds. Racing tires are designed to deliver a higher level of performance than all-season tires, culminating in increased traction, faster acceleration, better braking, and improved handling at high speed. If you’re looking to increase the abilities of your vehicle, a high-end performance tire is one of the best upgrades you can consider. 

Racing tires have drawbacks, though. They can create more road noise, for one, while also riding slightly rougher due to their lower profile. In addition, racing tires aren’t designed for use in harsh weather, although there are some exceptions. Some racing tires take the performance focus even further and have no tread to speak of, for maximum grip on track surfaces.  

Competitive racing tires are technically different from performance tires or summer tires — many racing tires aren’t street legal, in fact, but for the purposes of this guide, we’re bundling all performance models together under the “racing” banner. Our buying guide is full of helpful information, as well as some of our favorites, to get your shopping started.

racing tire1
Tires aren’t flashy, but as the only parts of your vehicle that touch the ground, an upgrade can completely change how your ride handles. Instead of spending thousands on engine and suspension components, consider a new set of rubber for improved performance and safety.

Key considerations

Size

First things first: your tire needs to be the correct size. Tire dimensions are listed in a figure that looks something like this: 285/35R22 106Y. Your tire’s figure may vary a bit, but here’s what each part means. 

285: This is the width of the tire in millimeters at its broadest section.
35: This is the height of the tire’s sidewall as a percentage of the tire’s width. 
R: This indicates the product is a radial, which means the layers run radially across the tire. 
22: This is the wheel diameter in inches. 
106: This is the load index, or the maximum weight each tire is rated to carry. For example, 106 converts to 2,094 pounds. 
Y: This is the speed rating of the tire in optimal conditions. The later in the alphabet the letter falls, the higher the speed rating. A tire marked Y is rated suitable for speeds up to 186 miles per hour.

Tread

Design: The focus of a racing tire is grip, but the majority still have basic sipes (hook- or bracket-shaped grooves), treads, and grooves to siphon away dirt and moisture. Some are much better at this than others, and these are typically labeled “performance all-season” or “performance radial.”

Slicks: These are extreme variants of racing tires that feature no tread to speak of. These super sticky and uncompromising tires are designed for track use only — forgoing the need for weather mitigation — and boast huge contact patches for physics-defying grip. Slicks are not recommended for commuter vehicles, though, and are illegal for use on the road in some areas. 

Life expectancy: All tires have a tread life expectancy from the manufacturer, which translates into the average number of miles the tire can be driven in expected conditions. At most, these numbers should be used as a loose guide, because weather, driving style, traffic, and other factors have a huge impact on a tire’s lifespan. This is the case when a tire is subjected to the stresses of hard-driving, so take tire life expectancy with a large grain of salt. 

Used tires can save you money, but we don’t recommend buying them because of the guesswork involved. Sure, you can measure tread depth, but you can’t always discern how tires were treated in their past life. Issues like damaged sidewalls are difficult to spot at first glance.

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Features

Materials

A related consideration is the rubber compound used to make the tire. These compounds consist of rubber, synthetic polymers, steel, antioxidants, and other fillers. Racing tire compounds are generally softer than all-season or winter tires, allowing them to grip the pavement more tightly but also causing more wear. 

Compounds are not usually labeled clearly by the manufacturer because each company uses its own “recipe.” One compound to watch out for is the r-compound or race-compound. Tires with this compound are considered semi-slick and are essentially as close to competitive racing tires as you can get while still being street legal. R-compounds require proper warm-ups, dry conditions, and heat to function properly. They have a massive grip, but they wear very quickly. 

Nitrogen

You may have noticed some tires with green valve stems. These neon plastic tips aren’t fashion statements; they indicate that the tire is filled with pure nitrogen from the factory. Nitrogen makes an excellent tire filler because it’s less likely to seep through the rubber compound over time, which results in more consistent pressure when the ambient temperatures fluctuate. These benefits suit racing tires perfectly because consistent pressure and predictable handling are hallmarks of motoring success. 

racing tire2
DID YOU KNOW?
Tire companies provide mileage expectancies with their products but keep in mind these numbers are averages and meant to be used as guides. There are myriad factors that can affect a tire’s lifespan, including driving style, weather conditions, pressurization, and even traffic.
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Racing tire prices

Tires are the best bang for your buck in terms of performance. Always keep your budget in mind — you’ll be replacing racing tires fairly often, after all — but tires are the last place you want to skimp on spending. Not only do quality tires improve handling dramatically, but there’s a safety component, too. It’s literally your life and your vehicle on the line. Standard all-season tires generally run between $50 and $100 each, but racing variants are lower in volume and cost more. 

Inexpensive: The racing tire market starts at around $150. For that money, you’ll find mid-level performance radials and all-seasons. You’ll also find slicks because, while slicks are specialty products, they’re fairly simple and not that expensive. 

Mid-range: Jump up to about $250 and you’ll encounter a higher number of competitive racing tires, as well as high-level performance radials. Expect higher speed ratings and larger available sizes, too. 

Expensive: At the top of the consumer range, you’ll be spending $300 or more per tire. You’ll find the highest speed ratings here, as well as insane levels of grip. Some specialty models offer extreme track performance and weather-mitigating tread patterns, so you can drive your supercar to the track and back again without swapping.

Tips

  • Monitor the tread. Not sure how much tread your tires have left? Use the tried and true penny test. Put an upside-down penny in the tread. If you can see the top of Abraham Lincoln’s cranium, your tread is low and your tires need replacing. 
  • Stay pumped up. Proper tire pressure is perhaps the most vital element of tire maintenance. If your tire is underinflated, it won’t conform to the road evenly. This can result in excessive and uneven wear, unsafe braking, poor gas mileage, and even blowouts. Keep a tire gauge in your vehicle at all times, and remember you can refill tires at nearly any gas station. 
  • Check your specs. If you need help remembering the size and pressure rating of your tires, there are three places you can look: on the tire sidewall, the driver’s side door frame, and in your vehicle owner’s manual. That said, remember that the owner’s manual will only list stock tire specifications and may not be relevant if you’ve upgraded your tires.
  • Keep spares handy. Having backup tires is always important, but with racing tires it’s even more so. Hard driving, track days, and smoky launches quite literally burn through tires quickly, making a reserve set all the more crucial. You wouldn’t want race day cut short because you lack the proper equipment. 
  • Store your tires properly. When you’re storing tires for long periods of time, remember to clean them thoroughly to remove dirt, oil, and other contaminants that can corrode the rubber. For tires on their own, lay one flat and stack the rest on top. For wheels with tires installed, line them vertically in a row

Racing tires take a lot of abuse, but they’re not the only part of your vehicle that needs TLC. Inspect the underside your car for damage when you swap your wheels and tires. Trust us, you’re going to be doing it a lot.

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Other products we considered

Whether it’s autocross, drag racing, rally, endurance racing, or hillclimbing, motoring enthusiasts are some of the most passionate people on the planet. It’s no surprise, then, that there are more racing tires available than we can count, so here are a couple more we want to highlight. The first is the Mickey Thompson ET Street S/S Racing Radial Tire, a high-performance model with a super sticky R2 compound. It still features light treads, however, to aid in hydroplane resistance. A higher value option is the Hankook Ventus V12 evo 2 Tire. A summer radial, the evo 2 boasts top-notch traction in dry conditions but enough tread to instill confidence if the weather starts to turn. 

racing tire3
The minimum legal tread depth in the United States is 1/16 inch. Any lower than that represents an unsafe lack of grip and weather performance. That said, you should consider swapping your tires well before that.

FAQ

Q. How do I prepare my tires for track day?

A. If you’re buying racing tires, there’s a solid chance you’re considering a track day of some sort. This presents a tricky trade-off in terms of shopping. You obviously don’t want to skimp and buy cheap racing tires, but you’ll be using them up fairly quickly if you track your car often. Keep your budget in mind before starting any track day routine, and consider buying a separate set of inexpensive wheels with racing tires along with your daily driving wheels for easy swaps.

As far as preparing your vehicle on the day, remember to always check your tire pressure and inspect the sidewalls for damage. Some racers recommend airing your tires down by 5 pounds per square inch (psi) or so to introduce flex — this can help prevent wheelspin on launch — but personal preferences vary. Also, warm up your tires with some medium-speed laps before going hard, because cold tires don’t respond as predictably as properly prepared ones. Above all, know your limits, follow the track’s rules, and stay safe.

Q. What’s the best way to clean my tires?

A. Racing tires are about performance, not looks, but you should still keep a healthy maintenance routine. Cleaning off dirt, oil, brake dust, and other contaminants can extend the life of your tires, and a sharp-looking ride certainly doesn’t hurt either. 

To clean, start by rinsing the tires. Create a solution by mixing one teaspoon of dish soap per gallon of water, and use a sponge or mitt to remove dirt and oxidation. Rinse the tires again and dry, and if you like, apply a dressing to restore that crisp showroom look. 

Q. How frequently should I rotate my tires?

A. Tire rotation is an essential part of vehicle maintenance, but if you’re often racing or driving hard, spreading out tire wear evenly is even more important. Why? Consistent, predictable grip improves performance and safety, and you’re also going to see significantly more wear and tear on racing tires than you will on daily driver models. Spreading out the wear saves money, but keep the healthiest tires on your drive wheels if possible. 

On regular all-seasons, the rule of thumb for rotation frequency is every time you change your oil or every six months, whichever comes first. Racing tire wear is much harder to predict, though, with higher stress and more extreme variances in driving style. Check the manufacturer recommendations for reference, but it’s best to monitor your wear regularly and rotate as needed.

 

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