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The Truth Behind What Caused Paul Walker's Fatal Crash

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The Truth Behind What Caused Paul Walker's Fatal Crash Matt Farah,The Drive Paul Walker Tires Your tires are the most important part of your car. They can make you faster, they can save your life, or they can get you killed, even if you’re the star of a major car-centric action franchise, and even if you aren’t driving. (Spoiler alert: the driver dies too). Considering how important tires are, they aren’t given nearly enough credit in the media or in car-guy circles. Sure, every racer talks about tires, and a lot of canyon warriors will sit on top of the snake talking setup, but on the internet and in casual conversation with casual enthusiasts, tires are a dull topic. You certainly can’t brag about them on a forum the way you can with your upgraded turbo and fresh dyno chart. You have to go into the Grassroots Motorsports catalog, or to a very specific sub-genre to see a tire comparison test for your desired application, so most people just end up reading reviews on TireRack. Tires are a dull topic even when we’re actively shopping for tires. They have insanely complicated naming schemes like GoodRubber GoodGripper Pro XGV25, which makes them even harder to discuss than Infiniti’s current lineup. In all seriousness, I have a set of tires on my Mustang at the moment called “Continental ContiForce Contact.” That’s a real name under which a real set of tires is marketed. Most people don’t have the luxury of actually testing tires before they buy either, making decisions based on either anecdotal evidence, a roll of the dice, budget, or a combination of the three. Nevertheless, the four small patches of rubber connecting your two-ton manslaughter machine to your city’s lowest-priced asphalt are, if you ask me, the best way to improve your car, or, the quickest way to fuck it up, crash, and even die. Even if you should know better. And I’m going to give you one piece of advice—advice I learned the hard way, but not as hard as my friends Paul Walker—who would have celebrated his 43rd birthday this week—and Roger Rodas did. In November of 2012, I entered my modified C5 Corvette in the “Optima Batteries Ultimate Street Car Invitational,” a multi-discipline driving event held the day after SEMA ends in Las Vegas. [Disclaimer: I have done promotional work at events for Optima Batteries unrelated to this event or to my column at The Drive.] I could not have been less prepared for this event if I had left the car’s targa roof at home in the garage, which, by the way, I did. Think it never rains in Vegas? Never snows? Go there in a car without a roof. I guarantee both will happen. Though the car was, and is, in mostly good nick, with, at the time, around 25,000 miles on it. The engine makes 400 horsepower to the wheels with some mild bolt-on upgrades, and it has a Stoptech Big Brake kit, Pfadt coilover suspension, racing seats, harnesses, and more. All of it worked. DON'T FORGET TO SIGN UP FOR THE DRIVE NEWSLETTER The bad news? It also had six-year old Goodyear F1 Assymetric tires on it. They had less than 5,000 miles on them, so they looked nearly new. But looking new and gripping like new are two different propositions entirely. A tire, for those as unfamiliar with this concept as I was back then, does two things: it sticks to the road by nature of its rubber chemical compound, and it disperses water using the tread pattern cut into the tire. On a street tire, most people will notice their tread has worn down after several thousand miles of use and decide it’s time to get new tires. If it rains, the worn tread won’t disperse water as well and you will have poor wet-weather performance, and a tendency towards hydroplaning. With cars driven frequently, you will wear out your tread before you age-out your rubber, which is the problem I want to address. With collector cars, especially cars driven less than a few thousand miles a year, the problem is that while your tread may look good, the rubber is old and dry, and simply will not work properly. The chemical compounds in your tires will degrade over time, significantly reducing your available grip, or worse, blowing out a sidewall under load. With sport tires, colder weather and harsh weather will exacerbate this. In general, five years from date of manufacture (stamped on the tire) is about as old as you ever want to go in a car you plan to drive quickly. If that car (or the tires themselves) are stored in a climate-controlled facility under perfect conditions, maybe you could squeeze an extra year or two out of them. But the fact is, if you have a few cars, some maybe that you only drive a few times a year, replacing tires can easily become a dangerous afterthought. Which brings me back to Las Vegas on a chilly November morning. I arrive in the paddock at Spring Mountain to find out that, as usual, every other person at the track has taken this event much more seriously than I have. Most have prepped their cars specifically for this event, whereas I have pulled my car out of storage, driven it to Las Vegas without a roof, and parked. Some “Ultimate Streetcars” are pulled out of full-size race haulers, lifted up on air jacks, and fitted with electronic tire warming blankets. My Goodyear Eagle F1 Assymetric tires were decent, not great, when new. Now, six years later they look fine, and felt OK on the highway, so here I am - the first car out onto the track for the morning’s run group. Ambient temperatures are in the 40’s. I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised to see track temperatures lower than that. I make it three corners. At less than 45 mph, all the controls in the Corvette go light, and I find myself doing a four-wheeled slide off the track into the gravel. After punching myself in the face a few times, I creep back onto the track and black flag myself for being a moron, but don’t even get that far. Four corners later, it happens again, on the slowest corner of the entire track. Off into the gravel I go. My wheels looking like rock tumblers and my mint Torch Red paint now covered in a chalky fine layer of dust, I hang my head and limp back to the paddock. I had gone off twice, during my warm up lap. Now, I’m not saying I’m the greatest driver in the world and would have won the whole thing; far from it. I am saying that if I had bothered to actually do the proper maintenance on my car, I would have been able to set something resembling a lap time, instead of doing a piece of terrible performance art. More importantly, what I had done was really fucking dangerous. Had the track layout been different; had it been a cold morning in Daytona, or Wisconsin, rather than Nevada, I may have hit a wall at 100 mph rather than some gravel at 20. Fast forward a year. In November of 2013, Paul Walker and Roger Rodas were hanging out at an open house and car show in front of the business they owned together, Always Evolving. I had the pleasure of both their company on several occasions; though we weren’t close, both Roger and Paul were always a pleasure to be around, especially at the track, where they spent a lot of time. Both were excellent drivers and upstanding citizens. Neither of them would live to see the end of the day. Roger, an avid car collector with more than 50 cars to his name—including what I believe is the largest collection of Saleen cars in the world—had just bought himself a Porsche Carrera GT out of a long-term collection. The red-over-black Carrera GT was the right color combo and had a famous owner in its history: Graham Rahal. It also had only 3,500 miles on the odometer, making for a highly desirable example. He had just taken delivery of the car that week. Paul, as big of a gearhead as he was, had never been in a Carrera GT before. It was a Sunday, so the large office park was all-but-deserted save for AE’s small section of parking lot. “Just once around the block.” "Everyone wanted to hang Paul and Roger out to dry as their speeding scapegoats. The tires were a footnote to an exaggerated story, and it became a missed opportunity to teach a very real lesson." Once around the block was all it took to kill them both. The 3,500 mile Carrera GT was shod with its original tires. They, like the car attached to them, were 9 years old. Roger lost control of the Carrera GT at an estimated 90 mph, and hit a tree. The mainstream media, and indeed many automotive-focused web sites, simply couldn’t wait to report on the irony of the situation, that someone known for playing a character who drives crazy is killed in a supercar doing double the speed limit in an office park. I was distraught the first couple of days, but honestly, all I could think about was how the crash happened, and I just kept going back to that day at Spring Mountain. This was a super low-mileage car. Roger was a really good driver. There were no other cars around or last-minute obstacles to avoid. It had to have been on original tires. No one talked about the tires. Everyone wanted to hang Paul and Roger out to dry as their speeding scapegoats. The tires were a footnote to an exaggerated story, and it became a missed opportunity to teach a very real lesson. The LA Times reported one article on it nearly 5 months after the crash, and that was it. The cause of the crash was still ruled “unsafe speed for the conditions.” And not “tires, which may as well have been made of paper mache.”

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