LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Hoosier Racing Tire Corp. touts itself as the world's largest race tire manufacturer, with more than 1,500 types of race tires produced, all at its factory in Plymouth, Ind.
But through its Hoosier Custom Manufacturing division, the firm also offers a growing variety of goods and services, including specialty tires; custom mixing; custom and gum calendering; tire engineering/testing services; first stage, second stage and belt folding bladder manufacturing; and slit rubber goods.
And while the non-racing side continues to be a small portion of Hoosier's entire business, it's a portion that's growing as word of the firm's capabilities become better known in the industry, according to Jerry Mikesell, who heads up Hoosier's custom calendering, mixing and specialty tire sales.
He and a team from Hoosier exhibited at the ACS Rubber Division's International Elastomer Conference and Rubber Expo, held Oct. 9-11 in Louisville, Ky., the third year the company has taken a booth at the show.
"We exhibited in 2014 and 2015 at the SEMA show in Las Vegas," Mikesell said. "That was not the best arena for our custom unit, but is excellent for racing. (The Rubber Expo) is a much better fit for the custom business."
While the vast majority of its tires are made for racing, Hoosier does in fact produce some specialty tires for outside clients. He said the customers come to Hoosier, which has been owned since late 2016 by Continental, because they lack either the capabilities or desire to manufacture the tires.
"They come to us to basically capitalize on our capabilities," Mikesell said. "The benefit to our clients is because our core business is racing, and a lot of the practices and a lot of the technology transfers over nicely so they get a better product that's more competitive and more consistent."
Growing mixing business
Mikesell has been with Hoosier for 37 years, primarily in manufacturing, first as a plant manager then as a manufacturing manager. He moved over to the custom side six years ago, the same year Hoosier made a major stride toward boosting its custom mixing business. That year the company added equipment and a new mixing line to give it ample capacity both for its own needs and outside clients.
He said Hoosier's mixing clients appreciate that the company is known for its consistency tied to its racing heritage. "A lot of clients come to us because they can't handle the batch-to-batch variation, or the load-to-load variation," Mikesell said. "We're not a company that's going to compete over a couple cents a pound. We' don't deal in high-volume, low-cost materials. We're more of a niche, specialized supplier."
He added that he hesitates to use the term "elite manufacturer," but that Hoosier actually would qualify as that because of the amount of testing it does on both its inbound raw materials and outbound compounds.
Right now, roughly 90 percent of Hoosier's mixing goes to its racing tire operations, but that is shifting. "We're seeing a change in volumes," Mikesell said. "It's increased steadily in the last six years."
Though he wouldn't disclose sales, he said that growth has been based on a string of successes, along with some good word of mouth. "One of the primary things we provide to our clients is customer service," he said. "We're big enough to know what we're doing, but we're small enough to answer the phone when they call. So they get that responsiveness in a timely manner.
"A lot of what we bring to the table is we know what we're doing. If things change or they need other things—more development, or a problem arises—we're here to help our clients."
As for word of mouth, he said the rubber world is a pretty small sector and everybody talks, whether it's good, bad or otherwise. "We have had a lot of referrals from companies we've helped out who knows somebody else who needs help," Mikesell said.
One of the more recent offerings of Hoosier's custom business is the manufacturing of belt folding bladders used in tire production. The company purchased the assets of an operation within the last two years that Hoosier eyed primarily to aid its own business. He declined to disclose specifics.
"We were buying bladders from them, then we brought it all in-house," Mikesell said. "Because we were already buying the products, it gave us a head-to-head comparison, and it gave us opportunities to improve on what we were receiving before (the purchase). And now we're capable of producing and delivering for outside clients (other tire manufacturers)."
He added that it's a very specific technology, so there isn't a wide market for it, but it does add to the unit's portfolio.
"As you combine the whole picture, it's a nice diversity in different products," Mikesell said. "We just started advertising it earlier this year. We had some word-of-mouth referrals from people who knew we were doing it really before we were ready to launch it to the outside world."