SAN ANGELO, Texas (AP) — Under the shade of a trailer canopy the guests waited. Some snapped photos of each other in the black open-face racing helmets.
In the distance tires screech as they slid across pavement.
The guests had listened to the presentation and learned about how the Goodyear Proving Grounds — already the largest in the company — is expanding its operation to offer broader testing capabilities for tires fitted on everything from sports cars to earth movers.
They learned about the company’s 75-year history in town, which began when Goodyear relocated from Phoenix to downtown San Angelo in 1944, at the time using public roads for testing.
The overview documented the company’s growth onto the 7,250-acre site situated on U.S. 277 north of town, and the operations that take place on its 53 different test surfaces.
But this was the moment the guests were anticipating.
The Rally-Yellow Camaro SS 1LE, Hyper-Blue Camaro SS 1LE and Black Mustang GT lined up, more than 1,325 combined horsepower under the hoods and test drivers ready to thrill. One-by-one guests slid into racing seats and fastened the 5-point harness belts.
The test drivers did not disappoint.
“It reminded me of pulling Gs on a wooden roller coaster – but much smoother,” Bruce Partain, San Angelo Chamber of Commerce president, told the San Angelo Standard-Times . “The only way to improve it would be to let me switch seats.”
Test driving for Goodyear takes more than steely nerves, however.
At minimum, drivers are required to have an engineering degree, and a background in vehicle dynamics with some racing experience under their belt would help a candidate land the spot.
It’s a formula Goodyear has been using for decades at the site that tests more than 20,000 tires annually.
Not all tests have a need for speed.
Sometimes they involve the everyday aspects of driving, like potholes. That’s right, there’s a test track set up with potholes designed to maintain the exact shape and size so Goodyear tires can be driven over them repeatedly. Just like real life.
Other tests evaluate fuel economy, noise, vibration, durability and vital safety aspects including traction, stopping distance and handling in varying weather conditions.
Part of the expansion announced during the 75th anniversary celebration includes an additional evaluation facility for massive off-road vehicles that will allow testing of the industry’s largest earth-mover tires.
The company recently added a 250-ton, 25-foot-tall earth-mover haul truck to its fleet.
Texas isn’t the only proving grounds in the company. Goodyear also has a testing site at its headquarters home of Akron; and internationally in Brazil, Luxembourg, France, Germany and Finland.
“Texas being Texas, it’s bigger,” said proving grounds manager Randy Brayer. “In fact, all other proving grounds fit inside the Texas site.”
Situated inside the 14 miles of perimeter fence are 58 miles of testing surfaces, including a 5-mile circle track, 8-mile course, gravel road, and dirt and mud courses.
Fun fact; parts of the site are visible from space.
“This enormous testing facility is vital to Goodyear’s product development process, and we are continuing to invest in its capability to bring innovative tires to customers,” said Chris Helsel, Goodyear’s chief technology officer.
That investment goes beyond corporate capital projects, like the new 324,000 square-foot sloped paved pad that can be flooded to a precise depth for testing tires in extreme wet road conditions.
Understanding water is precious in drought-prone West Texas, Brayer told the group that water used at the testing pad is collected and recirculated.
“The San Angelo economy and the cultural fabric of the community have a strong bond with Goodyear,” said Michael Looney, San Angelo Chamber of Commerce vice president of economic development.
And that ride in the Rally-Yellow Camaro? “Spectacular,” Looney said.