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Words by Richard Kratz and Alex Rogeo photos by Richard Kratz and Weld Racing
We’d known for a while that we needed to do something to help get the Team MoparMax Maulin’ Magnum street/strip project car off the line at the drag strip quicker. The key to bracket racing success is a fast Reaction Time (RT) and a consistent 60 foot time. One area we wanted to explore was the wheels. Our 2007 Dodge SRT8 Magnum came with unusually high quality rims, forged aluminum 20x9 wheels. We’ll discuss forged vs. cast in a moment. But those big 20 inch rims and tires are heavy. Even though Mickey Thompson makes a great drag radial for late model Mopars up to 20 inches, it was time to explore lighter weight options.
For a few thousand years nothing much changed in vehicle wheels. Whether a chariot in ancient Rome or a pioneer’s wagon in 1850, wheels were made of wood and featured big spokes. In the early days of the automobile bicycle style wire spoke wheels with thin rims and hard rubber ‘tires’ became common. Yet Henry Ford’s Model T came with wooden spoke wheels, so the ancient technology remained viable into the 20th century.
By the 1930’s wheels had evolved to the familiar design of a modern steel wheel. Rolling a rim out of steel, stamping a center section out of more steel and then welding them together was cheap and produced a strong and reliable product. Hubcaps brought an element of style to the basic industrial looking steel wheel. It worked, although hubcaps had a tendency to come loose and disappear while driving.
Good for the replacement hubcap industry, not so good for the car owner. Luxury cars often came with wire rim wheels made from spokes much stouter then a bicycle tire.
Walk around any car show or peruse any car enthusiast online forum and you’ll see a large percentage of cars with aftermarket wheels. Wheels are one of the easiest ways to make a big visual change to a car’s looks and it seems that there are as many styles available as there are car owners. But what do these owners really know about the wheels on their cars? And what about street/strip cars, what do owners who actually race their cars need to know about wheels? More specifically, what should owners of late model Mopars look for and how can wheels impact your performance?
The first thing you need to understand about wheels is that they are not all created equal. Important criteria for wheels, especially for performance use, are weight, strength and quality. Wheel weight is more critical than most components’ weight on a car for two reasons. One, wheels are unsprung weight, which is that portion of a vehicle that is not supported by the suspension (i.e. wheels, tires, brakes and a portion of the suspension and shocks/springs). The lower the mass of your wheels, tires, etc., the easier it is for the wheel and tire to move up and down over bumps and dips while remaining in contact with the road surface.
The second reason is rotational mass inertia. The heavier your wheel and tire the harder it is to get them to accelerate or decelerate. With a lighter wheel and tire your car will respond more quickly to acceleration. So weight equals performance, less is more.