While there has been little in the way of visible disruption — a couple of canceled races that we are aware of — behind the scenes there has been turmoil among the key manufacturers of drag racing traction compounds. The issue centers around a brand of chemical used in the production of popular VP Racing Fuels and PJH Brands (formerly VHT and PJ1) compounds known as Lutanol, which is manufactured by BASF in Germany and has been unavailable since around the first of the year.
Lutonal is described as a “saponification-resistant polyvinylethyl ether, used as a plasticizing soft resin for cellulose nitrate coatings and in printing inks for packaging to improve adhesion to aluminum foil and cellophane.” In simple terms, it is an adhesion promoter.
“When you see the cobwebs come up on the tire after you spray the track, that’s it — that stringy adhesive,” explains VP’s Jason Rueckert. “When you walk across it and it rips your shoes off and you fall down, that’s Lutonal.”
Lutonal is used in varying percentages in compounds from VP and PJH. PJH has utilized the same formulation in its TrackBite product since 1986. VP’s popular Lane Choice 7 (LC7) uses a number of other adhesion-promoting chemicals in a blend it performs at its facilities in the United States. According to Rueckert and PJH Brands CEO Brandy Harvey, word of an interruption in delivery of Lutonal began in December.
At that time, VP and its chemist got to work adjusting the properties of its other adhesive chemicals to come up with alternative, should it need it. Harvey says she typically buys enough Lutonal to produce a year’s worth of TrackBite, and so that is why many key customers have had adequate stock to continue racing unabated, despite PJH not shipping any product in the last three or four months.
By January, the feared interruption became reality.
According to Kurt Johnson of Total Venue Concepts, a track can go through upwards of a drum a week, more if it’s 1/4-mile or has mid-week racing in addition to its weekend activities. Rueckert says some tracks use as many as 5-6 barrels a month, others one a month, all depending on how many days they are active. Harvey says the majority of her customers purchase TrackBite by the truckload, and so many have what they need for the season; others simply buy as needed. Rumors suggest some tracks have been or are down to as little as two or three barrels on-hand, illustrating the gravity of the situation for some.
“Coming from overseas, shipping has been a real problem. That’s been my main problem,” Harvey says. “You can’t get it on a ship…it gets bumped off. They’re trying to get other things to the United States besides our ingredients. I’m one of only three people in the world that use it. [The problem] starts with them [BASF] not getting the ingredients they need to make it. That started when we shut off Russia and when the war started. My team and I are working on some alternatives to get it here to the United States. We’re hoping to get five or six of our shipments over the next couple of months and hopefully be back to normal. It’s on its way, and we should be back up in the next two or three weeks.”
Working to get ahead of a potential supply chain problem, VP produced an experimental batch early in the year and sprayed it at two major heads-up racing events and a subsequent radial-tire test session. Shortly thereafter, the Lutonal deliveries ceased. At that point, VP ramped up production of its newly-developed product, Lane Choice HR (LCHR). LCHR has been shipping for about three weeks.
“The LCHR works well, but it just doesn’t have that rip-your-shoe-off stick when you walk across it,” Rueckert shares of VP’s new product. “Now, when you drag it, when you run cars across it, it just gets better and better. We used it at a slick-tire race last weekend and it worked great. As far as radial-tire racing goes, I’m not sure. It’s so hot out there right now that most tracks are in the 130 to 140 degree range, and that’s not a good test for the radial guys.” Rueckert has worked closely with his chemist to make additional tweaks in recent weeks to LCHR and has tested it to his satisfaction, displaying he and VP’s commitment to producing the best possible product regardless of the circumstances.
VP, like PJH, has outstanding orders submitted for Lutonal from its third-party supplier and still expects those will be fulfilled in time. If and when that happens, VP will likewise go back into production of LC7. If it receives what is on order, VP should be able to produce enough LC7 for the 2023 season. However, rumors have persisted that Lutonal may be discontinued altogether in early 2023, possibly a result of new safety and/or environmental regulations in Germany. If so, then new blends will have to be developed.
“We have found someone else to make it at this point,” Harvey says confidently. “That’s what I’ve been working on during all this downtime we’ve had, is to find someone else to make it. We can’t have all of our eggs in one basket. So at this point, it would be the same product. When it’s ready, we’ll test it and over-test it, in all weather and all conditions to be sure its the same product we had before.” Harvey confirmed that Lutonal is “very” dangerous to produce, and companies in the United States will not manufacture it.
The NHRA is the most prominent organization that uses PJH exclusively at its national events; its VP of Marketing and Communications, Jeffrey Young, confirms it has enough material on-hand to carry it through the remainder of the 2022 season.
With product largely unavailable throughout the first half of the year, demand soared for VP LCHR upon its release. VP has been working diligently to provide not only for its partner tracks, but those that are not. It has also kept a close eye on overabundant orders in hopes that it can supply as many tracks and venues as possible to keep the sport of drag racing going.
“We just finished a batch [of LCHR] today, and we’ll be shipping 100 drums out this week. And we have another batch planned next week and another 100 drums will go out,” Rueckert says. “We’re trying to help everybody. I’m getting a lot of calls from tracks and we’re doing our best to take care of all of them. The hard thing, especially if we can get back to production of LC7, is keeping anyone from hoarding it.”
Rueckert adds, “It’s a hard thing, though…when something is new and it’s different. Tracks are used to spraying a certain way and used to a certain feel with whatever product or brand they were using. You give them a new product, and it’s different and they aren’t happy with. But this is a product that’s allowing tracks to continue holding their streets nights and their bracket races and other events. And racers may have to tune their cars differently.
“We’re still looking and sampling other chemicals and bringing things in to replace the Lutonal if it comes to that and this continues. Every week my chemist is sending me things and I’m mixing it and going to the track and trying it. There’s been certain ingredients that we’ve used in our traction compounds that that particular brand has been discontinued, and we have had to find another one. I just see this as a stepping stone to the next thing. It was 2010 when the last formula of LC7 was made, and 12 years is a pretty good run. It’s kinda’ fun when something works. Our local bracket track tried one that I mixed up last weekend, and he said it worked great, no one’s times were moving more than a few thousandths.”
“It is difficult to make an alternative, and I really don’t want to change it, but there may come a time that it has to happen,” Harvey says. “We can’t predict that. But we’ve been working 24 hours a day for months to replace or find someone else to make what we need. We’re hoping everything comes together in the next couple of months for that, but in the meantime, we’re hoping to get all of our original products in and be back up and running.”
Drag radial racing promoter Donald Long confirmed to Dragzine that he has enough LC7 stored away to get through the remainder of the Radial Outlaws season and his fall No Mercy event. Long commented, though, that it “may not a bad thing…maybe it will help even up the classes a little bit,” suggesting that he perhaps may spread his stock further and not prep his tracks to the same degree as before. “Right now we’re just hanging onto what we have, unsure of when it’s going to be available again.”
In addition to the NHRA, the PDRA and the NMCA and NMRA all confirmed they have enough material to finish out their season.
“We’re trying to keep everybody as happy as we can,” Harvey says. “I know I’m not the only one…we’re all in this together at this point, and it’s going to be somewhat of a team effort to get us out of it. We’re all in the same boat.”
Renegade Race Fuels, which markets Ratman RatGrip Bite, did not respond to a request for comment on this story.