By Lou Ann Shirk:
I was humbled to be selected as one of 21 female auto enthusiasts in the U.S. invited to attend the Women In Drive three-day tire school hosted by Michelin USA in Greenville, South Carolina. Johnny Valencia and his team pulled together an incredible event; they chose the most amazing participants, from exotic-car dealers, auto-shop owners, race-car drivers, and automotive influencers to professional bloggers.
We also had the presence of two professional stunt-car drivers. One of them was a stunt double for Charlize Theron in the movie The Italian Job; she drove one of the Minis in the car chase down the steps. She was so much fun to watch drifting a car around the wet skid pad at the Michelin Proving Grounds! I don’t think the Michelin in-car coaches were quite prepared for that.
We visited the Michelin Sales Training Center, where we attended an abbreviated session of their tire school. It was very informative, and I will never look at a tire the same way again. Then we had the rare opportunity to have a behind-the-scenes tour of the manufacturing facility given by “Tater,” a 42-year-employee of Michelin.
Many people think a tire is created by pouring some type of rubber into a mold. We discovered that each piece of the tire is gradually blended together during several processes throughout the building, and then heated—or, as they say, “cooked.” Some Michelin tires actually have 200 different ingredients. At the end of assembly, each Michelin tire is checked individually by hand to guarantee that it is perfect before it leaves the factory.
After our tour, we jumped into the Michelin vans and headed to the indoor Le Mans Karting track for a 1-1/2-hour endurance race. Because we were at different skill levels, we were placed into three person teams, two ladies and a local “ringer” selected by Valencia. It was a ton of fun! Each team set up their strategies for driver changes and developed hand signals to come into the pits. The next day there was a comparison of bruises—or, as I like to call them, “victory marks.”
The next day we were chauffeured in the Michelin vans an hour away to the Laurens Proving Grounds to test our classroom knowledge of the Michelin tires. We proved that if you are going to replace only two tires, they must be the rear tires, even on a front-wheel-drive car. For those unbelievers out there, it is true. Of course, it is always better to replace all four tires, but we know that there are two-fers out there. We also drove two identical cars on an autocross course to compare Michelin tires to a comparable competitor’s tire. Without being told which tire was on each car, I could feel the difference in performance; the Michelin tire had much more grip and handled better.
We did a hard-braking test on wet pavement to compare Michelin tires against yet another competitor’s tire. The Michelin always stopped several feet shorter than the other tire. The last test was on a wet skid pad in a minivan with Michelin tires versus a BMW 3 Series with the cheapest tires available. It was to prove that you can purchase the best car brand on the market, but if you cheap out on your tires, you will be out-handled by a mini-van. It was very enlightening; as they say, “You get what you pay for.”
We had a wonderful farewell dinner at Halls Chophouse in downtown Greenville. I cannot thank the Michelin team enough for arranging this wonderful event. This was a great experience where I not only learned more about the Michelin brand and how a tire is actually created, but it was a great to spend time with amazing and talented ladies who share similar interests. It was fun being “Bimmer Mom”; they even set me up on Instagram and laughed hysterically when I would say “hashtag” everything. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Michelin Influencer Program.—Lou Ann Shirk