'Most places that rotate tires are doing it incorrectly,' Alexander said in an interview. 'They're moving rear tires to the front and front ones to the back. That can create serious handling problems. It has the potential to cause a serious accident.'
Alexander, who designed tire treads for many of the top teams in NASCAR and Indy-car racing for several decades, was inducted into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame in 2002, along with such motor sports luminaries as Parnelli Jones, Ron Hornaday Sr., Hershel McGriff, Troy Ruttman and J.C. Agajanian.
Alexander operates a fleet of 10 late-model cars and trucks that he uses for his testing. His test driver is Leo Tierra, whom Alexander described as 'one of the finest drivers I've ever worked with.'
That says a lot about Tierra. Alexander has provided tires to many of the top drivers and teams in NASCAR, Indy car and drag racing. He said, however, that highway safety is now one of his main interests, and explained why his research shows the dangers of rotating tires from front to back and vice versa.
'Front tires and rear tires wear differently,' he said. 'The tread on front tires wear round because they're the ones that turn. Rear tires wear flat because they don't turn. If you rotate them from rear to front you alter the handling of the car.
'This can cause serious handling problems in some situations and the average driver can lose control. If, for example, they have to make a sudden maneuver to avoid an object in the road or avoid another vehicle, they can lose control of an ill-handling vehicle.'
Alexander said it doesn't matter whether a car has rear- or front-wheel drive; the results will be the same. He said his research indicates that the proper way to rotate tires is to switch the front tires to opposite sides of the car. But he emphasized that the tires should be removed from the wheels and turned so that they always rotate in the same direction.
'The cords don't like changing direction,' he said. 'So you can't just switch them from one side to the other and have them rotating opposite from what they were before.'
The same is true for rear tires, he added.
Alexander achieved success in auto racing by designing retread tires that usually out-performed new tires on most of the major speedways around the country, including Daytona and Indianapolis, the two main venues in auto racing. He said the tread designs used today are almost identical to the ones he designed more than 50 years ago. Alexander owned and operated Bruce's Tire Shop, which had six locations in the Bay Area. The shops continue to operate on land he owns.
His tires also received major endorsement from law enforcement. For 14 years, his tires were used exclusively by the California Highway Patrol Academy in Sacramento for its intensive course in pursuit driving.
'Every tire company in the world wanted that account,' Alexander said. He said the course is a macadam (broken stone) concrete surface designed to give vehicles, tires and drivers a supreme test.
At one time, Alexander operated a testing facility at the CHP academy. The center employed some 500 people.
A multi-millionaire who was also among the first developers in Discovery Bay, Alexander, 88, is candid about how he became a successful entrepreneur. 'I always knew how to pick good people to work for me,' he said. 'Then I let them do their job the way they wanted.'
Alexander said his dominance in the re-tread business came to an end with the arrival of the radial tire. 'That changed everything in the tire industry,' he said, 'because you can't re-tread a radial tire the way you can a belted bias-ply tire.'
Alexander said that although speed and inattention are major causes of auto accidents, tires are the key safety factors when it comes to equipment.
'Correct air pressure is very important in both safety and tire wear,' he said. 'You should check the air pressure regularly.'
He pointed out, however, that the best way to ensure having the correct pressure is to purchase your own gauge.
'I've checked gauges at many places and found a variance of as much as 10 pounds,' Alexander said. 'Gauges at service stations take a tremendous beating. They get dropped and endure a lot of abuse.'
He also recommends having your own air compressor. 'That way you can maintain your tires at home and you'll be using cleaner air because most good air compressors have a filter in them,' he explained.
Alexander pointed out that, although only a small percentage of accidents are the result of tire failure, the injury and fatality rate for accidents caused by tire failure is astonishingly high.
Other tips he suggests for maintaining tires:
• Always follow the manufacturer's recommended air pressure.
• Make sure your spare tire contains proper pressure.
• Check valve core and caps for tightness.
• Check valve stems for cracking.
• Check the sidewalls on both sides for signs for cracking or bulging.
• Check both sides of wheels for bent flanges, which can cause tire damage.