Without air in our lungs, we are dead. We all need air to survive. Racing tires are essentially the same. If your tires don’t have the correct pressures, that can cause big problems. The correct air pressure can provide optimal tire interface with the track, providing you a big advantage over the competition. The wrong pressures can cause your car to feel slippery — too much air pressure — or, in a much worse scenario — not enough air pressure — your tire can de-bead and you can dig in a rim and find yourself upside down. We call this shiny side down. Nobody is looking for that. We all want to see shiny side up.

Tire pressure is something every racer checks, adjusts, plays with, and endlessly discusses with peers. “What pressures are you running?” Taking air out of a tire to adjust pressure is easy, however adding air to a tire requires some an air supply. Do you have a supply?

Since we agree that tire pressure is important, we need to talk about your ability to have an air supply at the track so you can adjust pressures. Not all tracks have a tire shop available or an air compressor that anyone can use. There are a few options available and none of them is extremely costly. I have even seen people use a bicycle pump to add air to their tires. Watching someone laboriously work their body up and down on a bicycle pump while trying to add 5 psi to a tire makes me realize there has got to be an easier way — and trust me, there is. But if you like doing things like running marathons and eating kale, then be my guest with the bike pump. Me, I’m going to use technology. Give me convenience or give me death. It’s the American way.

When I first started racing, I had an air tank similar to this one, which only provided a finite amount of air. Once the air pressure in the tank equalized with the air in the tire, it was game over. No more air supply. If you’re not paying attention, you can take air out of a tire and actually put it into the tank. It is all about which object has the most pressure, because the one with the least takes it from the other.

Back in the day, I used to bring a portable air tank to the races with me. I would use my air compressor at home, fill up the tank to about 130 psi and then take it to the track hoping I wouldn’t need more than “a little bit” of air. The problem with these tanks is they inherently leak a bit, so you lose pressure and ultimately the volume just isn’t enough to get through a full race weekend. I’ve emptied enough of these tanks at the most inopportune time at races over the years that I have had to move to other methods for air at the track.

After running out of air at the track multiple times while using a small tank, I later upgraded to a compressed gas tank. I purchased a cage from Capital City Motorsports to protect the regulator to make the tank legal in all race track paddocks and also DOT legal while transporting in a trailer. I use pure nitrogen gas because it doesn’t have any water in it.

I later made the investment in a compressed air tank and a regulator. This provided 2,400 pounds of pressure and massive volume. I could completely fill over eight tires with one tank. This solved all of my air supply problems but added some complexity to my life. The tank is bulky and heavy. It doesn’t travel well and it often gets the attention of pit marshals with a lot of questions. With a safety cage from Capital City Motorsports around the regulator, I’ve never been kicked out of a race track with the tank, but I have had to show the rule book to a few concerned folks who were looking out for everyone’s safety. To this day, I keep this bottle in my race trailer for any air supply needs. I have even run air tools off it when needed.

The technology in batteries has really changed the game for portable air supply. If you are a DeWalt fan and use their tools, you are in luck. This portable air supply uses their DeWalt interchangeable batteries to power the pump. The battery for your drill will run this pump in a pinch.

Even though I am a big fan of my nitrogen tank, I have to admit some of the new small portable air compressors that have hit the market had me pretty intrigued. They are small, portable, battery-powered and easy to use. Many of these pumps have digital readouts where you can set the pressure, turn on the pump and go do other things on the car while pump gets your tire to your desired pressure. The DeWalt pump also has an accessory to pump up air mattresses. The one disadvantage to the DeWalt is that it does not come with a 12-volt wire to run the pump off a cigarette lighter. If your lithium ion batteries are dead, then you will not get more air.

One of the nice features of the DeWalt is you can set it and walk away. The air chuck threads onto the valve stem — you don’t have to hold it — and the pump will stop pumping once it reaches a digitally preset psi.

The DeWalt pump was easy to use and it did a lot of double duty between the race shop, the team’s trailer and at home. Bicycle tires, river tubes, air mattresses, you name it, and the DeWalt was getting used by the whole family. But for the track it was a little bit bulkier than I would prefer and it lacked hardwire power. Just like my old air tank, the DeWalt had finite abilities, once the battery died it was a useless to me.

I found this Avid Power portable air compressor on Amazon. I picked it up specifically for One Lap of America where space was extremely limited for tools during the weeklong cross-country race.

Doing some late night bench racing and tool window shopping on Amazon, I stumbled upon a small battery-powered air compressor that came with a lithium ion battery and a 12-volt hardwire supply. The crazy part about the little air compressor was that it was only $50.99. For fifty bucks I bought it out of curiosity and when it arrived I realized it was the portable air tool I had been looking for all along.

The Avid Power air compressor comes with both a lithium ion battery and a 12-volt cord for running off a car’s cigarette lighter. Options are a good thing.

The Avid Power air compressor was extremely easy to use. Set the desired pressure, hook up the air chuck and squeeze the trigger. The air compressor stands next to the tire and slowly pumps to the desired pressure. If and when the battery dies from working hard all day, I simply swap out the battery and connect the 12-volt wire to a cigarette lighter. The wire is cleverly long enough to reach every tire on the car.

Using these quick-to-access buttons you can set the desired pressure on the Avid Power pump, then click the trigger to start the air flow.

This tool turned out to be a life saver during the One Lap of America event. We had limited space inside our car for tools, Doritos and clean underwear. We certainly didn’t have room for a compressed air tank. But because we went to multiple racetracks and had long transitions between events — sometimes up to nine hours — we repeatedly needed to adjust our tire pressures from freeway driving to hardcore time-attack track driving. The little Avid Power pump worked all week long and never failed us, pumping up our Yokohama ADVAN tires and helping us earn the Economy Car class victory.

At this year’s One Lap of America, sanctioned by NASA, we used our Avid Power air pump on a daily basis to keep our tires at just the right pressure. Here you can see Stephen Young trying to stay warm and pumping up tires on an early morning in Indiana before the final skid pad event at Tire Rack’s headquarters.

Small portable air tanks or a truck bed filled with a generator and an old school air compressor, or just a bicycle pump, these were your choices 20 years ago. Now, a small battery-powered air compressor can get air in your tire at the track. Choose your own adventure, but at least have one of these options before heading to your next track day. Because having the ability to fine tune your tire pressures can make the difference between first and last.

Image courtesy of Rob Krider


  1. It’s actually $60 on Amazon right now and for the money it’s great. But the VIAIR 300P Portable Compressor – 30033 is even better. It is $171 though.

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