First, there was Nitto's NT555R Extreme Drag radial, a ground-breaking DOT-approved tire for street and strip. It set new standards for street traction that many other companies have tried to duplicate. Then Nitto introduced the take-no-prisoners NT1320 drag slick, a full-on competition tire that aimed to set new traction and stability parameters for professional drag classes. Now on the heels of the NT05 Ultra High Performance summer tire, Nitto is releasing a companion drag radial with an aggressive compound. Not only does it offer more grip than the 555R Extreme Drag, but it is also a cosmetic match for the NT05, allowing enthusiasts to "dress" their vehicles correctly with similar appearing high-performance rubber front and rear.

We recently got a pair of the NT05Rs and mounted them on our '68 Chevelle project car. Our 275/40R17 test tires arrived right off the jetliner from Japan, and were among the first production examples of the new breed. We immediately checked the treadwear rating and discovered it was "00," compared with the 555R Extreme Drag's "100" rating. Although the expected tread life is less on the NT05R than the 555R, the trade-off is greater grip at the track and that's what we were after with our 600-plus horsepower big-block Chevelle.

The tread design is cutting-edge modern, and mimics that of the NT05 Ultra High Performance summer tire-the only difference in appearance is that the tread blocks on the NT05R are larger, and have less void between them. Both the NT05 and NT05R feature a meaty patch of uninterrupted rubber in the center for outstanding grip. The primary means of fluid draining in wet weather are two grooves on either side of the center tread. These grooves are flanked by substantial tread blocks at either shoulder, larger ones on the NT05R. According to Nitto, the rubber compound on the NT05R is significantly softer than the NT05 (which has a treadwear rating of "200" versus the NT05R at "00"). Also, the sidewall construction of the NT05R has been optimized for drag racing, and features additional compliance for launches, and a different internal construction in the cap for high-speed stability down the big end of the track.

Nitto plans to offer the NT05R in seven sizes, starting in January 2010. These will range between 17- and 20-inch in rim size (see chart elsewhere in this story), making the NT05R the first drag radial ever offered in a 19-inch size. For early muscle cars, the current assortment of 17- and 18-inch NT05Rs should cover a wide array of cars, including '64-72 GM A-bodies like our Chevelle.

We took our fresh pair of NT05Rs over to Big O Tires (a local Nitto dealer) in Moreno Valley, California, and had them mounted and balanced on our 17x9 Vintage Wheel Works V40 rims. It's worth noting here that we had been running Nitto's race compound NT01 at all four corners of the Chevelle, and with the NT05R in back and the NT01 in front, we were surprised at how well they match cosmetically. In terms of grip, the NT01 is closer to the aggressive compound of the NT05R than the standard NT05, so our handling will be minimally affected at the limit.