Passenger Tires: Passenger tires are designed with decent all-around characteristics. They can handle a bit of snow, rain and are quiet enough on the road. Also, these tires feature a tread design and a rubber compound that gives you the most longevity for your money. Passenger tires feature a tread pattern that is omnidirectional, meaning it doesn’t matter which direction the tires spin in. If it’ll roll, you can go.
Performance Tires: Performance tires are designed to have better handling and/or handle more speed. The better handling and speed characteristics come from the specialty tread pattern and a softer tread compound. Performance tires feature a tread pattern that is directional, meaning that the tires are designed specifically to roll in one direction. This allows the tire engineers to shape the tire and treads for maximum grip and maximum handling.
Also, the Tread Compound, or rubber mixture, on performance tires is softer than on passenger tires. This softer tread compound grabs the road better, giving you increased handling and better traction. The drawback is that this softer compound also wears down quicker. So you get better handling and traction, but less mileage from the tire.
Competition/Racing Tires: Competition Tires are dedicated track-only tires designed for optimum performance. Some are federally approved (read: legal for the street) but they don’t have much tread life and are no good in any kind of rain or snow. Save these shoes for autocross or road racing.
Light Truck: Light truck tires are those designed for most consumer (non-commercial duty) trucks on the road today. They are manufactured with more plys, or layers, than passenger car tires, typically 4-ply or 6-ply (depending on the Load Range, see below.) They are designed to handle more weight so your truck can actually be used as a truck.
This gives a measure of how much speed the tire can handle for a given testing period (usually 10 minutes) without becoming damaged.