What you are describing sounds like normal mapping. Taking the detailed hires geometry (modeled tread) and creating a normal map. Then baking the normal map to the lowres geometry.
A normal map is a 256 (8-bit) color map that represent the (x,y,z) coordinates at each point on the surface. Like bump map it does not change the geometry and is simply a trick of light and shadow and is intended to allow you to take the details from a hipoly sculpt and transfer them to a lowpoly model for better animation performance.
"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Sir Isaac Newton, 1675