Going fast is important. I mean what would racing be without speed? But on the other side of the coin, going fast will end in dramatic fashion if you aren’t able to safely set your car for each corner and control deceleration. We all know this controlled decel comes from the braking system’s ability to slow the wheels down, but there is much more to the equation.

At its most basic operational level, the brakes are a hydraulic clamping system. In this system, fluid is pushed from the master cylinder using the brake pedal to the calipers, where pistons use this hydraulic pressure to squeeze the rotors with a set of brake pads. Sounds simple enough. And for the average enthusiast or racer, the rest of the details and engineering jargon aren’t always needed information. Brake manufacturers have done an amazing job of putting kits together, or having knowledgeable staffers to recommend parts for any given application, and all we need to do is assemble everything on our race cars.

Going fast will end in dramatic fashion if you aren’t able to safely set your car for each corner and control deceleration

When it comes down to it, all of the pieces of the braking system need to be matched to what the intended use is. In many cases, a call to a company like Wilwood Engineering will net you all of the information you’ll need to assemble a brake system perfectly suited to your race car. In the grand scheme of race car parts, you most likely won’t have an excessive amount of options when it comes to the hard parts of the braking system. But brakes pads, on the other hand, give you many choices, which may vary depending on needs and driver preference.

Friction and Heat

The friction material used in brake pads is science—plain and simple. Different combinations and amounts of materials give you different levels of friction, which is an easy way to fine-tune a braking system. Friction creates heat. And although heat is normally not a good thing, in braking systems, it makes it all work—as long as it’s controlled. With any brake pad, there is an ideal operating temperature. Use it with too little heat and the pad will not work as well as it should, causing premature wear. Too much heat, and the metals and resins in the pad will melt and crystalize, causing a glazed condition, which reduces braking abilities. The compounds used in the friction materials dictate the characteristics, as well as the operating limits of different pads.

There can be as many as 60 different components that make up a brake pad compound. Many of these ingredients are activated when heated. The blends of these ingredients make up each compound’s characteristics. Initial bite or torque, and temperature range are some of the more common characteristics that drivers consider when picking a pad compound. Companies like Hawk Performance and Wilwood Engineering make a wide array of pads with different compounds for different racing situations.

In many situations, pad selection comes down to driver preference. With such a vast selection of pads, the choice can come down to which one suits a driver’s style, as much as the application. For instance, Hawk Performance’s highest level racing pad, the DTC-70, operates in a heat range of 400 degrees F to 1,600 degrees F, with a very high level of initial bite. If the heat range is what you need, but they brakes are too grabby, the DTC-60 offers the same heat range with less initial grab. Running a split between the front and rear is another great way to fine-tune your car’s braking ability and keep the car balanced on decel.