Brake pads are not a one-size-fits-all part. In asphalt racing, it’s not uncommon for brakes to cross the 1,000-degree threshold. But your average dirt car may only see around 500 degrees. Such extreme heat cycles on a constant basis makes it exceedingly important to use the right pad compound. With this much heat, it is also important to regularly check brake fluid. When the brakes reach upwards of 1,000 degrees, any moisture in the system (brake fluid will absorb any moisture it comes in contact with) will boil and turn to steam. This will degrade performance, as it will compress and less pressure will reach the calipers.

Pad Construction

Pad construction has come a long way, and there are three basic types of brake pads—organic, Ferro-carbon, and sintered metallic pads. Organic pads were formally manufactured using asbestos as the friction material, due to its ability to dissipate heat efficiently. When the dangers of asbestos dust became apparent, companies switched to different friction materials such as glass and rubber, resins that are able to withstand high heat, and Kevlar. These types of brake pads are still used in commercial truck applications where large amounts of weight are consistently on the brakes.

Ferro-carbon pads, like most race pads, are constructed with a mixture of different metals and resins. The Ferro-carbon pads come in many different compounds for different applications from street to full-race designs. The different compounds offer drivers different heat ranges and initial bite levels, which allow you to fine-tune corner entry based on the driver’s brake inputs.

Sintered metallic pads are used when grip is extremely important. Sintered metallic pads are used on airplanes, motorcycles, and in military applications. Although these pads offer a very high level of grip, they do wear much faster than organic or Ferro-carbon pads.

You make a series of aggressive stops with new rotors and pads to bring them up to temperature for the first time

Stopping Power

Something to keep in mind when talking about brake pads and braking capabilities is tires. In actuality, the brakes don’t slow the car, the tires do. The braking system slows the rotation of the wheels, and the tires’ traction on the ground reduces the momentum of the vehicle. The limit of traction can be greater or less than the braking system’s abilities, and sometimes what may be a traction issue can be misdiagnosed as a braking issue.

Bedding Your Pads

You may be wondering what bedding in the pads means and why it’s important. The concept is pretty simple. You make a series of aggressive stops with new rotors and pads to bring them up to temperature for the first time. In the process, you are transferring a thin layer of pad material to the surface of the rotor. This allows the pads and rotors to last longer, but it also improves braking abilities as the pads get a better grip on a rotor when it has this layer of material on it.

At the height of its involvement in NASCAR, Wilwood began offering pre-bedded pad and rotor combination to race teams. This freed up practice time because teams didn’t have to waste a session just for bedding brakes. Wilwood still offers this for select rotor and pad combinations.

When it comes to bedding brakes, the process is similar, but most manufacturers have different requirements. Check with your specific brake pad manufacturer for specific bedding instruction.

Coming to a Stop

The perfect braking system comes down to having the correct parts. The combination of the right calipers with the correct piston sizes, the right rotors made from the right material, the right pads, and the right fluid pushed through a properly sized master cylinder needs to be inline for everything to work as intended. If any one of these pieces is off by too much, your braking capabilities will be compromised. Whatever you run for brakes, wide-5 to stock binders, to Wilwood’s six-piston race brakes, having the right combination will make or break your ability to stop.

Wilwood Engineering
4700 Calle Bolero
CA  93012
Hawk Performance
6180 Cochran Rd.
OH  44139