A properly fitting racing seat not only protects you in the event of a crash, but it also
Chassis specialists often talk about how everything done with the chassis and suspension should be done to maximize the size and adhesion of the four contact patches of the tires pressed against the racetrack. And they are right. Those four small patches of rubber are the only things connecting your race car to the track.
It's practically the same thing with your racing seat. Along with the steering wheel and the pedals, the seat is one of the few ways you can feel what the race car is doing. A good driver races as much by feel as he does by sight, and if you can't feel what the car is doing you may be missing out on a very valuable competitive tool. After all, they don't call it "seat of the pants" driving for nothing.
Recently, we had the opportunity to stop by the Joe Gibbs Racing Nationwide Series race shop while driver Tommy Cloce was being fitted for a test session in one of the JGR NASCAR Camping World East race cars. Cloce is the 2009 Joe Gibbs Driven Racing Oil ASA Member Track National Champion (say that three times fast!), and one of the perks of winning the ASA championship is the opportunity to test with the Gibbs race team.
Unlike Tommy, most of us will never have the opportunity to drive a test session with a NASCAR Sprint Cup organization, but anyone who straps into a race car can benefit from a good working environment. Many people think of the racing seat only as a safety device-and that is definitely its primary purpose-but it is also important in two other aspects. The first, as we've already mentioned, is to give a physical sense of how the car is reacting. Is the rear end sliding around? Are the tires spinning on turn exit? That sort of thing. And the second is to hold you securely in place so you can concentrate on driving and not maintaining your body position through the turns.
Fortunately, all three things work hand-in-hand, and none are mutually exclusive of the other. In other words, a good, safe seat fits snugly enough to hold you in place even in high-g turns and can also transmit clues about how the car is behaving directly to you.
ASA national champion Tommy Cloce goes through a seat fitting for a test with Joe Gibbs Ra
Since Cloce was flying to Mooresville, NC, from his home in Potsdam, NY, for a one-day test, there was no time for a custom seat. Team crew chief Mike Sibley spoke with Cloce via phone and got some critical measurements like height, weight, chest and hip size and found the seat in the JGR inventory that most closely fit the bill. By the time Cloce arrived, the ButlerBuilt aluminum racing seat was already installed in the car, but that was far from the end of the story.
"We want to make sure Tommy is comfortable in the car so that he can drive to the best of his abilities, but our main priority is to make sure he is as safe as possible," Sibley says. "The first thing we'll do is try to locate the seat, pedals, and steering wheel to make him as comfortable as possible. The seat mounting tabs are slotted so that we can move the seat a few inches, but not much more. And we knew that Tommy is a tall guy, so we've already slid the pedals back as far as we can. He'll actually be the tallest driver who has ever been in this particular car, so it may require us to move a few things around to get it right for him."
When mounting your seat, Sibley recommends laying it back on a bit of an angle. This is not only safer but usually more comfortable for the driver rather than sitting straight up. Taller drivers may often need the seat reclined at more of an angle to lower the head. The head must be low enough that it can't come into contact with the halo bar during a wreck. Rollbar padding isn't enough to guarantee a driver won't get a head injury-the only way to do that is to make sure his head can't smack a bar during a bad wreck.
Besides driver comfort, reclining the seat can also increase the safety factor. In the event of a head-on hit, if the driver is sitting straight up, the only thing keeping him in the seat is his restraints. This can be very hard on the chest, hips, and crotch, and is certainly unpleasant. By reclining the seat a few degrees, in the same head-on hit, the driver slides down into the bottom of the seat-which is angled up slightly because of the recline-and some of the force of impact that previously all went into the restraint system now is absorbed by the legs and buttocks. Just don't make the mistake of trying to recline the seat too much. Ideally, the driver should be able to see and drive comfortably with his head resting against the seatback. If the driver must raise his or her head off the seat to see, the seat is reclined too much.
One of the biggest mistakes drivers often make when choosing a seat, according to ButlerBuilt's Gary Platenberger, is selecting a model that is too large for them. ButlerBuilt is one of the leading manufacturers of racing seats and has performed an extensive testing program on how to make racing seats as safe as possible.
"We design our seats with full containment around the ribs," he says. "And in order for that to work the way it should, that seat should be tight. If you are sitting in the seat and I can fit my hand down between the seat and your ribs, it's not tight enough. We've found a lot of drivers want to use the seatbelts to hold them in place, but belts should only be for a crash. The seat should hold you tight enough on its own so that you can concentrate on driving. We don't want you to have trouble breathing, but it should be pretty tight.
"We've had drivers that we've put into smaller seats come back and tell us that they couldn't believe how much better they were on the racetrack. They didn't realize how much effort and energy they were using just to hold themselves in a position to drive. With the tighter fit on the seat, it held them in position so they could put all their energy into driving. Yes, the seat is primarily to keep you safe, but it is also a performance feature."
Cloce was the tallest driver that has ever raced this particular car, so the head shoulder
When fitting a seat, don't forget to have everything in place to test how it all works tog
If you have an open cockpit area, you may want to consider a pair of leg protectors to kee
Another consideration when fitting a seat into your race car is how the belts are mounted. You should consider the seat and belts as a cocoon to restrict as much driver movement as possible during a wreck. To be able to do that, seatbelts must not only be tight, against the driver, but properly mounted in order to keep him or her stable in the event of an impact from practically any angle.
"That's one of our biggest points of emphasis," Platenburger says, "helping racers get their belts mounted properly. If the belts aren't right, no seat or head-and-neck restraint is going to be able to do its job. First, the belt mounting points must be close to the seat. If the lap belts, for example, are mounted way away from the sides of the seat there is no way for them to hold you back. The shoulder belts going through the back of the seat-their mounting point should be no higher than level with the top of the driver's shoulders and no more than 10 degrees below the driver's shoulder. If they are too far down the belts will compress you in an accident, and if they are too high up, they can't hold you down in the seat."
Finally, an important safety note about mounting the seat in the race car. The seat should always be mounted to a seat hoop connected to the rollcage and not the chassis of the car itself. That way, if you take a hit in the side hard enough to shift the 'cage, you will move with it instead of possibly being crushed. You should have four bolts connecting the bottom of the seat to the seat hoop and at least two (but four is better) bolts connecting the seat back to a rollcage bar. The best and easiest way to do this is to use a seat-back bracket that runs the width of the seat.
Always use grade eight fasteners and hardened fender washers to keep the bolt head from pulling through the aluminum. And spread the mounting points for the seat as far apart as possible. This reduces the chances of twisting forces deforming the seat with you in it.
Follow these simple steps and you're on your way to having your seat fit you like a fine custom tailored suit.
After The Big Hit
So what happens after you have taken a big hit? Is the seat still good? Generally, with aluminum racing seats, as long as it isn't deformed it should be good to continue racing. This means that if you are racing an off-the-shelf seat you should know some key measurements ahead of time.
Before racing a new seat, take a few moments to make and record some measurements for reference. Measure the distance of the opening across the seat at several points and save them. This way if you are in a wreck, you can quickly check to see if the seat has been twisted or deformed.
This, of course, raises the question of how much is too much? Minor damage is repairable, but big changes may mean the seat is no longer structurally sound. There is no easy answer to this question. If you notice your measurements have changed after a wreck, the best course of action is to call your seat manufacturer and discuss your options with the company.
Some issues is the seat or positioning may not be obvious right away, and once you get a s
This is a two-piece seat system designed to work well with a Hans-style head-and-neck rest
Keep the lap belt mounting points as close to the seat as possible. They should also be be