This seat is fully lined with...
This seat is fully lined with visco-elastic polymer padding. The polymer helps draw impact energies and heat away from the driver.
This hip pad section of the...
This hip pad section of the seat padding shows how the basic visco-elastic polymer looks. It resembles a regular foam pad, but is heavier and more dense.
The seat in Todd Bodines...
The seat in Todd Bodines NASCAR Winston Cup car is fully padded, including the head supports to the upper right.
One of the most overlooked and least appreciated aspects of modern seat technology these days is the padding that surrounds the cold aluminum castings. Renowned seat builder Brian Butler, founder and president of Butler Built Motorsports Equipment, has long worked to improve driver safety with his innovative seat designs and accessories. To that end, a product Butler started working with in 1996 has now been reintroduced with great praise from the racing industry.
Visco-elastic polymer padding, which resembles a gel that keeps its shape, is now used to line the drivers seat in order to increase comfort and reduce the impact during a crash. With numerous back and neck injuries in the professional ranks of motorsports these days, there is no doubt new options to increase safety are certainly needed.
In the simplest terms, visco-elastic polymer is a very soft, synthetic rubber that is flexible but retains a memory of its original shape. The physical properties of the polymer allow it to spread out the force of an impact. For example, impacts on the body of a driver are concentrated on a relatively small area. That same impact, however, on the polymer padding would be spread over an area 1.5 to four times the size of the original force.
The visco-elastic material is self-extinguishing and can withstand temperatures reached in a racing car. The padding contains no latex or silicon and will not crystallize, leak, leach or spill out even if punctured. The padding material is a solid and comes pre-cut in sealed component form, but if a racer has an odd-shaped seat or wants to cut down the pieces, they are easily cut with scissors. The visco-elastic polymer has a natural ability to evenly distribute heat throughout the material. Any heat build up in one section of the pad will be distributed away from that section.
Brian Butler feels the material provides its greatest benefit to a driver with a previous injury. The drivers who are recovering from back, shoulder and rib injuries really notice how much more comfortable and well-protected they are in the seat, Butler comments. I feel this is the best material Ive ever seen to isolate any driver from the shocks they receive during a race.
Polymer padding was introduced in 1996 and first used by driver Todd Bodine. After trying the padding, he got his brothers to use it and other drivers soon followed.
I was skeptical at first, but after using this polymer padding, I stayed cool and a lot more comfortable, Todd Bodine says. I wasnt tired at the end of the race. That was the first Monday, ever, that I woke up without a backache.
NASCAR Winston Cup driver Robert Pressley has been using the polymer in his seats for more than three years. Its just a good little piece, Pressley says. Its a lot better; it springs back, as compared to the foams that give up during the race. The polymer just stays with you through the whole race. I think it helps you through any type of accident. Where I noticed it helps the most is at Dover and Bristol on those bumpy concrete racetracks, where any kind of pad would go flat. This (polymer) will stay with you through the whole race.
Ed Kennedy drives in the ARCA RE/MAX Series for stock cars and on the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Series. When you are sitting in the seat it just molds you right in there, Kennedy says. It is very, very comfortable, and it actually helps you reduce a little bit of fatigue as you are racing. The next day you dont feel sore. I run it in both my ARCA and Modified cars, and if you know anything about the Modifieds, we use a lot of bumpers. You are always getting a bump here, a bump there, and then the next morning you are a bit sore. Not any more. That helps a lot.
I had a real bad crash at Talladega in the ARCA car, Kennedy continues. I broke my shoulder, and it was the first time I came out of a crash where the only thing that hurt was what was broken, and everything else was pretty good. Normally, every bone in your body is hurting. I didnt really feel that bad. I would never get in a race car without it. I actually practiced somebody elses car last night and made sure I had some padding with me. I put it in the seat before I took the car out. I will have it for every race car that I ever drive again.
Harness Pads Too
Other companies in the motorsports industry have used the V/E material for more safety-related products. Heintz Performance, Hutcherson-Pagan Enterprises and BSR Products sell, in addition to the seat padding, shoulder harness pads. The V/E harness pads further protect the drivers shoulders and chest. During a violent crash the shoulder belts can produce large bruises or rib and collarbone injuries. The harness pads with V/E polymer padding help to spread out the impact and reduce the force transferred to the drivers body. Mark Martin, Mike Skinner, Tim Fedewa, Andy Santerre and Jeff Fuller all have used the V/E polymer harness pads for years.
With the success that the V/E polymer padding products have had in the last five years, many companies have tried to copy the product. Other pads or mats have made their way to the market made from gel-like, liquid or foam material.
The property these products lack is load-carrying ability. This is important because with gels and foams, as load is applied to one area or another, the padding will continue to compress as more weight is applied. At a specific point, the foams or gels will compress far enough so there will be no more cushioning effect. Any shock, bounce or hit will be felt directly through the foam or gel material. On the other hand, the visco-elastic material distributes load away from the point of pressure. The V/E material will not fully compress or lose its shape.
While the material itself seems space age, its price remains firmly attached to the ground. A full seat package costs around $300, while individual pieces of the material can be had for $40 to $60. The harness pads retail for $45 to $65 per set. Such numbers make the visco-elastic polymer affordable for any level of racing, and most Saturday-night racers do have to get up and go to work on Monday morning.