Think of selecting and buying a racing seat the same way you would buying a suit or a sport coat. How a suit fits you is important for comfort. The same is true of a racing seat, and the element of safety it provides is especially critical.
After all, no sport coat has to undergo tests for crashworthiness or its ability to self extinguish.
“It’s like buying a jacket. You may not be able to go try one on at Macy’s, but with your measurements and our chart, it’ll show you what range of seats we have available that will fit you without too much issue,” said Brian Oleshak, national sales manager for Racetech USA.
Fit is so important that Racetech has added three new sizes to its 119 series of seats. The model now has the standard size and the 4119THR to accommodate a driver with a long torso, and the 4119WTHR sized for drivers around 6’4” and from 220 to 250 pounds. Racetech also offers the 4119WHR for, in Oleshak’s words, husky guys around 5-foot 8-inches to 5-foot 10 inches with beer bellies.
“So, now we’ve got four sizes that really cover the field on most American male drivers’ body styles,” he said. “We found a few gaps where we didn’t have coverage, so we created some new products to fill those gaps.”
Those new products in the 119 line also feature Racetech’s new back-mounting system. As any NASA racer familiar with the CCR knows, FIA-approved composite seats are not required to be back-mounted. However, Racetech has done some crash-sled testing and determined that back-mounting its composite seats enhances driver safety by limiting seat and driver movement in a crash. You can watch the slow-motion footage of the sled testing on YouTube at the following link:
“You’ve got to be able to keep the body vertical as much as possible, so you can keep the spine aligned and the shoulders properly squared up in a side impact so it puts less stress on the extremities,” Oleshak said.
The 119 series meets the FIA requirements, which include a 21 g crash test, and it has a five-year shelf life. Racetech also offers the 129 series, which is more durable and heavier due to added materials. The additional strength is necessary to pass the 70g crash test and earn an FIA approval for up to 10 years. Oleshak points out that Racetech’s 129 series is used predominantly in Australian V8 Supercar racing.
The 119 and 129 series of seats can be out of financial reach for amateur racers, which is why Racetech’s 4009 seat has been the company’s mainstay for the last several years. It has an FIA rating, needs no back mounting according to NASA CCR, and is good for five years, after which it needs to be replaced. Racetech now offers a threaded boss insert kit for use on the 4009, which will let you back-mount the seat if you don’t have the money to replace it.
“Let’s say for example, you have a 4009 or a 4009HR seat and it’s just over five years old and still in good shape, but the tech guys are telling you it’s expired and you’ve either got to replace it or put a back mount on it,” Oleshak said. “If you don’t have the funds right then to replace the seat, we make this little insert kit and there’s a PDF download that walks you through how to install it. What you’re going to do is put threaded inserts on the back of the seat just outside the Racetech logo on the shoulder level of the seat and then you can fabricate a steel back mount and tie it in with your harness bar, and get another season or two out of the seat. It’s kind of like a Band-Aid to get you by.”
The reason composite seats do not require back-mounting is that unlike aluminum seats, which must be back-mounted according to the CCR, composite seats absorb energy yet still retain their original shape.
“The biggest thing is there is no deflection in aluminum,” Oleshak said. “Aluminum will fold over on you. It doesn’t absorb energy like a composite seat will. It’s the same reason why every single helmet manufacturer makes composite helmets. Nobody manufactures aluminum helmets. They don’t work. They don’t deflect energy and they’re more susceptible to penetration from the other objects.”
The reason composite seats have expiration dates is because the resins used in laminating the seat and the fibers can lose structural integrity over a period of time.
“The composites and resins inside the seat shell do break down,” Oleshak said. “They don’t exactly become brittle, but they can be weakened. The seat’s not going to fall apart on its own, but in a severe, high impact G, it’s more susceptible to crack.”
Replacing composite seats on the appropriate time table is tantamount to driver safety, regardless of manufacturer.
Finding a seat that fits you can be difficult, especially if there are no stocking retailers near you. Half the time you’re scouring the Internet, looking at size charts and wondering what will work for you. Oleshak recommends talking to the manufacturer. Be sure you know your waist size, inseam, height and weight. He also recommends measuring your buttocks to shoulder height. Sitting erect on a hard surface, measure the distance from the chair to the top outside of your shoulder. That will tell the manufacturer whether you’ll need a tall seat or a standard seat.
Also, the time to think about a racing seat is right at the beginning of the build process. If there is nothing off the shelf that will fit you, Racetech can make custom applications.
“The biggest thing is, make sure you fit comfortably in the seat. That’s more important than how it fits in the chassis,” Oleshak said. “If it’s going to fit you and you fit properly and you feel comfortable, and you can see yourself driving in it, that’s the seat you need to go with. It’s always best to pick out a seat and give it to your cage builder before he starts working on the car. It’s a lot tougher to retrofit a seat after the chassis already has been done.”