By on December 28, 2016


If dying is easier than comedy, then surely driving a race car is easier than building one. Which is why I’m thrilled to have outsourced the management of my Neon and Danger Girl’s MX-5 Cup car; I might be able to win a race now and again, but my attempts to handle the vehicles myself amounted to one long and unmitigated disaster. Since 2014, the Plymouth has been in the capable hands of Jon Shevel at Albany Autoworks. He’s directly responsible for said Neon’s transition from a car that hadn’t started since 2009 and couldn’t pass tech to a podium finish in both SCCA and NASA for 2016.

DG’s MX-5 is now with The Boost Brothers. Check them out, watch their YouTube videos, learn all sorts of stuff about fixing crash repair, welding cracked tubes, swapping out hubs, that sort of thing. Bozi and Bojan have been pulling quite a few overnight shifts getting the car ready for the 2017 American Endurance Racing season. Even better, they’ve made pretty much all of the decisions as to what goes on the car and how everything goes together.

The only major choice that has been left in my hands should be simple enough: we need an FIA-legal race seat to replace the battered UltraShield that came with the car. But when it comes to racing seats, as with so many other things in this world, nothing’s quite as simple as it should be.

There are pretty much three different kinds of seats that you can use in a race car. The first — and cheapest — kind is a bent-aluminum Saturday night special. Kirkey and UltraShield are the most popular purveyor of these seats, which can sell for as little as $129 new but often run in the $500-800 range for a model with a little bit of reinforcement to it. Here’s a basic Kirkey:


The good things about a bent-aluminum seat: you can sit in it, and it’s cheap. The bad things: you wouldn’t want to crash in one, it’s rather painful after even a short stint in the car, and it’s no longer legal for several racing series. As delivered to us last year, the MX-5 had a padded UltraShield seat that was both painful to use and remarkably fragile-looking. It’s not legal under AER’s 2017 rules, but trust me, I was going to pitch it anyway.

The second — and most common — sort of seat is a fiberglass or carbon-fiber molded seat, like the Sparco Ergo shown below.


These seats offer some actual protection in a crash. Note the head protection bars; those are very nice to have and they are on the way to being required in most sanctions. Having been in a reasonably serious crash at Laguna Seca two years ago where I did not have head restraint bars, I can assure you that I’m not interested in racing without them. They are also slightly more comfortable than the aluminum seats. Cost is between $800 and $10,000; the Ergo pictured is $999.

Last but certainly not least, we have the welded/molded/reinforced NASCAR seats. The best among them are made by Randy LaJoie:


Note that the seat basically has its own rollcage to prevent intrusion. These seats can cost between two grand and ten grand.

Because I’m a fundamentally paranoid person who expects to rub fenders and possibly barriers in every race, I bought a LaJoie seat for my Neon nine years ago and have been using it very happily ever since. It’s the most expensive part in the car. It’s also the approximate size of a Cape buffalo — in order to make it fit in the Neon, I had to have the steering wheel and shifter relocated. Compared to an MX-5 Cup car, a Neon might as well be a Fleetwood Talisman when it comes to interior space.

There’s no way I’m getting a LaJoie into the Mazda. There’s also no way I’d spend a whole season racing in a crappy bent-aluminum seat. Which means we’ll have to go with a fiberglass FIA seat. Here’s the problem. In a street car, you sit on the seat. But a race car requires that you sit in the seat. So the seat has to be wider than your widest driver. The widest drivers in my eight-person team are me and Matt Farah. Both of us have 38-inch waists that we are working hard to drop to 36-inch waists. But even at 36 inches, we’d be far too large for the vast majority of European fiberglass seats, most of which are designed around a 30-inch waist (for “medium”) or a 34-inch waist at maximum (for a “large”).

There are a few seats that will accommodate me and Mr. Farah while still being comfortable (after a quick pitlane padding) for Danger Girl, brother Bark, Sam, and the other drivers. But they don’t actually fit in the car. Which leads to the question: “How did you race it last year, dummy?” The answer’s simple: the folded-aluminum seat was only half an inch wider, in total, than Matt and I were. The fiberglass seats, by the nature of their construction, are an inch and a half wider on each side. So we need to find an extra two inches. In a Miata, that’s serious business.

The Boost Brothers think they have the answer. It requires a lot of cutting and welding. But when they are done, we should have a Sparco Ergo L nestled snugly between the door and the shifter. Getting in and out will be very exciting, but I’m told that being in a burning car has a way of speeding up your normal exit from a vehicle by a factor of two or even three. If not… well, maybe that’s why dying is easier than comedy, right?

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21 Comments on “Trackday Diaries: The Agony Of The Seat...”

  • avatar
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    There must be something available in the Graco catalog…

    • 0 avatar
      Frank Galvin

      Jesus – I just laughed so hard, I spit my coffee out. Any first time parent has several well worn Graco catalogs. Well creased from trying to find the right place between protection, cost, and style (which was a big deal to Ms. Galvin – protection and style, cost no object!)

      Good luck Jack!

      • 0 avatar

        Good call with the Graco catalog. After 16 years the last booster seat is finally gone. Good riddance. All this time my mom loves to tell me how “you kids just rode on my lap or in a pumpkin seat set on the back seat”

  • avatar

    Fat pilots carry less freight…

  • avatar

    Still driving the Neon in NASA? I thought there was some sort of shady horsepower limit you were dealing with. Or was this before that issue arose?
    Converting those universally accepted (exception:US) dimensions into archaic ones, I think I’m gonna need XXXL and put it in the middle like a McLaren F1.

  • avatar
    Frank Galvin

    Jack – if you need to lose 2 inches or more off the waist asap, try Atkins and stay on the induction phase for more than 2 weeks. I apologize in advance for telling you to lay off the Kettle One, but its only for a short time.

    • 0 avatar

      I lost 40lbs from a ketogenic diet (like atkins) and didn’t even lay off the booze. Might not have been the healthiest thing but I’m thinner.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m cutting highly processed food out as much as possible and limiting carbs that aren’t fresh fruits, vegetables, or brown rice/quinoa. Lost 12 lbs but sure haven’t cut out booze either.

        A night cap is important to my mental health. :-)

        Honestly though I think that the success of any diet has so much to do with an individual’s genetic makeup. Which is why various diets do huge things for one person and nothing for another.

      • 0 avatar

        If this is spam you forgot to include the link to your site.

  • avatar

    ***OFF TOPIC***

    Being a tiny human being, I have found nearly all stock commercial passenger vehicle seats to feel as if I am swimming and wallowing around. (1.67m, 58.9kg / 66″, 130lb) The only recent car that has fit me decently is the Hyundai Velocitor.

    Recommendations for smaller guy seat problems? I hear JDM seats are for smaller frame people – truth? (Friend switched his WRX’s US seat to a JDM seat for same reason – cannot confirm any changes or not)

    Are there any cars that you would suggest either? Selling my ’95 Volvo 945 soon.

    • 0 avatar

      Honestly, I really don’t think you count as “tiny” at 59 kg/130 lbs. A European-style sport seat should fit you nicely (Golf GTI, Focus/Fiesta ST, Audi S etc). Mine is pretty snug and I’m 72 kg/160 lbs.

      Now, I know a number of female drivers in the 40-50 kg/90-110 lbs range, and at that point you really do choose whether to sit on the left side or the right side of the seat.

      • 0 avatar

        The Recaros is the Focus RS seemed perfect for me (at 150lbs) and believe you can get similar seats in the Fiesta. Its hard to compare anything to Volvo’s seats because they are just so good. The wife is looking at a 2014 Infiniti and pleasantly surprised at how well they fit her. Audi also ranked well in this regard.

    • 0 avatar
      Click REPLY to reload page

      Japanese seats generally do run smaller than American automaker seats, at least in the Japanese cars that I have owned. The headrest tends to hit the upper part of my neck, and I’m only about 5’9″.
      Vehicle seats are one-size-fits-all, which is something that automakers should look in to. So many cars get sold or rejected just on the fit of the driver’s seat. Certainly they could be made electronically adjustable in height, width and seat length, with presets for each driver.
      Now if they could all be as comfortable as a Volvo seat, we would all be better off.

  • avatar

    It seems like Apollo command module seats did not have much to them and they had to protect from much faster speed so why aren’t racing seats like them? The aluminum one comes closest.

    When designing the lunar module, weight was always a problem, so much so that an engineer told astronauts “why can’t you guys go on a diet?”

  • avatar

    I dunno, the sport seats in my old Corvette hold your butt pretty firmly in place. However, there is no head restraint like you are talking about. Are you required to have a 5 point harness as well? That would be at least as important as a good seat. Although I investigated one aircraft accident (part of my job) where the bottom two restraint attach points were wiped off the airplane as the wingless fuselage bounced over a fallen log, and the pilot and seat slipped out from under that nice harness. Not much you can do about that shit.

  • avatar

    A proper racing setup in a Miata has always required cutting the floors and hammering the tunnels. It’s an annoying fact of Miata racing life. The passenger compartment in the street car is basically designed such that the door card and center console are your hip bolsters.

    There are seats that do fit the car without major surgery but they won’t fit Jack, and they’re not really “racing” kit, more track day bro stuff like Bride seats and their clones that are designed to mount with a sliding bracket.

    Faced with this problem I chose to lose weight. Thankfully, unlike Jack, I didn’t spend my younger days destroying my leg joints on a BMX, so I started running and got myself down to a 34.

  • avatar

    If you can’t fit in something Italian, try something British.

    The Tillett Carbon-composite seats are the answer to the question “How do I fit a large driver in a tiny car”?

    You’ve already bought a seat from them. Ask your son how he likes his.

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