Top 5 Myths Behind Carbon Fiber Drag Racing Brakes

While horsepower might be king, it’s the brakes that save your life. It’s relatively easy to make 2,000-plus horsepower — or more — but bringing it all to a stop in time before the kitty litter is part of the equation that can sometimes go unchecked. We’ve all seen a car go off the top end of the track when a parachute failed, but what if you had a better chance of getting stopped before the asphalt runs out? We team up with Strange Engineering to discuss the latest in drag racing brake technology: carbon fiber.

BlownZ06’s first race netted a best ET of 3.979 at 194.42 mph.

Our latest Dragzine project car, BlownZ06, is backed by a 3,000-plus horsepower, Pro Line Racing-built HEMI that gets its aspiration via one of two different ProCharger centrifugal superchargers: the F3-136 or F3-143 big-daddy models. It will run over 200 mph in the eighth-mile once it’s fully sorted and we needed a set of brakes that could bring us to a stop with or without the laundry.

We had Strange Engineering’s carbon fiber brakes on our previous BlownZ project car, and those saved us at the top end of the track on more than one occasion. Due to the success we had with those, we knew that BlownZ06 needed the same stoppers. To plumb the brakes we turned to Quarter-Max and their Pro Series pedal kit plus their stainless steel brake line kit.

Part Numbers:

  • Strange Carbon Fiber Brake Kit, Front: C4600WC
  • Strange Carbon Fiber Brake Kit, Rear (For Floater Rearends): F22065WC
  • Quarter-Max Pro Series Pedal Kit: RJ-214104
  • Quarter-Max Stainless Brake Line Kit: 2016112-x

A Quick Review of The Hardware

Starting at the front of the car, the Strange C4600WC is designed to be used with Anglia spindle-mount wheels. Carbon fiber rotors measuring 10-inches in diameter are fitted with billet aluminum hats and retaining rings. The clamping force is provided by a single 1.75-inch piston inside a billet aluminum caliper. Inside those calipers are carbon fiber brake pads.

Strange’s rear kit is designed around a floater housing with 3.25- or 3.5-inch OD tubing. A floater housing supports weight, bending loads, and tire shake — this allows the axle shafts to do their job and transfer torque. When you’re at this kind of power level, a floater is the only way to go.

Our floater housing and Strange carbon fiber brakes being fitted at PMR Race Cars during the assembly stage of the chassis.

Each Strange 4130 chromoly floater spindle is machined with a larger inner bearing radius to increase it’s bending strength. The 2024-T351 billet aluminum hubs are machined for a 5-inch bolt circle and are anodized black. Super-strong 8740 chromoly press-in wheel studs are scalloped to remove unnecessary weight.

The rear brake kit consists of 11-inch rotors and four-piston calipers. While some might be thinking this is backwards, remember that the largest contact patch on a drag car is the rear tire, and thus, the larger amount of braking force is transferred to the rear of the car.

(Left) Billet aluminum bracketry keep the weight minimal while still remaining stiff. (Right) Anglia-style spindle mounted wheels are required for the front kit.

The Quarter-Max Pro Series pedal kit is manufactured from 4130 chromoly, which along with knurled clutch and brake pedal pads to prevent the driver’s shoe from slipping on the surface, ensures this pedal kit will never bend. The kit comes with everything you need to mount the brake and clutch pedals, including hardware. In addition to the pedal kit, Quarter-Max supplied their stainless steel brake line kit, complete with -3AN fittings.

What You Need to Know About Carbon Drag Racing Brakes

There are a lot of myths that circle around carbon fiber brakes and we couldn’t think of anyone better than Strange’s own J.C. Cascio to help our readers understand them.

Dragzine (DZ): What’s the pedal response and stopping difference between a carbon rotor versus iron-vented, versus iron non-vented, as you go from completely cold to hot for a prolonged period of time?

JC Cascio (JC): Carbon brakes work better as they heat up. While steel brakes initially have good bite, they’re susceptible to brake fade if they get too hot. When the carbon is cold, it does not bite as hard as the steel brakes. As the carbon builds heat, they become more aggressive. Carbon is capable of stopping Top Fuel cars from 300-plus mph if the chutes do not deploy.

The brake system will operate with the same brake pressure whether it is steel or carbon.

DZ: What’s the probability of a carbon fiber rotor coming apart versus an iron rotor?

JC: While the carbon material itself is brittle, the wear characteristics are quite good and do not warp or distort with the high temperatures. Even in the most abusive drag race applications, carbon rotors can last an entire season.

(Left) The Quarter-Max pedal kit comes complete with everything you need, minus welding. 4130 chromoly ensures this pedal kit will never bend. Features include spherical bearings, knurled clutch, and brake pedal pads. (Right) Their DIY brake plumbing kit includes stainless lines and AN ends.

DZ: Are special brake pads and/or calipers required for carbon rotors?

JC: The pads are made from the same carbon fiber material as the rotor. The calipers are unique to the carbon fiber kits. The calipers use special insulated pistons that keep the heat away from the brake fluid. This prevents boiling the brake fluid. The bodies of the calipers are made from billet aluminum, which makes the calipers more rigid — this prevents any deflection in the caliper which results in a better and more consistent feel in the pedal/handle.

DZ: What is the proper break-in procedure compared to traditional cast-iron brake rotors?

JC: Steel brakes are required to be broken in by subjecting them to several heat cycles. This helps bed the pads and add longevity to the rotors. The carbon fiber brakes do not require a break-in procedure and are ready to go out of the box.

DZ: Carbon fiber brakes can be referred to as “squishy” under light pedal feel. Any comment on this?

JC: This misconception with carbon fiber brakes is because the carbon needs to build heat in order to work efficiently. When the brakes are initially applied, the carbon fiber doesn’t bite as hard as the steel brakes. To a driver that is not accustomed to carbon fiber, it may feel the brakes are not operating properly. But as the heat builds, the carbon fiber becomes more aggressive. The carbon fiber brake kits work best in cars going over 180 mph.

DZ: How do you care for and service the carbon fiber?

Our completed Strange rear brake system installed on our rear end housing.

JC: Carbon brakes need to be cleaned with soap and water only. The carbon material will absorb oil, brake fluid, brake cleaner, etc. When this happens, it can cause the carbon to delaminate and wear quickly. The telltale sign of this is an excessive amount of brake dust. If the rotors become saturated with oil or other fluids, they can be baked in an oven to get them cleaned. The rotors and pads are put into an oven for 8 hours at 500 degrees. This bakes out all of the impurities and allows the carbon to work as good as new.

The Conclusion on Carbon

Carbon brakes aren’t cheap, but what price do you put on your life and the survivability of your race car after a parachute failure? Not only do carbon fiber brakes weigh less, they’re designed specifically to withstand the temperatures of bringing our 200-plus mph Corvette to a stop safely. Stay tuned for more BlownZ06 build stories!

Article Sources

About the author

Mark Gearhart

In 1995 Mark started photographing drag races at his once local track, Bradenton Motorsports Park. He became hooked and shot virtually every series at the track until 2007 until he moved to California and began working as a writer for Power Automedia. He was the founding editor for its first online magazines, and transitioned into the role of editorial director role in 2014. Retiring from the company in 2016, Mark continues to expand his career as a car builder, automotive enthusiast, and freelance journalist to provide featured content and technical expertise.
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