Project CrossTime Safety: Part Three – Outfitting The Car

Ed Note: In Part One of this series on Project CrossTime Safety, I editorialized about getting my butt in gear about being safe, while Part Two concentrated on the items I now wear while in the car. Here in Part Three, I will discuss the items I purchased for the car itself that will protect me while in it.

While Project CrossTime is not a high-powered race car pulling 170 mph down the straight like a Corvette, it will be able to match just about any car in the corners. That is where a Miata shines and that is also where the majority of problems can occur on a racetrack. With the safety equipment I wear now secured, it was time to equip the actual car with items that will further my safety while out on the track such as a rollcage, racing seat, harnesses, and a quick-release steering wheel.

In part one, I said I made three moves as soon as I decided to get serious about my safety. They included calling RaceQuip, hitting the Summit Racing Equipment website, and calling Steve Gurley of Racefab Performance. While I was ordering parts from the first two, I loaded CrossTime on the trailer and headed to Racefab to get a professional rollcage installed.

Though CrossTime isn’t a beast down the straightaways, it can take the corners as fast as a Corvette. It was time to get some safety gear!

Racing Seat

I wasn’t exactly sure of the brands or styles of racing seats out there, so I went to my go-to website to research racing equipment — Summit Racing Equipment. Typing “racing seat” into the search bar yielded 216 results. Narrowing the search to “road racing” got me to a more manageable 77 results. I knew I didn’t want (or need) a steel or aluminum seat, both are heavier and not as comfortable, so I narrowed my search again to “fiberglass” which gave me 11 seats to choose, from two different manufacturers.

I knew I needed a high-back seat that would accommodate a six-point harness, but also be narrow enough to fit within the tight confines of the Miata. Because I am not going door-to-door racing, I don’t have to have the wrap-around head protection and I wanted to keep the price down as much as possible which left me with four choices: three from MOMO, and one from Driven Motorsports.

The MOMO Super Cup Racing Seat was the narrowest seat I could find on the Summit Racing Equipment website. It is really comfortable with the removable seat cushion and Airnet fabric.

Unfortunately, the Driven Motorsports seat description did not include seat dimensions, and as I mentioned earlier, I needed the narrowest seat possible to fit it into the Miata. The narrowest seat of the remaining three was the MOMO Racing Super Cup Seat (P/N: MOM-1071BLK) coming in at 15.354-inches wide. The fiberglass seat is FIA-8855-1999 certified and has a depth of 17.717 inches and a height of 34.646 inches — a perfect size for the Miata.

Here you can see just how narrow the space is inside the Miata. We actually had to hammer the tunnel a little bit on the right side to get the seat to sit straight with the wheel.

I chose the Super Cup seat because it was narrow, but the Airnet fabric does a great job at drying out and the removable seat has a little extra padding — bonus!

Priced at $629.95 (plus $60 shipping charge), it was a little more than I wanted to spend, but there weren’t too many options for the space requirements. It looked really comfortable and I liked that the seat cushion is removable so I could wash it if needed. It has the five seat-belt openings for a harness and is covered in black Airnet upholstery which is said to provide strength, greater airflow, and effective moisture permeability — something I would definitely need in the South.

Steering Wheel/Quick Release

Again, I used Summit Racing’s 50 years of experience in the industry to lead me in the right direction for a steering wheel, but I had done some prior research and just about knew what I was looking for. The stock Miata steering wheel was 14.5-inches so I knew I wanted one with a little smaller diameter, a three-spoke design, and one that was flat across the bottom to give me a little more clearance as I would often hit the wheel with my leg when trying to heel-toe shift.

I gravitated toward MOMO again, I guess out of vanity that I wanted the steering wheel to match the seat, but my instincts proved to be worthy when I found the MOMO Racing MOD 30 Steering Wheel (P/N: MOM-R1960/32S). It had all of my required boxes checked for what I wanted in a steering wheel. It is made of aluminum, has a three-spoke design, measures 12.598 inches in diameter, has a dish depth of 10.630 inches, and is flat across the bottom. On top of that, it included some bonuses that I really liked — it is made of suede, has a yellow position indicator, and an anatomical grip for different hand positions. That sealed the deal for me. While it wasn’t the cheapest wheel, at $229.95 it wasn’t super expensive either.

I really like the MOMO Mod 30 Steering Wheel with its flat bottom, anatomical grips, position indicator and suede covering. It is slightly smaller than the stock wheel but it works perfectly in the Miata.

Next, I had to find a quick-disconnect on which to mount the steering wheel, so I could get in and out of the car easier. I could’ve done a little more research here if I’m being honest. I had no idea how many different styles of quick-disconnects there are. You need to be armed with a few pieces of information before you can make the decision, such as how many bolts the steering wheel has, how you want the attachment to mount to the shaft, what diameter the shaft is, and what type of release you want (pull, push, pin).

I probably should’ve looked at the quick-disconnects first to determine what I would need in a steering wheel, but I made my decision backwards by ordering the steering wheel first. The MOMO steering wheel had a 6-bolt pattern, so when I searched “steering wheel quick disconnects” on Summit Racing and narrowed it to 6-bolt, it left me with one option — JOES Racing Products (P/N: JOE-13410, $144.01) pinless, pull-to-release style which is what I wanted.

The JOES Racing Product quick-disconnect is a pull-release type that disengages from the splines when you pull the flat spring-loaded piece toward you. The spring is very strong and you know when it’s engaged.

The only unknown for me though was the shaft diameter of the Miata column. The car was at the shop getting a rollcage installed, so I couldn’t measure it. I just took a shot by ordering it and hoped it would fit. The JOES disconnect was made to fit a .750-inch shaft. As luck would have it, the Miata shaft was much smaller. No biggie though, we ended up making a shim to take up the extra space and welded it all together — no harm no foul.

We had to make a spacer to take up the extra room between the steering shaft and the quick-disconnect splines. We were able to weld it all together with little trouble. You can see how easy the wheel is to remove, but once it is locked in, you can't get it off.

I love the way the quick-disconnect works, it really lets you know it is locked in. My only complaint would be that the spline isn’t indexed. This would keep you from putting the wheel on anyway but straight. As it is now, you could put the wheel on in any direction, so if you don’t have the tires pointed straight, you have to re-adjust the steering wheel once they are. The steering wheel is perfect, I can’t say enough good things about it. It is super comfortable and sits at exactly the right distance for me. One last little word of advice though — make sure to use threadlocker on all bolts!

I advise the use of threadlocker on all bolts on the quick-disconnect and the steering wheel itself. I had the bolts on the quick-disconnect loosen up on me. They weren’t going anywhere because the wheel was in the way, but it did make the steering sloppy.

Rollcage Fit For A Spec Miata

Obviously, a Miata is a small, street-based car. It wasn’t really made for racing, so when you put one on a track it creates a conundrum for a rollcage builder to be able to fit a cage and still allow you to do your “job” too. Spec Miatas can be even more difficult because they must run with a hardtop, so the cage has to fit within the footprint of the roof.

When I put the word out that I was in the market for a cage, one name kept coming up — Steve Gurley of Racefab Performance in Covington, Tennessee. I have heard his name around the Memphis area for a while, mostly when someone was talking about building a drag car, but he can do anything from wiring to miscellaneous fabrication including chassis work on drag, street, and road race cars — even motorcycles. I had never met him and was surprised to learn that he builds 15 to 20 Spec Miata cages a year for a well-known national Spec Miata racer/builder. Once I found this out, it was a no-brainer as to where I was going to take CrossTime. Luckily, he had an opening that would get me into his shop before the upcoming SCCA TT Nationals.

I took CrossTime to Steve Gurley of RaceFab Performance to build my rollcage. He does 10 to 15 Spec Miata cages a year.

I’ve been checking out rollcages in Miatas since I bought CrossTime and it seems like there are limitless ways to build them. Out of all that I’ve seen, I really believe Racefab is one of the best in the business — Steve has it down to a science. He uses every inch of the car to get the driver maximum space and doesn’t sacrifice safety in the endeavor.

When I met with Steve, we discussed a few different options for my cage. I went in thinking that I didn’t need a full Spec Miata cage — I wasn’t planning on door-to-door racing, so I thought I didn’t need as much protection. The more we talked, the more he steered me toward the full Spec cage. There were a few different reasons that came to light: 1) If I were to ever sell the car, I could advertise it as a Spec-ready racer, 2) it would be safer should a rare crash with another car happen, 3) it only cost a little more in the grand scheme of things, and 4) if he built a simple cage and I changed my mind to run door-to-door in the future, it would be more costly to cut it out and install a new one.

Gurley instructed me to remove everything I could from the car. That included the dash and everything under it. There are eight bolts holding the dash in — two on each side near the door jambs and two on each side of the center console (you can see the bracket right in front of the shifter).

So, a Spec Miata cage it would be! To make the process quicker, Steve instructed me to remove the dash and anything else that might get in his way. Two days later, I dropped off the car and racing seat at his shop with an agreement to return later in the week to fit the seat to my driving position. Unfortunately, Steve lives too far away for me to be able to photograph the fabrication process, but here is how he goes about putting it together.

“I use 1.5 DOM, .095 thickness tubing, which is what Spec Miata requires,” Steve says. “I first start out by MIG welding the plates to the floor; I’ve done so many of them, I know where they need to go. Next, I make the main hoop behind the driver and tack it in place. The back-brace bar is made next and gets tacked in right near the seat belt towers. I like to bend the harness bar back to give extra clearance for the driver’s seat. Once everything is tacked to the main hoop, I pull it back out and weld the diagonal bars to the hoop. The hoop then goes back in and gets welded to the plates.

The main hoop behind the driver is the first thing Gurley builds, then everything else is mated up to it.

“Next, I turn my attention to the A-pillar bars and door bars. The first step here is to gut the doors and cut out the majority of the inner door skins so I can fit the door bars. This also requires some cutting of the bracing for the dash, so the door bars can meet back up with the A-pillar bar under where the dash will be. I do the driver’s side first. Once I’ve bent the A-pillar bar, I tack it in place then work on the door bars and tack them to the A-pillar bar. Next, the uprights between the door bars get tacked in. At this point, I pull the entire A-pillar assembly back out and weld up as much as I can before putting it back in and tacking it to the main hoop.”

Gurley surgically guts the doors so that he can build the door bars all the way to the outer skin. This makes it safer, roomier, lighter, and can save the rockers should you get hit from the side.

There are four reasons that Steve does the door bars the way he does: 1) it is safer, 2) it gives the driver more elbow room, 3) it is lighter, and 4) it can save the unibody chassis in the event of a side impact. “Even though I don’t have to do the passenger side the same way, the advantage is it can save the rocker and it’s actually lighter than leaving all the guts inside the door,“ he says.

The top-down view gives you a good idea of how the door bars not only give the driver more room, but also saves the rockers. Even though it's not needed on the passenger side, Gurley does it there as well in case of a side impact.

Once he has done the A-pillar for the passenger side, he moves to the rear bars that go through the package tray to the trunk and tacks them into the main hoop. He continues, “next, is the lower windshield bar that goes behind the dash and the bar that goes across the top of the windshield that ties the A-pillars together. The last bar to be placed in is the center roof brace bar. Once, I’ve tacked all of that I will put the roof on one last time and make sure everything has clearance.”

Once the A-pillar sections are complete, Gurley moves on to the down bars in the trunk, which are welded to another flat plate to the floor and tacked to the main hoop.

The final bit of business is to finish-weld all the joints with a TIG welder — this is where skill and experience come into play. It's easier on a convertible, but still tricky being a little car.

If he’s happy with the fitment, Steve gets to work on TIG welding all of the joints together. This is where his skill and experience come in handy. Anyone who has ever had to weld in tight quarters knows how difficult this process can be. As I said, Steve is a master at getting the most room inside the car for the driver’s comfort while still making the car safer than is required. He’s probably fabricated around 100 Miata cages since he started doing them in 2004.

The final piece of the puzzle was to get my driver's seat positioned and secured. Then Steve had to mount the RaceQuip harness.

With the cage all welded in, it was time for me to return to Racefab so Steve could line up the seat for my driving position and get the harness in place. He used 1×2-inch rectangle tubing to create a bottom seat brace. We then drilled through the bottom of the seat to anchor it to the brace with Grade 8 bolts and oversized washers.

He also made a plate that attaches to the rear of the seat with two Grade 8 bolts right around the shoulder blade area. He welded a 12-inch long piece of 1×1-inch rectangle tubing to the plate that attaches to the back-brace bar with a Grade 8 bolt to secure it to the cage. It took us a little bit of time to get the position just right. It just barely fits in the confined space and we even had to hammer the tunnel slightly to gain a little space.

I love the way the cage turned out. If you are in the market for a cage, definitely give Racefab Performance a shout. Finally, I did a quick rattle-can spray job on the cage to keep it from rusting.

6-Point Camlock Harness Set

RaceQuip provided a Sportsman SFI 16.1 6-Point Camlock Harness set (P/N: 747007) for Project CrossTime which consists of lap, shoulder, and crotch belts. The lap belts are 3-inch wide polyester webbing, while the shoulder belts are 2-inches wide to accommodate my HANS device. I chose the pull-up style lap belts because of the confined space; it would be virtually impossible to tighten them with pull-down style. The lightweight aluminum cam buckle is affixed to the right lap belt and gives an audible click when you are locked in (very handy when you already have your helmet/HANS on and can’t see what you’re doing down there).

RaceQuip provided one of its SFI 16.1 6-Point Camlock Harness sets for use with a HANS device. You can see how the shoulder straps are 2-inches wide where the Hans fits. The camlock is where all points meet (although it may look like the lap belts are going over the top of the seat, that is just the extra length).

Before we bolted the seat down, Steve calculated where the submarine belts needed to go in order to come up through the seat in the right spot and bolted them into the floor approximately 6-inches apart. The lap belts attached to the stock mounting positions in the chassis and we threaded them through the holes in the seat. Lastly, we shortened up the shoulder belts considerably so they hit the cam buckle at the right spot. I honestly considered if a kid’s harness was legal (by the way they aren’t, they’re a different rating), as I’m near the adjustability limit on all the belts because the space is so small, but we made it work.

Here I am all strapped in. You can see the bar attached to the back of the seat to secure it in place. Also, note the angle of the shoulder straps (the installation guide tells you why this is important) as well as how they fit down in the HANS.

My last piece of advice is to follow the seatbelt installation guide provided in the box. There are some very important angles to consider with regard to all of the belts. RaceQuip’s Roger Mealey added “This point can’t be stressed enough, no harness can do its job without proper mounting. The mounting points and angles are critical to ensure proper harness effectiveness, so completely follow the installation instructions. For instance, a shoulder belt that angles down more than 20 degrees to the rear can cause spinal compression in an accident and that could actually cause an injury. Be certain your harness is mounted correctly.”

The harness works great and is as comfortable as a harness can be once you are strapped in. The cam buckle requires a full 45-degree turn to unlatch to keep you from accidentally opening the lever. The 2-inch shoulder straps fit perfectly in the guides in the HANS. With a list price of $189.95 on RaceQuip’s site, you’ll have a hard time finding a harness this good for a cheaper price.

This front view shows how all the belts connect into the cam lock buckle. The buckle should be just below your belly button when you are all cinched down.

On The Horizon

So there you have it — part three in my series of safety equipment for Project CrossTime as it stands at the moment. Like most things on the car, it is still a work in progress and I plan to keep upgrading as time and money allow. Obviously, there are two glaring things missing at this time — a fire suppression system and a kill switch. I hope to procure those soon and will do a story on the installation.

Also, after seeing photos of the interior, Roger from RaceQuip noted two items I could use on CrossTime that will provide me some additional insurance — a Fire Retardant Shifter Boot (P/N: 871001) and an SFI-Rated Right Side Rollcage Net (P/N: 828008). I am installing those right now. As other items hit my radar, I will consider those as well. Slowly but surely CrossTime is turning into a real race car! You can follow the Build Diary HERE.

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About the author

Shawn Brereton

Shawn is a lifelong car enthusiast who appreciates all things automotive. He is the proud owner of a blown '55 Chevy, a daily-driven '66 Fairlane with an '09 GT500 drivetrain, and a '96 Miata track car.
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