Google+

BBC Autos

Secret Formulas

Tape: Nascar’s sticky secret

HIDE CAPTION

On the very first lap of the recent GoBowling.com 400 at Pennsylvania’s Pocono Raceway, the field was just entering turn No 1 when Nascar Sprint Cup pilot Juan Pablo Montoya sailed into the corner too quickly.

The former Formula 1 driver collected the cars of Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Matt Kenseth in the process. As the three cars headed to pit row for on-the-spot repairs, their teams’ respective crew chiefs surely double-checked for a critical tool in their arsenal: Tape.

Not just any tape, mind. It might be referred to as “200mph tape” or the more common “Bear Bond”. In fact, Bear Bond was the original product’s name, and while that miracle substance now proves difficult to find, the name is still used to describe this specialised product the way “Kleenex” can describe any facial tissue.

These days, the brand commonly found on pit row is X-Flex Racers Tape, sourced from ISC Racers Tape in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania. It is massive, it is expensive and it is “really nasty stuff”, says Dan Northrup, a former world champion drag racer whose family owns the company.

X-Flex is 40 mil thick (for comparison, your average super-duty, contractor-quality plastic trash bag is about 2 mil thick), is reinforced with a layer of aluminium and is backed with a “highly aggressive adhesive that will adhere to any clean surface”, in the words of the ISC product catalogue.

This is understatement, Northrup claims. Once it adheres, especially on a hot day or when applied to a hot part of the car such as the hood or front fenders, “you need a blowtorch to get it off”. Race fans may mistake it for super-adhesive duct tape, but, Northrup says, “it’s completely different.” Typically, X-Flex is scrapped along with the parts it is attached to after it has served its use.

X-Flex is an adaptation of a bonding tape originally developed for the housing and roofing market. It is quite similar to emergency roof-repair products such as 35-mil-thick EternaBond. The official ISC “Nascar kit” consists of six sheets of X-Flex, measuring 11in wide and 30in long, which can be ordered in white, blue, yellow and red – but most teams seem to prefer the basic black. Pricing varies per retailer, but large racing suppliers may charge over $100 per box.

X-Flex is used primarily by Nascar teams because the race series is among the few that reward, with money and points, successful attempts to repair a damaged car and keep it on the track. Most open-wheel series like Formula 1 do not incentivise this sort of perseverance. At the polar opposite end of Formula 1, monster trucks like the Gravedigger use X-Flex, as they often perform several times a night – and tend to tip over. A lot.

Endurance racing teams that compete in series such as Grand-Am, American Le Mans Series, DTM and Australian V-8 Supercars have also been bitten by the Bear Bond bug. Surveying competitors toward the end of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, or the 24 Hours of Le Mans or the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, rare is the car that does not show tape on its wounds.

Ken Davison, shop foreman for Florida-based Alex Job Racing, which has class victories at Le Mans, Sebring and Daytona, says that his crews never travel to a race without the tape.

“It’s great,” he says. “At Lime Rock a few years ago, our car was forced off the road and the whole front bumper was torn off. There were no brackets that still lined up, so we just taped the bumper on, and never gave it a second thought. Held the whole rest of the race.”

Bear Bond was developed in 1998 by professional sports car mechanic Ross Jeffery of Michigan, who filed a trademark registration for “Bear Bond Racer’s Aid”, describing it as “adhesive strips for automotive structural repair”. The trademark was listed as abandoned in 2000.

While Bear Bond blazed the trail, X-Flex has broadened it. ISC’s product, Northrup says, is thicker and much stiffer, made to peel and slap onto a car’s body during a 15-second pit stop with little consideration as to how it looks. And it typically looks terrible. Even worse than the aesthetic offense, it frequently covers sponsors’ logos – a cardinal sin in sponsor-obsessed Nascar.

As important as X-Flex is to race teams, Northrup insists it is not among his company’s top-selling products. If teams are lucky, they can race an entire season without using a single strip. “But if you crash a lot,” he says, “there’s really no substitute.”

Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story incorrectly stated the thickess of X-Flex tape. It is 40 mil thick, not 40mm. This has been fixed.

It is massive, it is expensive and it is ‘really nasty stuff’.