No longer do brake engineers talk about "hard" or "soft" pads; instead, they measure pad material's compressibility. More compressibility means less "feel" at the pedal, and vice versa. Most brake manufacturers are also heavily focused on tribology, which is "the study of the design, friction, wear, and lubrication of interacting surfaces in relative motion." (Thanks, Webster's.) The result of this research is that most high-performance pads generate a transfer film onto the rotor during the bedding-in process. (Most hi-po pads require heat cycling before they're ready for serious use--for example, this writer's aftermarket pads were smoking during the prescribed bedding-in ritual.) The transfer film creates adhesive friction, i.e., pad and rotor adhere to each other during stopping, in addition to the abrasive friction created when the pad is forced against the rotor by the caliper. At the same time, this layer acts as a buffer, since the pad isn't actually contacting the rotor. Response, wear, feel, and consistency are improved.
All that, and we haven't even gotten into brake pad materials. The classifications "metallic," "semi-metallic," and "organic" used to suffice; now they seem a bit limiting. With one exception, the pads we're showing you here can generally be classified as semi-metallic pads, which contain less than 75 percent metallic content. This is where innovations in pad technology are happening, because the non-metallic content can consist of just about anything: carbon, ceramics, Kevlar and other undisclosed unobtaniums. The proprietary formulas are nearly endless, though new classifications such as "carbon-metallic" and "carbon-ceramic" have come into vogue. For example, Hawk Performance's Ferro-Carbon High Performance Street pads are made up of organic, ceramic, metallic, and carbon fiber materials. All the manufacturers shown here have their own witch's brews that provide wicked >> stopping power along with civilized street manners.
Now, we know many of you still run drum brakes, especially on the rear of your Chevys. The simple fact, though, is that drum brake innovations are far and few between. The Master Power big-drum install you'll find elsewhere in this issue utilizes high-tech matrix ceramic shoes; Praise Dyno Brake (www.praisedynobrake.com, 972/ 636-2722) cryogenically treats its drums and shoes, a process they claim makes brake material more dense than stock material, which improves dissipation of heat, therefore increasing performance and extending the wear. Disc systems, however, are the present and the future of high-performance braking, so that's what we've concentrated on here.
We've thrown a lot of engineering gobbledygook at you in a short space, but here it is in a nutshell: never have so many companies invested so much time, money, and research into enabling performance enthusiasts to stop faster, better, and more consistently. One of the manufacturers featured claims 20-40 percent more stopping power with high resistance to fade; another quotes consistent 12-feet reductions in 60-0 stopping distances over OEM pads. Better brake performance, and all the benefits that come with it, may be no further away than a simple pad change away.