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Mastercraft Company Profile
Written by Judy J. Smith and re-printed with permission of Off Road Expo 2004

Robbie Pierce, C. E. O. of MasterCraft, was enthusiastic about talking to us about his company. But then Pierce seems to be permanently enthusiastic. He’s got ideas, opinions, memories, goals and plans bubbling around inside his head full time. And almost all of them involve MasterCraft Seats.
Rubicon
MasterCraft has a long history, starting back in 1970, and Pierce has been a part of it since 1985, although he didn’t actually become the owner until late in 1999. Before then Pierce’s company, which did aerospace fabrication, manufacturing and welding, had been making the frames for the MasterCraft seats. Peri Combe (nee Miller) had been running MasterCraft basically single-handedly since the death of her husband, Buzz, and with two small children to rear, was finding it difficult. Pierce, already familiar with the company and its products, was happy to become the new owner. At that time he was also manufacturing high-end golf clubs with titanium heads, but he sold that business about three years ago. MasterCraft seats are the sole focus of his attention these days.

When he was considering the purchase of the company, he told us, one of the things he liked about MasterCraft was its history. He knew that Jack Miller had started with an upholstery shop in 1970, and at some point, had replaced the cover on a helicopter seat. He was intrigued by the built-in suspension in the seat and decided that off-road racers needed such a seat also. And thus, the MasterCraft racing seat was born. In addition to his business, Miller also used to run a pit group at some races, and he was the one who introduced the “fuel blanket”, a rectangle of impermeable material that was to be held over the fuel filler during the process of dumping fuel. He created the blanket because quite a few racers had been accidentally doused with fuel when the tank filled sooner than expected and fuel gushed MasterCraft: out and into the cab. In those days many, if not most, of the racecars had fuel tanks in their side pods and fillers sitting right next to the driver or passenger.

Restraint
Pierce says that “Jack was all about safety, and I want to continue that. I don’t want to put something out there that’s not safe.” He went on to say that since “we’ve wanted the company to be based on safety. [We thought] selling seats without belts was like selling saddles without stirrups.” So, continuing the tradition of concern for the racer’s safety, he has added racing seat harnesses to his line of products. He did some on-site research at this year’s Baja 500, when he rode in his first race. He buckled into Tom Riding’s Toyota powered Class 10 Jimco as co-rider for the entire event. He also enjoyed a twoday prerun with Ridings, which he’d never done before. Said, Pierce, “I learned so much.” Not only did he enjoy the adventure, but he told us he learned a lot about the sport and the people involved. “And,” he said, “I learned a lot about the seat, too.”

Pierce’s goal, when he bought the company, was to “put it back into Number 1 (in market share) again.” He reports that they now have ten times the sales that they had in ’99, and continue to work at broadening their customer base, as well as developing their product line.
3G seat
He said the company has always had a good name, and that helped, but at the same time he stated he’s had a lot of help from racers. He’s particularly grateful for input from Ivan Stewart, Walker Evans and Curt Le Duc, who’ve all helped with the design and modification of his current line of seats.

The MasterCraft line has now expanded to include seven racing and prerun seats, the “Taylor Made” seat, and some bench seats for Jeeps in addition to a line of five-point harnesses, kit bags, tool bags, suspension travel limiters and an assortment of seat mounts for production vehicles.

Pierce says his market has been expanding into the rock-crawling area, as more and more people discover that sport. He says it’s growing fast and will continue to do so, because it’s such an “affordable” sport, and so family friendly. And the drivers are beginning to learn that a good seat is an important part of their equipment. As one way to develop this market, MasterCraft sponsors some rock-crawling teams. Another area where MasterCraft is now selling seats is to the Jeepers. A recent truck project on Spike TV featured a Jeep being built for off-road, and they used MasterCraft seats and belts, showcasing the company for a whole new circle of off-roaders.

Their newest seat, the “3G” is a result of cooperation between MasterCraft and a couple of race drivers. It seems that as the off-road racecars go faster and faster, they are going sideways more often. This is particularly true in the Midwestern short course events. So when Curt LeDuc and Scott Douglas started looking for a seat that would stabilize their upper body as they pitched their trucks sideways, MasterCraft was happy to help. They worked on placement of wing shaped protrusions in the shoulder area of the seat, until they finally got an acceptableconfiguration. They learned that Ford had used a device to test the G-forces in LeDuc’s truck when it went into the turns, and found that the drivers were subjected to three gravities. Thus, the name, “3G.” The seat, which comes in three different sizes, is being installed in many new cars, and has caught the fancy of movie stunt drivers also. And Pierce believes that rally drivers will find it to their liking.

Grab Handles
The development work on new products is continual. Pierce says “we are concentrating on recreational drivers: people with Jeeps and other 4X4s – we want to provide better seats. And for the racers we need to address fire. There are some issues, [but] we may have our own driving suits. We want to keep working on safety.”One area that touches on the safety issue in two ways, is the foam that’s packed into the seats between the shell and the cover. Special, dense foam, with fire retardency is used, and different depths and different densities are packed into different parts of the seats. Currently MasterCraft is looking at graduated foams, hoping to find just the right stuff to absorb shock better. Bob Lofton, a driver with a chronic back problem, is now testing a new combination of foams in his racecar seat. Pierce also studies seats and window netting in other forms of racing, to see what might be brought to offroad racing to improve safety. For example, he’s using the same type of window-net closure (a bar flap) that NASCAR uses, considering the easy-to-do tie wraps and hose clamps so frequently used, not safe enough. MasterCraft also offers window nets made out of wide tape, as in NASCAR vehicles, because it’s stronger than what’s being used in many off-road racecars. He makes them with bigger spacing, so the offroad racer doesn’t lose his view of the surroundings. And he’s got a head restraint system in the works. Pierce points out that MasterCraft’s original slogan was “Safety in Seating.” He says, “I want to go back to that.” –js