No matter what you’re told today, things really were a lot simpler “back in the day.” When most of us were traveling around the country with our race cars on open trailers, one look in the mirror of your tow vehicle told you the whole story. If the car came loose, or some other oddity, you knew immediately.
Now all of a sudden, most of us have graduated to an enclosed trailer for a variety of reasons, but you’d be amazed at what’s happening inside there as you travel the fine American highway system. Cars come loose; cabinets open up and strew their contents onto your great paint job; and worse yet; cabinets and anything else mounted on walls fall completely off, tool boxes fall over, etc.
Each of the above can be catastrophic all by themselves, but maybe the worst can be a fire. A small spark can lead to all sorts of issues. Fires require three things, better known as the fire triangle; oxygen, heat and fuel. The heat can come from a spark; a battery that fell over, a shorted wire; just about anything. Obviously, there is a lot of things which can be construed as “fuel” inside a trailer; paper, fiberglass, let alone those jugs of race fuel you have sitting there. And last you have oxygen. Without any of one of those three, a fire cannot be sustained. We’ve heard reports of a smoldering fire inside a trailer become a complete burn when the side door of the trailer is opened letting in quite a bit of more oxygen. To stop a fire requires the removal of one of the three elements of the fire triangle.
Recently there has been a rash of trailer fires which have run the gamut from simply burning a part of your investment to completely destroying everything you’ve worked for. Obviously, you could have insurance which would minimize the financial loss, but it does little for the mental anguish you experience. Insurance companies such as Hagerty help on the financial side but again, it can be the mental part which may be hard to overcome. And let’s not forget about any physical damage to your own body which is much more important than any part of your race operation.
“One of our clients asked us to find some information about preventing fires in car haulers,” says Don Kennedy, an insurance representative for Hagerty along with being a racer himself. “First of all, it’s imperative you maintain your electrical systems. Two-thirds of vehicle fires are caused by electrical system failures or malfunctions. This includes the race cars you haul in those trailers.”
We all have battery disconnects on our race cars per the rules. Shutting that disconnect while the car is in the trailer is a wise move. A shorted wire in your race car is all it takes to provide the “heat” of the fire triangle. With the power disconnected, that possibility of “heat” is eliminated.
One other issue involves race cars utilizing an alternator. Typically, that alternator is wired directly to the battery and not running through the battery disconnect; again as per the rules; all of which means that even when the battery disconnect is in the “off” position, there is still power running through the alternator and its accompanying wiring. Most battery disconnects used have two poles, but there are models which have four poles allowing two of them to connect to the alternator and be disconnected when “off.”
“Care must be taken when choosing the correct four-pole disconnect,” says East Coast Auto Electric’s Chuck Anderika. “There is one model of disconnect with two large poles used for the battery disconnect and two smaller ones to disconnect the alternator’s field wiring. The downside to its use is that the two smaller poles are only rated for about 20-amps, of which today’s one-wire alternators output much higher amperage than that. In that case there is a four-pole disconnect made by Cole Hersee (part #75912) which has four poles capable of handling the increased amperage.”
While on the subject of battery disconnects, what about the scooters or golf carts we also haul? Not to mention the battery mounted in the trailer which powers the 12-volt interior lights. A common battery disconnect can be easy to install and eliminate a potential problem.
“Along the lines of electrical system maintenance, be sure your batteries are securely fastened, which goes the same for golf carts and scooters,” says Kennedy. Make sure nothing can fall on the terminals on the battery, and make sure the batteries have a strong hold down.”
It may be easy to say to avoid storing flammable materials in your trailer, but that’s an almost virtual impossibility in a race trailer. For that reason, it’s best to be sure that your fuel jugs are securely fastened and if possible, store race fuel in a sealed steel drum.
Heat from an overlooked wheel bearing can also cause a fire. “Check your wheel bearings and pack them every so often,” Kennedy says.
On the subject of wheel bearings, a blown tire can also cause a fire if not caught right away. Besides simply checking tire pressure before a trip, a quick look at each tire can indicate a problem before it happens.
Obviously carrying a suitably sized fire extinguisher is a no-brainer. There are also smoke detectors available from Advanced Wireless Technology which can detect smoke in your trailer before it turns into a full-fledged fire. These can offer an early warning by way of signaling you wirelessly in your tow vehicle; or somewhere else for that matter; when an issue arises.
With the off-season upon us, now may very well be the time to review your operation to ensure somewhat of a care-free race season. There may always be problems which arise, but trying to “close the barn door before the horses get out” should be paramount.