After a Crash, Part 5: A New Roll Cage for the New Race Car

Read Part 4

Read Part 6

Always buy the best safety gear you can afford so that you have the privilege of walking away from a big crash you hope to never have. 

That gear includes your cage, helmet, suit, fire system, and just about anything that protects you in an incident on track. These pieces all work together to save your life, so why skimp on them to save a few bucks? 

We all have a friend of a friend who can build a cage for under $3000 in his home garage. It seems harmless enough to take him up on it. 

I’m guilty of doing that and learned a lesson with my E36-chassis M3 race car: The cost savings are not worth skimping quality. 

My car was caged by somebody in the Mid-Atlantic region. I thought I had gotten a great deal on the cage and was excited to get the car ready for competition school. 

A year after getting that cage installed—and after many laps on track—the E36 went up to Hi-Speed Motorsports for some shop time. While working on the car, Hi-Speed notified me of some alarming news: My cage was not fully welded together. 

The original cage builder only partially welded the bars, filling the remainder of the seam with caulk before painting over everything to hide the sins. A screwdriver easily chipped away the caulk, exposing many unwelded bars. 

Several hours later, Hugh Stewart, owner of Hi-Speed Motorsports, had rewelded my cage as needed and, finally, I had a safe cage to take racing. 

It is scary to consider what might have happened if the E36 were in a crash with the cage just caulked together. It is tempting to save money on a big-ticket item like a cage, but your life is worth more than that. Bringing your car to a reputable shop can help ensure that it is done right the first time. 

There are a few race shops around the globe that consistently churn out winning race cars. Builds are clean, detailed, and proven over and over with cars always first to cross the finish line. The cars are easily recognizable in the paddock and enjoyable to follow online.

Hi-Speed Motorsports is one of those shops, and that's the reason I chose to build my cars with them. TC Design is another, located on the opposite side of the country in California. TC Design was founded in 2002 by Tony Colicchio and currently operates in Campbell, California, with his brother Joe. Together they build race cars that dominate the West Coast competition. TC Design is known for their outstanding cage work, and many shops in California send cars to Tony be caged.

When I sourced the new donor M3 chassis to replace the one that had been wrecked, Hugh and I made a master schedule with milestones that needed to be met if we were to complete this race car in 60 days. Our goal was the SCCA Runoffs. 

I’m a program manager for my day job, so assessing risk is a big part of my responsibility. It was a tight timeline assuming things went according to plan with minimal issues. There was very little room for error.

One of the first milestones was to cage the car. 

Hi-Speed Motorsports was already packed with customer race cars, and a full unexpected build in the middle of summer meant a ton of overtime. A cage was typically an off-season job that takes about 40 hours. Once the tubes are in hand, they need to be mocked up, bent to shape, and welded together. 

Many people offered their help after the crash, and it also came from an unexpected place 3000 miles away. Tony reached out and offered to help with the race car by building the cage. I’ve admired TC Design cars for years but had yet to get the chance to meet Tony. My heart skipped a beat at the thought of a TC Design cage in my new car. 

At the time, Tony happened to have an E46 M3 in his shop for a cage. So, he cut and bent a second set of bars for my car. 

Those bars were boxed up and shipped across the country to Hi-Speed Motorsports in Connecticut. While this was happening, Hugh and I were busy at the shop, scraping the sound deadening off of the floor, drilling out spot welds so we could remove the roof, and prepping the car for the cage. All of the work that I had performed only a few months prior for the first car had to be done again.  

Tony arrived on the East Coast after a red-eye flight from San Jose. Armed with a big box of gear, we headed to the shop for a weekend of race car work. 

Several large UPS boxes were delivered a few days prior. Inside was a TC Design cage, tubes pre-bent and prepped to be welded into the car. Many long hours had already gone into cutting and bending the tubing, and now Tony was getting to play adult Legos and put it all together.

There are few people in this world who truly love what they do, and Tony is one of them. It was amazing to watch him work with such passion and efficiency. 

By the end of Friday, the back half of the cage was completely together. Then he welded up the front half, and by Saturday afternoon the whole cage was complete.

This collaboration between TC Design and Hi-Speed Motorsports allowed us to save a huge amount of time on a tight-timeline build. It made it possible for us to successfully complete the rest of the car before Runoffs. Instead of a cage taking a week, maybe two, it was done in a weekend, and we were able to focus our efforts on the rest of the build until October.

If you’ve had your eye on TC Design’s work, you’re in luck. Tony offers his traveling welder services to shops across the country. The process is similar to how he did mine. Shops would gather and prep a few cars to be caged while Tony bends bars and ships them over. He then travels to the shop and puts all the cages together. It is an efficient way to complete cages and get one of the best cage builders in the industry to keep you safe so you can go fast.

Read Part 4.

How Christina got her start in motorsports.

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Comments
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Patrick (Forum Supporter)
Patrick (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/4/20 8:25 a.m.

Holy E36 M3 i didn't know about the caulk on the e36!  I once had someone tell me you just need to tack everything together enough to caulk and paint so you don't need to be a good welder.  It's scary that there are others like him, especially willing to put someone else's life at risk with their E36 M3ty work. 

Dave M (Forum Supporter)
Dave M (Forum Supporter) HalfDork
5/4/20 8:27 a.m.

Yeah that's, like, criminal. Holy crap!

RyanGreener (Forum Supporter)
RyanGreener (Forum Supporter) Reader
5/4/20 10:33 a.m.

So you're telling me my Autopower Bolt-In isn't good enough?  (Just kidding)

slowbird
slowbird Dork
5/4/20 11:15 a.m.

Oh man that spot-welded cage. Whoever did that is a real caulk.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/4/20 12:46 p.m.

In reply to slowbird :

Yeah, that's pretty horrible to see--like, that shows malace, not just sloppy work. 

ddavidv
ddavidv PowerDork
5/4/20 2:40 p.m.

"If you want it done right do it yourself".

We did that with two cages in Spec E30s. You can't appreciate just how much work building a cage is until you've done it. Even with getting pre-bent halo and front bars from Kirk Racing we still had to do all the welding, chamfering, etc. Now I know why cages cost what they do (and why those bolt-in kits are soooo appealing).

I always felt safe in my caged car. Even though not every weld was an award winner in appearance the full circumference weld and deep penetration would hold up in a crash. But if you can't do it yourself you really need to find a trustworthy source.

 

Don49 (Forum Supporter)
Don49 (Forum Supporter) Dork
5/4/20 3:46 p.m.

Wow!! I can't imagine anyone caulking a partially welded cage. I have built a number of cages and roll bars that were crash tested and am proud to report they all held up and protected the driver. I agree that that caulked cage was criminal.

Tom1200
Tom1200 Dork
5/4/20 3:46 p.m.

I've seen two cages done by name shops that weren't fully welded around the circumference of a particular tube, simply because it was hard to get to.  Moral, ask to inspect the cage before it's painted.

We used an Autopower kit in the Datsun and then added a bunch of gussets and extra bars to that. I fished mouth all of the tubing and can tell you even that is a crap load of work. My Fabricator welded it up. I can't picture doing it all in one weekend..............yikes that's a long weekend.

dean1484
dean1484 MegaDork
5/4/20 5:16 p.m.

Just WOW!!!  If that cadge builder is still in business it would be a public service to name names.

 

BUT I can understand not wanting to. 

codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) UberDork
5/4/20 5:16 p.m.

+1 on the recommendation for TC Design.  Tony built my E46 and the car is fantastic.

 

Tom1200
Tom1200 Dork
5/4/20 7:54 p.m.

Dean one of the cage builders is no longer around and the other one fired the employee responsible for not welding up the cage properly.

One was a friend's car; he wanted a chrome moly cage and my fab guy doesn't like them, when he brought the car into my fab guy's to have the shell seam welded he found the issue. 

I like my fab guy because, not only does he do fantastic work, he also shows and explains to you what's being done and why. 

This series is why I like racers; no whining, just digging deep and finding a way to get things done. 

slantsix
slantsix New Reader
5/4/20 9:24 p.m.

Welding in a cage is totally crazy sometimes.. like it's shown in the picture you find yourself crouched up at some pretty wild places and angles to get it done correctly.

 

My question is How is this done with 4130?  how do you lay under the dash, feed filler, hold the fire and modulate the tig pedal all at the same time?

 

I guess for this cage build it Mig'ed with Mild Tube?

 

Greg

Recon1342
Recon1342 HalfDork
5/4/20 10:57 p.m.

In reply to slantsix :

You can weld steel with a TIG welder sans foot pedal. The pedal is more useful with aluminum; for steel it's not really a requirement.

christinaylam (Forum Supporter)
christinaylam (Forum Supporter) New Reader
5/5/20 7:30 a.m.
codrus (Forum Supporter) said:

+1 on the recommendation for TC Design.  Tony built my E46 and the car is fantastic.

 

Yess!! He's the best! I've drooled over his work for years so to have a TC Design cage sitting in my garage right now puts a grin on my face. 

mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth Mod Squad
5/5/20 7:37 a.m.

Thanks for these articles. I never tire of watching good cars come together. 

christinaylam (Forum Supporter)
christinaylam (Forum Supporter) New Reader
5/5/20 9:32 a.m.
Tom1200 said:

I've seen two cages done by name shops that weren't fully welded around the circumference of a particular tube, simply because it was hard to get to.  Moral, ask to inspect the cage before it's painted.

We used an Autopower kit in the Datsun and then added a bunch of gussets and extra bars to that. I fished mouth all of the tubing and can tell you even that is a crap load of work. My Fabricator welded it up. I can't picture doing it all in one weekend..............yikes that's a long weekend.

Curled up and welding in a car upside down doesn't look comfortable at all, Tony claims hot yoga helps with it haha. Watching him weld for 2 days straight was incredible, total beast mode. 

tuna55 (Forum Supporter)
tuna55 (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/5/20 9:44 a.m.

Thanks for these, and the amazingly good attitude. How are you feeling these days? Building a race car is easy compared to rehabilitating the body!

christinaylam (Forum Supporter)
christinaylam (Forum Supporter) New Reader
5/5/20 1:58 p.m.

In reply to tuna55 (Forum Supporter) :

Thanks for reading! Your words ring very true as I am still diligently doing my PT exercises for my foot. Going through all this and building a racecar in 60 days is nothing compared to the patience I've had to have in dealing with the broken bones. I've been out of a cast since March 1, and this week can finally walk just about a mile with no pain. My fitness watch has been logging abysmal step counts since the crash in July but increasing a bit each day! 

roger_waltman
roger_waltman New Reader
5/6/20 10:29 a.m.

I've always admired TC Design cars, I never met Tony before but I'm thrilled to see the character behind the company come along in this story. Does TC Design still have a shop in CA to do this work or are they full time on the road now?

codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) UberDork
5/6/20 11:54 a.m.
roger_waltman said:

I've always admired TC Design cars, I never met Tony before but I'm thrilled to see the character behind the company come along in this story. Does TC Design still have a shop in CA to do this work or are they full time on the road now?

TC Design has a physical shop and does a lot of work there, it's located in Campbell, CA.

 

BenM08
BenM08 New Reader
5/6/20 7:36 p.m.

The filling of the intentionally missed welds is atrocious. I do have to say though after having High Speed Motorsports deliver me my car with a "finished" cage containing numerous unfinished  welds, burn through spots, unpenetrated and contaminated welds, I can't help but scratch my head at the irony of this article. Can't say it was intentional or nearly as outlandish as what happened in your car to cover it up, but wish that same level of attention to detail went into every car coming out of that shop.

I don't think budget should ever ever ever dictate whether something is considered safe or not. For things like this there is a right way and a wrong way. 

Tom1200
Tom1200 Dork
5/6/20 9:07 p.m.

There are a lot of welder/fabricators out there who can and will weld up a cage and do it properly on a budget. There are also places out there who charge top dollar that do sub standard work. Caveat Emptor has never applied more when it comes to this. 

The issue as with all things is more complicated than it seems.

I've seen a shops that do great work for their key customers do crap work for their occasional customer. They do this unintentionally, they often fall into the trap of using up their available time with key customer's work and then end up rushing through the occasional customers job.  This is what happened in one of the examples I mentioned in previous post.

In any business you can end up with a rogue employee; usually their work is fine but as they are given more autonomy their work starts going to hell. The scary part is how many jobs did they half-assed before the situation gets uncovered.  

So again if you're having a cage done or other work your life may depend on, do your homework on the person doing it and ask to inspect the finished product. As mentioned previously people who do top level work won't have issue with this. By virtue of my profession (purchasing analyst) I often want to see milestones on a particular job. I'll pay a little extra for being a pain in the ass, note I discuss this with whoever is dong the work.

In Christina's case she was there for every stage of the work, so she has total piece of mind (even beyond hiring a top notch fabricator). 

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