The Car Trailer Is a Key Piece of Racing Equipment That Never Sets a Tire on Track

Photography by Brett Becker

[Editor's Note: This article originally ran in the February 2012 issue of Grassroots Motorsports]

Story by Brett Becker

The quickest drivers at your local track have more than a few things in common. Odds are they’re the most focused racers in the field, and they’ve probably accumulated more instruction and track time than the also-rans. Another safe bet: They don’t drive their race cars to and from the track. They trailer them.

Of course, a car trailer won’t necessarily make you a faster driver—but it may motivate you to spend more weekends at the track and net some additional racing experience.

Should you commit to a car trailer? Depends on what your goals are. Do you just want to have fun hanging out and driving fast with a bunch of like-minded friends, or do you want to regularly finish on the podium? Are you happy pulling a small tire trailer behind your daily driver to autocross and track days, or do you want to race wheel to wheel?

If you’re among the former group, you probably don’t need a trailer. If you belong more in the latter group, maybe it’s time to consider one.

Why Tow?

Picture this. It’s 4:30 on a steamy Sunday afternoon in August at Road Atlanta. You just finished your last HPDE session, and it’s time to head home. 

If you have a trailer, you’ve already lowered its ramps so you can immediately load the car when you reach the paddock. You tie down the car, start the truck, get the air conditioning going, and pack up your gear. By the time you climb into the cab and sink into the driver’s seat, the interior has cooled to a hospitable 72 degrees. You drop the truck in gear, crank up some music, and make the 6-hour drive home in climate-controlled comfort.

As you pull out, be sure to wave to the guy putting DOT tires back on his car and loading his tire trailer. Then wave to the driver who broke his daily driver; he’ll be the one signing paperwork for the tow truck operator.

Okay, maybe that scenario is a bit exaggerated, but you get the point. No matter how hard you push your car on track, a trailer setup will ensure that you and your machine will always have a ride home—and that means time and money saved.

Rock a Rental?

Look around the paddock during any race weekend and you’ll see a lot of U-Haul orange. There are good reasons for that. First, U-Haul stores are everywhere, and they provide probably the simplest and most cost-effective way to tow your car to the track—figure prices start at about $54 a day. If you’re only going to use a trailer a few times each year and don’t have a convenient place to store a trailer, this is a good option. 

A U-Haul car hauler is about 16 feet long and weighs 2210 pounds. With a gross trailer weight rating of 7500 pounds, a U-Haul car trailer can carry as much as 5290 pounds. 

The ramps pull straight out the back, and it’s not too difficult to load a sports car—even one with a lower ride height. What’s more, these rentals are fitted with hydraulic surge brakes, so there ’s no need for an electronic brake controller in the tow vehicle. However, rental costs can add up quickly. Availability isn’t always a slam dunk, either, especially if you’re making last-minute plans. 

How Much to Budget?

Ready to commit? Whether you buy new or used depends on your budget. New open trailers run anywhere from $2000 to $4000 for models with wood or steel decks, and up to $6000 for those with aluminum construction. 

New enclosed trailers range from roughly $5000 to as much as you’d care to spend. The new BRE Aerovault retails for $19,900, for example, but it’s about as trick as you can get: It comes fully equipped with a remote-controlled winch, 15-inch Goodyears and a name-brand hitch.

Shopping new? Just about every town in America has at least one trailer outlet; eBay is another viable source. But if your budget is like that of a lot of weekend racers, you’re probably looking to buy used. Prepare to spend some serious time poring over craigslist, RacingJunk.com and eBay ads. 

However, it is possible to find a used enclosed trailer for what you might spend on a new open model. Used enclosed trailers with reasonable prices sell quickly, so if you find one, act fast. If you miss out on a deal, just wait for another one to come along—and there’s always another one.

One mantra applies when buying a used trailer: Quality and good maintenance matter. Generally speaking, stick with names you know: BRE, Carson, Featherlite, Haulmark, Pace American and Wells Cargo are all national brands with good reputations. You also want an example that has been well maintained. Look for a clean trailer with new or nearly new tires as well as recently serviced brakes and bearings.

Another advantage to buying used is that much of a trailer’s value depreciation has already occurred, so odds are that if you sell it within a few years, you’ll likely get most of your money back.

Open or Closed?

If you can afford to buy an enclosed trailer, it would be money well spent. Owners of open trailers typically start itching for enclosed models within a few years. 

Why? At the track, enclosed units provide shelter from the sun and heat. And unlike pop-up canopies, they don’t need to be anchored and won’t blow away if the wind picks up. With the right adjustments, you can even camp inside them at the track and save on hotel bills. They also provide locking storage, which means you can free up garage space at home. 

Open or enclosed, the most common type of entry-level car trailer typically has two 3500-pound axles with brakes on one of them. That means the combined weight of the trailer and contents can be no more than 7000 pounds. Enclosed trailers are heavier than open models, so they put more of a strain on the tow vehicle. And remember, the weight of your tools and gear can add up quickly.

Entry-level enclosed trailers tend to have the same axle weight ratings, but width becomes important: Make sure you can still use your sideview mirrors. If you have a small car, such as a Miata or a Lotus, you can get away with an 8-foot-wide trailer. If you have a Corvette or an Evo, you need an 8.5-foot-wide model.

What Tow Vehicle?

SUVs like the Chevrolet Suburban or Ford Excursion make excellent tow vehicles, but sometimes you just gotta have a truck. 

Think about it: You can carry spare wheels and grimy bits in a pickup bed and not have to worry about getting your interior dirty or removing third-row seating. And there’s no need to inhale fumes all the way home—just throw your gas cans in the back of the truck.

Emotions can run high when comparing truck brands, so we’ll stick to the basics. The newer trucks with five- and six-speed automatics are much better for towing over mountainous terrain. If you only tow in Florida or Indiana, a four-speed automatic will suffice, but be sure that whatever you buy has the towing package. 

Before you start shopping, determine how much weight the truck will be pulling. Once you have that figure, add in another 1500 pounds to allow for some extra towing capacity. That way, you won’t be asking everything of your truck each time you tow with it. 

Another big decision involves fuel: gas or diesel? Any full-sized diesel truck is plenty capable, but if you’re pulling a Caterham Super 7 on a single-axle trailer, you don’t need a Chevy HD or a Ford Super Duty for towing. A gas truck will be fine.

Happy Trails

Whatever truck and trailer you end up with, remember that they probably won’t lower your lap times. However, they will get you home safely—even if your race car will not.

Brett Becker is editor and publisher of OnlineTowingGuide.com, a site dedicated to the art of towing. 

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Comments
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Tyler H (Forum Supporter)
Tyler H (Forum Supporter) UberDork
9/30/20 9:15 a.m.

Shade, shelter, not having to hump your tools back and forth, having a place to congregate.  Ah....There is nothing better than having a buddy's enclosed trailer at the track. 

Tom1200
Tom1200 Dork
9/30/20 10:11 a.m.

After 30 years here's why I've stuck with an open trailer: weight,  space and security (counter intuitive).

Weight: An enclosed trailer is triple the weight of my small open trailer, which means a bigger tow vehicle if I don't want to be chugging up grades at 25 mph.

Space: I have a 10' wide hole I have to back the trailer into on the side of my house. The longer wider trailer would be a bear to park.

Security: Due to the space issue the enclosed trailer would need to be parked on the street and that shouts steal me. Whether it's landscape trailers or car trailers I've known more people who've had either their trailer stolen or it broken into. Note most of these were either stored in the driveway or on the side of the house. 

There are some caveats in my case; my cars are small and light (1632lbs and 640lbs), I have a camper van so I don't need shade and all of my spares and  cheap tools are in the van. The only thing I need to load is my portable generator & the car. I've got the load up down to 30 minutes at the house and about 5-10 minutes at the track. I race mostly local, I do one event a year that's a 6 hour tow. My two tracks are 9 and 67 miles from the house.

 

frenchyd
frenchyd PowerDork
9/30/20 11:36 a.m.

In reply to Tom1200 :

My experience  is the opposite. An enclosed fiberglass trailer is extremely tough to break into and when I'm on the road it's locked to my tow vehicle. 
 

At home our crime rate is.      .00023 ( we spend nearly $5 million year to protect  a little over 8000 people ).  On top of that we have a lot of winding dead end roads that if you're not familiar with the local area extremely easy to wind up hopelessly lost.  
Roads that sound the same and go around in big loops.  For example there's Williston rd and Williston Cir followed by Williston crt and tangentially there is Williston and Williston which is one big loop going back onto itself. When street signs are hidden by brush and often look like a private driveway  I have to remember to turn 3 mailboxes past the big mailbox. Because not every mailbox has its number on it. Not to mention bunched together mailboxes. 

codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) UberDork
9/30/20 1:50 p.m.

In addition to the "shady spot to hang out in while at the track", my favorite parts of having an enclosed trailer are that it provides weather protection to the race car (which has no weather sealing on the rear windows and no front side windows at all) and that I can just leave my stuff in there between track days. I don't have to spend hours packing/loading tools, spares, etc before and after every event, instead I just hitch up and go.

 

dps214
dps214 HalfDork
9/30/20 2:32 p.m.

Which one is safer is an interesting thought exercise. With the open trailer, you know exactly what's attached to the trailer. With the enclosed, you don't know what's in the trailer. But, on the other hand...you don't know what's in the trailer, and it could be just about anything.

Personally, I find trailer camping to usually be at least as luxurious as the mid-price hotel we would have normally gotten.

codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) UberDork
9/30/20 3:34 p.m.
dps214 said:

Which one is safer is an interesting thought exercise. With the open trailer, you know exactly what's attached to the trailer. With the enclosed, you don't know what's in the trailer. But, on the other hand...you don't know what's in the trailer, and it could be just about anything.

AIUI, thieves of enclosed trailers are usually motivated by the tools they expect to find inside rather than the race car.  Tools are easy to sell anonymously, race cars aren't.

 

DirtyBird222
DirtyBird222 UberDork
9/30/20 4:00 p.m.

When you buy a new trailer (like brand new) double check the wheel bearings. My enclosed trailer has less than 500 miles on it and a wheel and bearing went flying down I-95 in Indian River County two weekends ago on the way to the Champ PBIR race. 

I've enjoyed having an enclosed trailer vs. an open for reasons like weather protection, climate control (even if it's only a 15 degree delta - it's still nice having something cooler than the ambient air in Florida), storage space, and security. I like that I can just lock everything up in the trailer and not have to worry about sticky fingers at the race track.

 The things I don't like about an enclosed trailer are the size, weight, the need for a bigger truck, and a bit more maintenance. The pros still outweigh the cons in my opinion. 

 

Tom1200
Tom1200 Dork
9/30/20 5:10 p.m.

So elaborating a little more on the stolen trailers; 3 of the people I know or know of in this situation got their car back but nothing else, one got all of their landscape equipment stolen but got the trailer back, the other got the car and trailer back but lost some of the tools.  All of them live in nice areas with relatively low crime rates.

Weather protection; I live in the Mojave desert so that isn't an issue either but the enclosed trailer is nice for that aspect. 

Storing the car in the trailer; I put my race cars on stands between events so that negates leaving them in the trailer.

Loading; I have no idea what other people bring but if you called me with zero notice I could load up in 30 minutes. I have spent a lot of hours whittling down the list of things to bring. 

Now if  I had a one ton van vs a 3/4 ton and more space on the side of the house then I'd consider enclosed. Additionally if I was just racing the F500 I might be persuaded to go enclosed as the F5  only needs a 6x12 trailer.

frenchyd
frenchyd PowerDork
9/30/20 5:44 p.m.

My experiance is opposite yours. Maybe because for a while I was traveling all over the country racing. An enclosed trailer protected  my car from road grime, rain , hail , prying eyes, kids climbing, on and in the race car. 
On the road the trailer was locked and fiberglass does not cut silently open with a sharp knife the way aluminum will when I  stopped to sleep at a motel.  
      At home the crime rate is really low.  that's because the cities annual budget for police is millions for 8000 residents  plus locks and other safeguards. And other reasons. 
 

When  you custom build your trailers  you can make them whatever size works best for you.  A 10 foot spot would leave me with nearly 3 feet to spare.   Backing is no harder with enclose than an open trailer. Semi drivers do it daily, sometimes many times a day. 

Tom1200
Tom1200 Dork
9/30/20 8:22 p.m.

French if I was doing those kind of trips I'd go with an enclosed trailer as well.

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