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

By Staff Writer
Dec 3, 2022 | Towing, trailer | Posted in Buyer's Guides , Features | From the Feb. 2012 issue | Never miss an article

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. 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 enclosed trailers cost as much as you’d care to spend. The price of the BRE Aerovault can seem high, 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, 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, a site dedicated to the art of towing. 

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View comments on the GRM forums
Tyler H (Forum Supporter)
Tyler H (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand 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 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 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) GRM+ Memberand 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 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 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) GRM+ Memberand 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 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 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 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 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 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.

2/21/21 11:32 a.m.

It would have been good to address tongue weight as well. A critical piece of the puzzle. One car I can pull in forward, one I need to back in.

DaleCarter GRM+ Memberand New Reader
2/24/21 1:40 p.m.

I love my enclosed trailer, but sometimes borrow my buddies open trailer. Each have their benefits. I already drive a heavy-duty pickup, so the tow vehicle expense isn't there. Here in the South, the luxury of a roof air unit cannot be overstated :-)

One tip I have is to resist the temptation to sticker/label your trailer and tow vehicle with motorsports brands. When I was a gigging musician, the trailers that were stolen were the ones with music brand stickers or the name of the band on the trailer. The same went for Harleys. Don't tell the thief what is in the trailer. My first trailer was still labeled with the original owners stickers, a towing company's air bag recovery equipment for 18- wheeler accidents. I left it on there because that stuff is worthless to a thief. 

LanEvo Dork
2/24/21 5:22 p.m.

I've been renting trailers from UHaul. There's a UHaul mega center one town over from me and they always have half a dozen car carriers in stock. Most are in good shape and they let you pick and choose.


codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
2/24/21 5:32 p.m.
DaleCarter said:

I love my enclosed trailer, but sometimes borrow my buddies open trailer. Each have their benefits. I already drive a heavy-duty pickup, so the tow vehicle expense isn't there. Here in the South, the luxury of a roof air unit cannot be overstated :-)

If I could I would have kept my open trailer when I bought the enclosed.  An enclosed is a specialized tool, while an open is a more general-purpose one, so there are things it can do that the enclosed can't.  Alas I don't have the space to store both.

wspohn SuperDork
2/25/21 11:12 a.m.

I used to tow my old MG race car with possibly the lightest trailer possible for that size of car.

It had a steel tube tongue that bolted to a steel tube axle, and that was it for heavy steel. The rest of it was some 2x10" planks  all suspended from a pillar just inboard from the wheel of the axle on each side using braided wire rope that extended to angle iron across back and front of the trailer.  Basically a suspension bridge trailer. You winched the car on with a boat winch attached to the tongue and used a strap over the axle and steering rack to secure it. 

Used to tow it with a standard transmission Cortina GT for awhile and later with American station wagons.  Never lusted after a trailer that weighed more than the car it was carrying.

DjGreggieP HalfDork
2/25/21 2:15 p.m.

I've always felt the trailer was the next 'step' in driver/car development.

When it doesn't need to get you home, its a lot easier to find the next limiting factor of either car, driver or both. You may have good brakes, but they may not be great brakes.

Rusnak_322 Dork
2/25/21 2:47 p.m.

I had an enclosed trailer that I used for road racing motorcycles. It was broken into twice in my driveway. You could see the police station from my driveway in a sleepy semi-rural town.

Both times they went in thru the man door. First time, they smashed the RV latch, I replaced it with a stronger one and then they went in by using a screwdriver to tear a hole i the door and unlatch it from the inside.

I put a security system on it for trailers, it ran off the electric brake break away battery that was inside the trailer. There were door sensors, motion sensors inside and it had a loud siren and flashed all the lights. it also would put the brakes on so the trailer couldn't be pulled away.

First time I lost a dirt bike and pit bike, but got them back the next day. second time I had a Yamaha R6 stolen and paid a reward to get it back.

I still think that enclosed trailers are the best thing ever. 

docwyte PowerDork
2/25/21 8:40 p.m.

I've towed a tire trailer to the track for over 15 years.  When I got an suv capable of towing I bought a featherlite open trailer.  It was great for what it was.

however I found it wasn't a time saver for me since I can't store it at my house.  I never really went to tracks outside my tow coverage range so didn't need it for that.

end of the day, I sold it and went back to my tire trailer.  If I start doing events out of state I may buy another trailer, this time a futura one that tips down cause they're cool

Tom1200 SuperDork
2/25/21 9:39 p.m.

In reply to docwyte :

When I ran a showroom stock Miata at local SCCA races, the track was 9 miles from the house. I'd pack everything in the tire rack would have been a glorious luxury.

Donebrokeit UltraDork
2/25/21 10:25 p.m.

Owning both a open and enclosed trailer I would say both have there uses.


The open trailer is great for "emergency  car purchases " that have to be done quick and tend to involve tight drive ways and backing into a blind jack. And are great for local one day events. 


The enclosed trailer is great for putting everything into one box  before, during,  and after  an event. 

Adding  lights, fans, radio,  beding can all be put inside and make a nice place to hang out. 

 Dry place for cars, gear, and people.

Overhead protection from hail.

Finally, there is nothing like pulling into the driveway after a long race weekend and driving 4+ hour to get home and not having to unload anything. Just park it, set the brake and take a shower , relax, and get ready for Monday. 


The cons of the open trailer are many but a few quick ones, poor resale value. Lack of security , I have loss many an air tank, jack, tools over the years.

Have you ever tried loading a car with race tires onto a wet metal/wooden deck trailer?

No fun, at all!


Straps will degrade due to UV if you have to leave the car on the trailer. And having to unload everything after a long weekend and a long drive home.


The cons of an enclosed trailer are in my opinion worth it. Up front cost are higher but the enclosed trailer have good resale value,  the size and weight, tow vehicle requirements are higher. 


I dont really see an storage issue  as like trailers will require almost the same amount of space.


Paul B

Tom1200 SuperDork
2/26/21 10:13 a.m.

In reply to Donebrokeit :

Really good points but I wanted to add a few things;

As for a wet trailer, mine has grip tape on it plus I live the the Mojave Desert

I have tilt trailer; it takes less than 5 minutes to unload the car. My trailer also fits in the garage.  I would never ever ever leave my gear in my van or an enclosed trailer so I have to unload some of the stuff. I typically take Monday off as well.

I have a camper van (best thing I ever did) I keep my collection of cheap tools in it. If someone actually did break into it they wouldn't get much.

Also I rent a garage space at the track (split with a friend it only costs me $50 a day)

With all that said my main reason for sticking with an open trailer is storage space and the need for a bigger van. The total length of my tilt trailer is just shy of 14', both it and the just fit on the slab on the side of the house. The van is only 3/4 ton, while it is rated to tow a larger trailer I'd be down to 15-25mph going up some of the hills.       

car39 Dork
2/26/21 10:37 a.m.


It was nice to have the extra garage space.  It was not nice being unable to pass a gas station.  4X4 F250 crew tow vehicle got 9 mpg with the trailer.  Ironically, it got 9 mpg without the trailer.  With the load leveling hitch, I could do 75+ coming down 84 out of PA and never move an inch.  The driver's side door is also invaluable when you're a 2XL getting out of a Miata.

6/15/21 9:21 a.m.

Ive raced a Mustang AS car for years - always used an open trailer.  I have always wanted an enclosed, for all the reasons cited, but could never justify the cost of the truck needed to comfortably pull it - it becomes a "tail wagging the dog" issue.  I have only had one occassion ever of having to sleep in a motel with the car on open trailer in the parking lot.  I didnt like it much, but doubtful a thief could have gotten away with the car, since the steering wheel and coil wire were in the room with me...



Toyman01 + Sized and
Toyman01 + Sized and GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
6/15/21 9:56 a.m.

I've owned both. At the end of the day, I no longer have an enclosed trailer and seldom use the open one. Its biggest advantage to the enclosed is the ability to haul even more crap to the track. 95% of it is crap you don't need and won't use. Everyone at the event would happily borrow stuff from me because they knew I had it in the trailer.

Now I show up with a car, a few hand tools, and a AAA card. No scramble to load, unload, clean, maintain, store, park, and just generally deal with the hassle of towing a trailer to the track. The needed stuff pretty much stays in the car and when I get home, I park it and lock the doors. Done.



DaleCarter GRM+ Memberand New Reader
3/20/22 12:14 a.m.

In reply to codrus (Forum Supporter) :

Totally understand. We all have our own needs/wants and I freely admit an enclosed trailer can be a PITA. I don't see it as a "specialized tool" because, in addition to it's normal role with race cars, I have moved furniture, transported disaster relief supplies for charities, camped overnight inside, even as a demo showroom for Nemesis Lab simulators. Last year, I moved my fathers furniture 300 miles, stored it in the trailer for a week or so, then another 100 to his new house, something I could not do with an open trailer.

We all have different uses, needs, wants, parking demands, tow vehicle size, etc etc... sounds like you found the best solution for you.

DaleCarter GRM+ Memberand New Reader
3/20/22 12:49 a.m.

     I am back with a suggestion  -  make sure your trailer has a winch strong enough to drag you car onboard when the "rolling parts" have been damaged at the track. A car with damaged suspension/wheels/tires probably won't track straight as you winch it into the trailer. Wheel dollies, snatch blocks, multiple tie-down points along the length of the trailer, HEAVY ratchet straps from a trucking supply store to move the car laterally to stay on line, etc are all good ideas. A tow truck supply source can be really helpful. If your trailer has a metal deck, cutting boards or cookie sheets will help the damaged tires to slide, plus you can use them for turn-plates when checking the caster on your alignments.

     When my buddies E36 snapped a lower ball joint, I used ratchet straps to tie down the wheel/tire, strut and control arm so they wouldn't shift. Then we put one of the wheel dollies from the shop under the damaged tire and dragged it onto his open trailer with a "Come-Along". Have you ever wondered how long it takes to winch a car 30' with a Come-Along? I can tell you and it's a LONG time.

     When it hit the tire wall in T4 at Barber, my car had a bent tie-rod end,  leaving the left front wheel locked hard left and the right side straight. I had a winch, but no dollies or snatch blocks, and couldn't just drag it into the trailer without severely scarring those pretty, white aluminum walls :-) We spent about two hours getting the wheels somewhat straight and another hour getting it into the trailer. Track security and the HPDE promoters were not amused... something about "blah blah blah, You're STILL here, yadda yadda yadda"

If either of those had happened away from home, rather than at our local track, we would have had a problem because a lot of the gear was at my shop. If we had not been able to load up, I could have had a rollback deliver it to my shop without too much cost. If we were at Road Atlanta, VIR, Sebring, etc..... $$$$

DaleCarter GRM+ Memberand New Reader
3/20/22 12:56 a.m.

In reply to car39 :

Install a winch and you won't have to climb out of the car. Plus, you can still load up if the wheels/tires/suspension/steering is damaged.

I am a "larger person" and had the same problem, even with an "escape door". I feel your pain :-)

DaleCarter GRM+ Memberand New Reader
3/20/22 12:56 a.m.

In reply to Donebrokeit :

Well said.

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