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