Fans sign Dale Earnhardt's trailer at the Virginia 500.

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Introduction to How Racing Team Trailer Towing Works

Have you ever wondered how race cars get to the track? You don't see them cruising down the highway or caught in surface-street traffic. That's because racing teams almost always tow race cars in customized trailers to events.

A race car is an expensive piece of equipment. It has to be in top condition when the driver gets behind the wheel. Driving the race car outside of a competition would cause wear and tear on the vehicle that could affect the outcome of a future race. It's to the team's advantage to use a trailer and reduce the strain on the vehicle.

While it's probably safe to say that all racing teams prefer to tow their respective race cars to events, not all teams use the same equipment. Racing team trailers come in a wide range of sizes and styles. Some are light enough for a pickup truck to tow. Others are so large and heavy that nothing short of a semitruck can do the job. And it's not a level playing ground -- a new racing team might not have the resources to buy the same kind of trailer an experienced driver like Jeff Gordon uses. We'll take a look at the different kinds of trailers within this article.

Some racing team trailers have few features and are really only good for transporting a car. But others have amenities that can rival a five-star hotel room! We'll examine the range of trailers from simple platforms to rigs that can serve as both a mobile garage and living quarters.

We'll also look at what you need to know if you're going to tow a racing team trailer. Towing any sort of trailer can be difficult and stressful. When you're towing an expensive high-end racing vehicle, the pressure is even more intense. Even something simple like making a turn can become a difficult maneuver.

First, let's start by looking at some basic trailer specifications.

In the good old days, most drivers towed their race cars on open flatbed trailers like this one.

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Racing Team Trailer Specs

So what is a racing team trailer like? That depends entirely upon how much money the team doles out for their equipment. The most basic kind of car-hauling trailer is a flatbed trailer with no ceiling or walls. These trailers are usually at least 14 feet (4 meters) long. While most have safety features like D-rings, breakaway connections and sway control, they don't offer any protection from the elements.

Enclosed trailers cost about twice as much as open trailers. The obvious benefit of an enclosed trailer is that it offers more protection to the car. Even if the enclosed trailer doesn't have any frills, many racing teams will invest in one to protect the vehicle. Enclosed trailers come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The shorter trailers are about 14 feet (4 meters) long. The longest ones can top out at around 53 feet (16 meters)!

One of th­e basic features of any trailer is the hitch system. The hitch system is what connects the trailer to the tow vehicle. A bumper-pull hitch system connects to a tow vehicle with a rear-mounted hitch. A fifth-wheel -- or gooseneck -- hitch system has an overhanging section in the front. The overhanging section fits over the back of a truck. The fifth-wheel hitch system connects to the center of the bed of the truck. Semi-truck trailers are pretty much self-explanatory -- they connect to the rear section of a semitruck.

Another basic trailer feature is a wiring system. The simplest of these provide power to brake lights, side lights and turn signal lights. More advanced versions also include functions like power for auxiliary systems, backup lights and brake systems.

But what about the other end of the spectrum? What kind of amenities can you find in the most expensive racing team trailers? Here's just a short list of some of the luxuries a top-of-the-line enclosed trailer might have:

  • Living quarters (bedroom, lounges, bathrooms with running water, dining rooms and kitchens)
  • Stoves, microwaves, refrigerators and other appliances
  • Entertainment systems (LCD televisions, DVD players, video game consoles and satellite radio systems)
  • A power generator
  • Solar panels
  • Climate control, both for the living quarters and the car storage area
  • Tool cabinets and workbenches
  • Rubber, vinyl or metal flooring in the garage section of the trailer
  • Electric or hydraulic landing gear to allow the trailer to remain freestanding without the tow vehicle
  • Car lifts, also known as elevators, can elevate a car so that it can drive into the trailer while others have two levels within the trailer itself, allowing you to tow multiple cars in the same trailer
  • Slideouts -- expandable sections within the trailer that increase the size of the trailer's interior when fully extended
  • Viewing platforms and reinforced trailer ceilings
  • Awnings

Next, we'll look at the different types of racing team trailers.

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Some race car trailers have lifts while others use a simple ramp to get a car into the trailer.

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Types of Racing Team Trailers

Here are the basic types of racing team trailers:

  • Open trailers offer no protection from the elements. The simplest ones are little more than a platform on top of a basic chassis that hitches to a tow vehicle. Because the towed vehicle is exposed to weather and potential hazards, most racing teams avoid using them if their budgets permit. To load a car on one of these trailers, you simply drive up a ramp on the back of the trailer.
  • An enclosed bumper-pull trailer connects to a rear-mounted tow hitch on a tow vehicle. The length of these trailers can range from 14 feet (4 meters) to more than 30 feet (9 meters). They may or may not have space set aside as living quarters.
  • Gooseneck trailers connect to a special hitch installed in the bed of a pickup truck. They tend to be between 36 and 53 feet (11 to 16 meters) long. The front of the trailer hangs over the back of the tow vehicle. Trailer manufacturers will often design this space as a living area with a bed or as extra storage. Many gooseneck racing trailers have a living area section inside them.
  • Semitruck trailers can be more than 50 feet (15 meters) long. Manufacturers may design these trailers to hold more than one car during towing. The front end of the trailer serves as living space. Some trailers have a solid wall separating the living space from the car storage area.
  • Stacker trailers are taller than normal trailers. That's because stacker trailers have two levels inside them. You can store one or two vehicles in the top and another underneath. You move cars to the top level using a hydraulic or cable lift attached to the trailer. These trailers range from 24 to 53 feet (7 to 16 meters) long.

Towing a trailer can be tricky. In the next section we'll look at some basic towing tips.

High-end race car trailers like Paul Tracy's often have side entrances.

Zoran Milich/Allsport/Getty Images

Racing Team Trailer Towing Tips

One thing you may need if you're going to tow a racing trailer is a special driver's license. States categorize commercial driver's licenses into classes based upon the weight of the towing vehicle and trailer. You should check state laws to see what the requirements are for your state. For example, in Georgia you would need a:

  • Class A License to drive a semitruck and trailer combination weighing more than 26,001 pounds (11,794 kilograms) towing a trailer weighing more than 10,000 pounds (4,536 kilograms).
  • Class B License to drive a vehicle weighing more than 26,001 pounds (11,794 kilograms) but towing a trailer weighing less than 10,000 pounds (4,536 kilograms).
  • Class C License to drive a vehicle weighing less than 26,000 pounds (11,794 kilograms), but towing a trailer weighing less than 10,000 pounds (4,536 kilograms) or a lighter tow vehicle towing a trailer exceeding 10,000 pounds (4,536 kilograms) as long as the combined weight of the vehicle and trailer doesn't exceed 26,000 pounds (11,794 kilograms) [source: Georgia Department of Driver Services].

As you can see, the requirements for licenses can be complex. Check your local laws and regulations to figure out which license you'll need to drive your vehicle and tow the trailer.

Check your turn signals, brake lights and backup lights before hooking up the trailer. Make sure all connections are secure and that you've also hooked up all safety equipment and wiring. Check the trailer's wiring. Make sure the lights are responding correctly.

It's a good idea to get some experience towing your trailer in a large open area such as an empty parking lot before you do a lot of driving. You'll need to practice:

  • Making turns - You'll need to learn how to take turns without hitting the curb or crossing too far over the edge or center of the road. If you aren't careful, your vehicle or trailer could clip objects on the side of the road. Remember that you'll be making wider turns than you would in a normal vehicle and take your time.
  • Accelerating and braking - Towing a trailer increases the mass of your overall vehicle. As the mass of an object increases, so does momentum and inertia. That's not just an interesting lesson in physics -- it also means that you'll need to allow yourself extra time and room when slowing or coming to a stop. Don't expect to be able to stop on a dime.
  • Backing up - The most difficult maneuver is backing up while towing a trailer. If possible, work with another person who can direct you while you're backing up. Use hand signals to communicate with one another. When backing up, put one hand on the six o'clock position on your steering wheel. To back up in a certain direction, just move your hand in that direction. Take your time and pay attention to your surroundings.

Mario Andretti's stacker trailer could hold multiple race cars.

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If you're using a vehicle like a pickup truck to tow your trailer, you may need to invest in towing mirrors. These mirrors either replace or extend your existing side view mirrors and give you a wider view behind you. Without these, you may not be able to detect cars approaching you from the side or the rear. Many states require these mirrors on any vehicle towing a trailer.

The most dangerous condition you can encounter when towing is trailer sway. That's when a trailer begins to move left and right as you tow it. Applying the tow vehicle's brakes or trying to steer out of the sway often makes it worse. The best way to handle trailer sway is to let up off the gas and use the brake system to gradually come to a stop.

Now you know how racing teams get their vehicles to the track -- they do it in style. To learn more about racing and other topics, put the pedal to the metal and take a look at the links on the next page.

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Sources

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  • bNet. "NASCAR Extends Partnership with Featherlite Trailers and Featherlite Coaches Through 2012." Business Wire. April 25, 2007. (Oct. 15, 2008) http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0EIN/is_2007_April_25/ai_n27214971
  • Danny's Trailer Sales. "Towing Guidelines." (Oct. 14, 2008) http://www.dannystrailersales.com/guidelines.php
  • NASCAR.com. "Trailer towing." Feb. 19, 2004. (Oct. 15, 2008) http://www.nascar.com/2004/auto/cct/02/19/trailer_towing/
  • Potter, Steve. "Auto Racing; Porsche Team Enjoys Luxury." The New York Times. Jan. 31, 1988. (Oct. 15, 2008) http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DE3D8133DF932A05752C0A96E948260
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