I just ticked a huge item off my bucket list: my very own Porsche 944 finished its first-ever full 24-hour race. Fall is prime endurance racing time in many warmer parts of the country even though the nights are longer. Here are all the essentials you need to race long into the night.
Our team’s biggest problem during this race was that we couldn’t see anything at night. I’d borrowed a row of four Hella 500 spotlights from a teammate to race with, but the extra power draw for this row of spotlights killed our alternator, causing the lights to dim and our battery to drain during the darkest stretch of race time. Then we nuked my spare alternator, at which point, we figured that waiting thirty minutes for the sun to rise was a better fix than having to get towed in again with a dead battery.
Moral of the story: don’t be us. Seeing where you can go with a set of brighter lights aimed far enough ahead of your for track speeds is crucial.
Next time, we’re copying all of the well-lit cars who ran circles around us all night long and going with an LED bar up front. LEDs use less power than our halogen spotlights but still put out an absurd amount of light. Three cheers for modern technology!
A big LED light bar will only shoot lots of light directly in front of the car, so you’ll still need to aim a couple smaller lights (which the Hella 500s are still great for) off the sides of your car to be able to see the apexes of turns. Most importantly, make sure all of your lights are properly aimed at the actual track surface so you’re not accidentally blinding the cars in front of you.
Anything worth doing is worth overdoing, and LEDs are dirt cheap now. We installed a string of red LEDs across the back of my 944 as a backup in case the sketchy wire going to one of my taillights turned that rear light off. Bonus: it made the rump of our car easy to spot.
Even if you don’t have a strange electrical gremlin, adding unique lights can help you spot your car from far away. Remember that backstretch that’s easy to see in the daylight? It’s less so at night unless you’ve lit up your car with enough fuschia LEDs to shame a dekotora truck.
Light up your roofline with color-changing lights! Party like it’s 1999 with sick underglow! Throw rock lights in the fender wells! If your interior is too dim, stick on some extra red lights, as red light is less distracting at night. There are even light-up truck nuts now that you can set up to mirror your brake lights, blinkers or taillights.
Night races are the time to try every garish lighting mod you won’t admit to loving in polite company. Embrace your inner Fast and Furious megafan and let your car glow.
All of this darkness means that you’ll need some light to work by, too. Headlamps and long handheld LED bars were a lifesaver for dark pit stops. A cordless work light made an alternator swap in our paddock space possible in the middle of the night. Of course, more of those handy hanging/magnetic LED flashlights won’t hurt to have around, either.
All these light-up truck nuts and LED bars have to get installed somehow, right? You may even need to install a higher-output alternator in your car so as not to overload your stock one (like we did) with the extra lights you’ve installed. So, grab a good wiring repair kit. Here’s one on Amazon that seems to have all the basics (connectors, crimping tools, zip ties, etc.).
While you’re at it, you’ll probably need some heat shrink to shield connections from the elements (a heat gun is ideal for shrinking these down, but we also found that a lighter works in a pinch as long as you don’t get too close) and a soldering iron kit to attach all those connectors the right way. Any relays you may need are usually a quick parts store run away, as they’re typically sold separately.
Don’t be afraid to ask the paddock “wiring guy” for help in a pinch. There’s usually That Guy around—just ask, and be prepared to offer parts, fuel or beer for his time, as is polite. Your competitors typically want to beat you on the track, not because you can’t see or get the car started.
Keep a spare battery on hand just in case your wiring genius doesn’t fix it all. This is another mistake I made: my spare battery was at home because I just bought a new battery for the 944. So, we had to do an ultra-janky fix using a pilfered Nissan battery that didn’t quite fit to make the checkered flag.
It’s hard to see what your car is doing at night, so it really helps to be able to talk to the driver behind the wheel. Radios are good!
In addition to making sure someone who knows your car is awake-ish to be at the receiving end of a radio distress call, make sure your radio has good reception. The locals/huge-team teammates at Nerdie Racing saved our bacon for this race using a pair of Baofeng handhelds, but the fact that we only had a limited range was all our team’s dumb fault.
You see, a car antenna has to be grounded on metal to work well. Long ago, someone drilled through the fiberglass sunroof of my 944 for the radio antenna, and it’s had terrible range ever since.
One way to ensure that your car antenna is well grounded is to get a magnetic radio antenna. This ensures that your antenna hits metal because it simply won’t stick anywhere else.
So, you’ve got lighting and radio needs sorted? Cool! What about nature?
It’s fall now, and while that can mean perfect 70-degree days in some parts of the country, it also means chilly nights and potentially some rain. I need to borrow Jason Statham one day to lend his gravelly narrator voice to the track PA system to call out, “It always rains on the Gulf Coast.” Because it does!
Here’s our strategy: Assume every night is going to rain. This saved us from having to bail out water-filled boxes in Houston and New Orleans, along with the races we’ve done in the Dallas area. Even if rain isn’t forecasted, prepare for it anyway.
It’s worth having a pop-up canopy for shade and dryness as well as a water-resistant car cover if you’re not working out of a garage. Tie your pop-up down to your spare set of wheels, and look for a car cover that has a lock and cable that runs under the car if you can. We’ve had 80+ mph winds at the track where my car’s been stored, and the only thing that kept my car cover from flying into Oklahoma is that locking cable that runs underneath.
Organize your spare parts into see-through (but importantly, non-leaky-top) plastic boxes so you’re prepared when you need something crazy like your spare alternator or another axle. Labeling what’s inside on a piece of tape on the top can be a big help in finding things as well. Keep those spare parts under a big waterproof tarp when it rains just in case any of those boxes leaks.
Lastly, you need to take care of yourself. Stay cozy! I’m a big fan of raiding end-of-season sales at your local outdoors store of choice for nice things at “I spend all my money on a dumb enduro car” prices. Look for waterproof gear, because you know it loves to rain when you least expect it.
I also recommend keeping a second set of fireproof racing gloves around both for helping with fueling stops and car work as well as for keeping warm. That way, the set you use to drive with doesn’t get accidentally coated in flammable stuff when you’re out of the car. On that note, it’s good to have a high-walled wagon to shuttle your fuel jugs around, too.
Good luck! We’re okay with the possibility that your race goes better than ours did. Honestly, it happens a lot.