This year I decided to start our second son, Matt in the sport of quarter midget racing. I already had a second car and engine that was ready to roll. The only problem was how to get two cars to the track on race day. The obvious solution is to get a trailer. The only problem is that I didn't have the $2500-$3000 for a used trailer, and I did not have a spot to park a big trailer at the house. For a while I thought about taking the cars to the track in two trips, but that would not be practical and I did not have garage space to house a second car out of the weather.
Quarter Midgets are roughly 6.5' long by 3.5' wide. The typical trailer has a floor that is 6' wide. This means that cars need to be put in end-to-end and a 2-car trailer is 6'x14' or 6'x16'. The overall length is 19' to 21'. This provides a very nice place to hang out on race day, but would not fit into my driveway or budget. At last year's Keystone invitational I saw a homemade trailer that looked like it would fill my needs. The trailer was a converted pop-up camper where the camper body was stripped off and a 8'x8' box built in its place. The key part about using a pop-up trailer for the starting point was the small wheels that allow the 8'x8' platform to go over the wheels instead of inside the wheels. I spoke with the owner a bit and he said the trailer worked great for him. His one issue was a lack of water tightness. I could see that there was a seam that ran the length of the roof and the doors lacked weather striping. I could see how he easily fit all of his race parts and tools in with the cars. The overall length of the trailer was about 13', which was much more compatible with my parking options.
I had a bit of good luck when a friend of mine told me he had an old pop-up camper that he could sell me. The trailer was a 1973 Coleman that he purchased years ago and used it to haul his family on many trips. He had rebuilt the soft parts and painted it once and generally kept it in good shape for many family vacations. When his family matured he modified it to haul 4-wheelers on trips by removing the top and making a floor out of oak boards. The trailer last saw service hauling mulch. About the only thing left on the trailer was the frame and axle, which was all I really needed. (I sure wish I had a picture of the old camper resting in the weeds, 1/2 full of mulch.)
The plan was simple. Strip the remnants of the camper body off the frame and build a box to hold two cars. The devil is in the details... The first step was to make a measured drawing of the trailer frame taking care to note the length and width of the frame and the height of the fenders. It turns out the frame was 9' long by 7' wide and the fenders sits 8" above the top of the frame. At this point I had something to base the final design on.
Once I had the foundation I started to figure on how to build a suitable box on the frame. The first step was to raise the level of the deck above the top of the fenders. I decided to build the structure out of wood, something similar to a floor of a house. This would all get built out of pressure treated lumber since it would be exposed to the weather. The top part would be 2x4 studs and rafters, which would get an aluminum skin. The skin would provide substantial strength to the wood frame, except to twisting.
There will be two doors, one in front to access some storage space and tie down the cars and one in back to get the cars in and out. The back door fits tight to the frame to help support the wood frame when it is twisted. The rafters would be let into the studs and stiffened with a metal "ell" brace to provide additional support.
The first step was to strip the old trailer down to the frame. A long evening was spent with a air grinder, Sawzall, hammer, drill and other implements of destruction stripping off the remnants of the camper and pop-up mechanism. I salvaged the lights, fenders and oak floor boards. Once the frame was stripped I sent it off to the sand blaster to remove 29 years of rust and dirt. They did a great job cleaning the frame (and cleaning the insulation from the wiring harness, which was tucked deep in the frame.)
Click on any of the images below to get an expanded view.
Sandblasted frame sitting up on blocks ready for work to begin.
Once the frame was sitting on blocks in the back yard the work began in earnest. God must be a racer, since he favored me with 3 days of sunny, 60° days in late January. I took full advantage of the weather and spent the days with a brush full of Rustoleum putting on a coat of primer and 2 coats of gloss black on the frame. I also pulled the stabilizer jacks off the frame and bent them straight again so they would work like new. I figured I would need them to prevent the trailer from tipping up when the trailer was not attached to the truck.
Painted frame sitting on stabilizers
Three days of hard work paid off. Every surface of the old frame had 3 coats of Rustoleum and I was able to run the wires in the frame. The stabilizers work like new. In the end, the frame came out great.
29 year old jack
One of the advantages of a small trailer will be the ability to push it around without the truck. This will be very handy at the track and moving it around in the yard. The wheel on the original jack was beat. Over the years the pressed steel wheel has worn about 1/4 of the way through the axle. I rebuilt the jack by replacing the wheel with an industrial one with a urethane tire and roller bearings. The worn axle was replaced with a bolt and bushing. This will make it much easier to push the trailer around on any reasonably smooth surface.
Ready to roll
With the frame bare, it was a good time to freshen up the running gear. I replaced the wheel bearings and seals and treated the wheels to new tires. I also ran new wiring in the frame to run the running lights.
The next step was to build a subframe to raise the floor of the trailer above the fenders. Since the fenders were 8" high I would have to use a 2x10 to get enough height to get the deck to clear the fenders. This would make the deck 1.5" higher than the fenders. I was a bit concerned about weight, so I ripped the subframe boards down to 8.25" wide so the deck would just clear the fenders. I also cut a few oval holes on the inner pieces to reduce the weight.
Subframe mounted with U-Bolts.
Since the trailer body would be fairly heavy I wanted to make sure the subframe stayed attached to the trailer frame. I found some truck-sized U-bolts with forged steel fittings to attach the frame to the subframe. The body is there to stay. The picture also shows the wires coming out of the frame.
I chose to make the deck out of pressure treated plywood since it would get wet when the trailer was run in the rain. Since the floor was 8'x8' it took two full sheets of plywood with no trimming. Since the trailer frame was 9' and the deck was 8' long I needed to do something with the extra 6" on each end. In the front I added a step made out of 1x6 deck flooring. In the rear I added a bumper made out of the same material. I took advantage of the space between the bottom of the deck and top o f the trailer frame by using it to store the loading ramps. They slide right in and fit between the bumper and the front header of the subframe. As an added benefit, the ramps can be pulled half way out and function as a table or workbench. Now I won't have to get a helper to help me get the car out of the truck at the track and I won't be tripping over the ramps in the garage.
Bumper and Ramps
Start of Wooden Frame
The frame went up fairly easy. The studs fasten to the deck with corner braces. This joint will be further secured with outer skin. The rafters fit into notches in the studs and are further secured with flat angle braces. The studs were 47" and the rafters 96", which made for very little waste.
Completed Wooden Frame
The front bit of the trailer was a bit of a challange. The angled part was to be the front door. There is a shelf just inside the door for gear bags and the door allows me access for tying down the back of the cars. I used the scrap pieces from the inside of what will be the front door frame to make the short inner wall sections. These greatly stiffened the whole structure and will prevent the things from hitting the inside of the skin, which would dent it.
Joey and Matt hamming it up in the trailer
Both drivers were interested in the project from the start. At this point they were still doubtful that the jungle-gym would become a race car trailer.
Ready for Test Drive
At this point I figured everything was tight enough to take it for a little spin. The Dakota pulled it fine. I did notice that at 8' wide it will be a challenge to drive on the skinny roads around here. It will also be harder to drive once the skin is on and the trailer is not see-through.
I painted the frame before I put the skin on since it would be about a zillion times easier to do with a roller than a brush. This also allowed me to seal all 4 sides of the wood, which should make it more dimensionally stable.
To optimize space and keep things neat I made a small tire rack on the left side. The tires sit on two rails made from 1/2" EMT. The front panel flips down to release the tires.
Installing the Skin
I used standard tractor trailer side panels which are 96" long by 49" wide. The only waste was the angled cut in the front. The skin is held to the frame with washer screws that seal to the sheet metal. I used about 250 of these screws during the project. (Thank God for battery drills.)
One of the key finds for this project was a source for the fiberglass roofing. It is over 8' wide and is sold by the foot. Perfect. Best of all, it is translucent so it lets the sun shine in. I mounted it to the rafters with construction adhesive so there would be no holes in it. The gap between the roof and wall will be covered by aluminum architectural angle sealed to the roof.
Ramps in Table Mode
This picture shows how the ramps pull 1/2 way out to form a table, or work surface. The old stabilizers from the pop-up trailer are still important as the trailer tends to wheelie when it is not attached to the truck and one steps on the rear bumper.
Rear Door Frame Under Construction
The door frames were made with a simple wood frame, backed with 1/4" luan plywood. I used 2x4's for the rear door frame and 1x4's for the front door frame. The plywood was glued to the frame to give rigidity. Once the outer skin was screwed into place the doors became quite rigid. I took the added step on putting expanding polyurethane foam in the spaces of the front door. Worked like a champ.
Cars fit in Trailer
The moment of truth came soon enough. I went up to my friend's barn and retrieved the old Rice car then put the two cars in the trailer for the first time. They fit! All the CAD drawings and figuring paid off.
Nothing is perfect. The rear cover on the Rice car flips up in the back, coming quite close to the front shelf. No problem, but a bit close.
Door Hold Back
I got these slick plastic door holders to pin the doors back when open. They fold down when not in use and keep the doors pinned tight to the body when the doors are open. They are quite necessary as the 4'x4' doors are quite light and catch the wind.
The rear doors were one of the more difficult of the project taking almost a day to install and trim. I trimmed the rear doors with a snap on weather strip that covered the sharp edge of the sheet metal. The hinges are 8' strap hinges with nylon bearings. The right door latches with two inside bolts. The left door latches to the right with a gate closure. The doors also fit closely to the rear frame to restrict the racking of the rear of the body. The effort was worth it, the hardware works well and the doors close like a "wooden Lexus".
The front door closes with two pull latches that were modified to work at an angle. The catches use carriage bolts to make them theft resistant. I used a piece of plastic rain gutter across the top to keep water out. It works well.
The doors allow great access to the interior.
There's the complete trailer. I added marker lights to the corners and to the center of the rear. I also put DOT marker tape on the sides and front to further increase the visibility at night.
I have since taken the trailer to the track a few times and it works well in practice. Hauling an 8' wide trailer close to the truck is a bit of a challenge especially on the small roads around here. I did purchase some mirror extenders, which help a bit. I also need to refine my route to the track to limit the number of twisty turns. Backing the trailer is not that difficult. The only problem is that it is hard to see where the back of the trailer is going. It would help to get a reciever type hitch that extends back from the truck a bit.
At the track the trailer works like a champ. I can take the cars in and out with ease. The tools and racing gear are close at hand. I have regained storage space in the house and garage. The trailer is a bit difficult to push on the coarse gravel at the track, but pushes with ease on the paved surface. This will be very important when I have to get it in and out of tight parking spaces. I took the trailer to a local truck scale and it weighed 1680 pounds with both cars and tools. I figure the cars and tools weigh 480 so the trailer weighs 1200. This works out very close to $1/pound to build. Team Dille now has a home base at the track.
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