King of The Hammers has an excellent safety record, something that Dave Cole and his crew are understandably very proud of. Still, every year drivers show up on the lakebed in Johnson Valley with vehicles that fail technical inspection prior to the race and are scrambling to make modifications. Safety is not optional, but the time devoted to making these repairs means less time for pre-running, logistics, and sleep. To keep you from becoming another Ultra4 violation statistic, we spoke with KOH head honcho and former tech inspector Nate Schuit about what the most common infractions are and how they can be avoided before arriving for the race. Even if you never race in King of the Hammers, there is still plenty of useful information here about how to make your own 4x4 safer when you hit the trail.
10) Fire Extinguishers
This is straightforward. The rules require a minimum of two 2.5-pound extinguishers with gauges indicating they are properly charged. One extinguisher is required to be mounted internal to the driver’s compartment and the other one external of the vehicle where it can be reached by someone outside the vehicle in case of emergency. There are a variety of quick-release brackets on the market that solidly mount to tubing, yet are easy to remove when necessary.
There are two issues that commonly come into play with harnesses. The first is the date of manufacture, as SFI certifies belts for three years from the date of manufacture. They can be re-certified after that date, or replaced. The other issue is the routing of the shoulder restraints. They should be mounted between 0 and 10 degrees downward in order to avoid excessive downward force on the spine in the event of an accident. Wrap-around style belts are permitted, except for the lap belts, but remember they must be captured and not allowed to slide side-to-side along the bar they are wrapped around. The 3 bar slide buckles used for adjusting the installed belt length should be located as close as possible to the mounting point and the belts wrapped back through the slide so that only 1 of the 3 bars is visible.
8) Locking Dipstick
Both the engine and transmission must have locking dipsticks in order to ensure fluid containment under excessive pressure or in the event of a rollover. Lokar makes very nice locking dipsticks, but safety wire on the factory dipstick can also be used. Schuit noted that in a pinch the dipstick can even be zip tied in order to pass tech, but consider this a temporary solution.
7) Sealed Firewall
The purpose of the firewall is protect the occupants from heat or fluids in the engine compartment. It is like a wall meant to keep out, you know, fire. It if does not extend the full width of the vehicle or if it has gaps in it, it cannot do its job. Schuit mentioned that metal tape can be used to fill small gaps in the firewall and floor. Keep in mind that an additional firewall is required between the fuel cell and occupant compartment as well for the same reason.
6) A-Pillar Gussets
Ultra4 cars can reach triple-digit speeds, so the entire chassis structure needs to be able to withstand enormous forces should the unthinkable happen. For this reason, gussets are required at the roof line on both the A-pillar and B-pillar. The gussets are not required on the C-pillar, since it is not over the vehicle occupants... but adding them here as well is a good idea.
5) Hydraulic Line Routing
Most Ultra4 cars use full hydraulic steering, with an orbital valve instead of a traditional steering box. The orbital valve has hydraulic hoses connected to it, and is often mounted under the dash at the end of the steering column. This puts hydraulic fluid, that is under extreme pressure, directly between the driver’s legs! The fluid itself is not as much of an issue as the pressure and heat, which can be harmful should a hose burst. A complete firewall is not required, but some form of shielding must be used to protect the driver from being directly sprayed with hydraulic fluid.
4) Functioning Rear Lights
Ultra4 racing requires brake lights, running lights, and a rear facing amber light that lets approaching vehicles identify you in dusty conditions. The lights are best mounted up high, where they can be easily seen and are less likely to be damaged in the event of nerfing. Down low on the bumper, reflective tape is required for an added level of safety. Blue lights are not required on Ultra4 cars, leave them for the UTVs and Class 11 Bugs.
3) Window Nets
Any opening large enough to fit a hand through, that is within reach of the driver or co-driver when they are belted in place, must be covered with a window net. Nets can be fixed at the bottom or the top, with seatbelt-style push button latches or link-and-bar style latches. Hard mounting the nets at the top and using link-and-bar style latches seem to be the most robust mounting method. MasterCraft Safety offers custom window nets built to your specifications.
2) Ball Valves
All supply and return lines on the fuel tank must have 1/4-turn ball valves that are easily accessible. This feature has saved several cars from being consumed by fire after rolling over. The vent line is required to have a rollover valve, but a ball valve on the vent line is a worthwhile addition for added safety.
1) Fluid Containment
The goal of this rule is to prevent fluids from spilling on the ground in the event of a rollover or when subjected to extreme pressures. This is the number one issue that teams are scrambling to fix on the lakebed, because many vehicles use a catch can with a vent on top. What happens when the vehicle rolls over? That vent turns into a funnel and all the fluids come out! The catch can needs a “four sides and down” mounting method in order to capture the fluids at any angle. This involves wrapping the vent hose around all four sides of the catch can and terminating the hose at a point that is below the can. Routing the vent in this manner will trap any fluids that escape in a rollover, regardless of the angle the vehicle comes to rest at.
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