Trailer Accidents by Mark O’Day - July 2023 Newsletter
One of the most dangerous aspects of our hobby is dealing with the trailer, yet it probably is really an afterthought for most of us – coupling and decoupling, loading, unloading, securing the car.
We have all done it so many times we hardly think about it. Whether it is a large rig or a small, enclosed or open trailer for a single car, it matters not. If you have joined the club in the past 19 years, you may not be aware that a member, Charlie Gibson, who was the Event Chairman for the Lime Rock Historics, lost his life in a tragic accident after decoupling his trailer.
What has prompted me to write this is that at two of my last three Lime Rock events I have seen nasty trailer accidents take place with my immediate paddock neighbors; in the first instance it was someone relatively new to our events, in the second it was someone who has probably loaded and unloaded his trailer over 200 times. Fortunately, the first resulted in no injuries, the second resulted in some bruising but either one could have been so much worse. At the Fall Finale last year I watched as a car was being driven on the trailer that looked secure but wasn’t – the coupler was on the ball but not latched. As soon as the front wheels of the race car were on the trailer the coupler lifted off the ball and the trailer tongue was driven into the rear of the tow vehicle, causing considerable damage. At the recent Empire Cup, I heard blood curdling screams of “Help, help!” and found that the car next to me had rolled off the trailer and pinned the owner between the ramp wire, the ramp, and the car. One wheel of the race car was off the side of the ramp and the owner was partially trapped under the car. It took a jack to lift the car so as to extricate him.
Lastly, I will share an incident from several years ago in which your AC was the responsible party. I was unloading my car and thought the trailer was level and the car was in gear. Both were incorrect assumptions. Despite having slack in the front straps, as soon as I undid the second one my car started to roll back. My attempts to hold it back slowed it a bit but off it went. Fortunately, there were no cars or no one walking by the access road to be collected by my runaway car. It rolled across the road and came to a stop. The front wing did get a small chunk of sheet metal carved out as it scraped against the ramp wire. Now, if the ramp wire took a small chunk of sheet metal out of my car, imagine what it could do someone’s fingers, hand, or body. Back to the aforementioned incident, the trapped owner was so tightly pinned by the ramp wire you could see a clear indentation as it pressed against his chest. He was incredibly lucky not to have any lacerations or broken bones.
There are many considerations for trailer safety and I will not provide any check lists here but will share a few lessons learned. One is don’t make any as-sumptions – based on what you think, observe or assume you or somebody else may have done. Check for yourself that everything is ready for the next step. Another is chocking the wheels when the car is on the trailer. I now always chock the driver’s side front wheel with a long leash leading to the cockpit, thus preventing any movement while I undo the straps. Then I get in and with my foot on the brake, pull away the chock. In the event the car is not able to run (a not infrequent occurrence for many of us!) I always make sure someone is in the car to control it. Lastly, using “pool noodles” over the ramp wires look like a pretty good idea as a safety cushion .