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Just In Case...

Tow Hooks.

If you're going to be driving on a race track, you very much need to have at least one tow point. I know the temptation can be strong to say ''I'll just be careful and I won't need a tow.'' I've heard lots of folks say that. Me, I ran for two years without one and I sweated bullets until I finally got off my duff and dealt with it.

I was running Laguna Seca in beautiful weather, and running pretty well. A little too well as at one point I came into Turn 2 too hot and cooked the brakes. I got through the corner just fine, but at this point I have to say that, while I pride myself on being cautious and playing it smart... I hadn't yet learned the lesson I was about to.

As I progressed through the remainder of the lap, I could tell by the amount of pedal travel that I had an issue with the brakes, but I didn't realize its full severity. Plus, candidly, I had a good run going, was worked up about it and didn't want to pull in. The thrill of legal and safe speed on a world class track can get to you, and it got to me. Turn 11 is also particularly hard on braking under the wrong circumstances and going through it, I made a bad situation worse. I found this out as I approached Turn 2 again. Also known as the Andretti Hairpin, Turn 2 is at the bottom of a hill at the end of the front straight... the fastest point on the course. This is one spot you don't want to screw up. While I had taken the straight more gently out of concern for my ability to brake, I still had misjudged the entire situation in a perfect storm of inexperience and pilot error.

As I shot downhill like a rocket, I hit the brakes ... and the pedal went straight to the floor.

I pumped the pedal to account for whatever knockback was doing to make a very bad situation worse, and downshifted to get what I could out of the transmission. The car did slow, but not enough. At a certain point as I tried to make the turn I lazily spun, tail first, into the 'kitty litter' that is a large, deep gravel field. Another 15 mph less and I would have made the turn, but in retrospect Turn 2's runout is so extensive it was a blessing to lose it there.

That was the one and only time I have ever gone off-track, and the last time I have done a number of things. Luckily, since I went in tail first I was facing the track and, at a signal from the corner worker, I was able to do what is almost impossible at Laguna: Drive out of the gravel pit. 1,000 uses for 520 bhp just became 1,001.

If I hadn't gotten lucky, things would have been much worse. I would have done my fellow track participants a great disservice as it would have taken much longer to drag me out, costing everyone track time. And I have no doubt that damage to the vehicle would have resulted. A tow hook is mandatory for track participants. It can happen to you. Don't go on track without at least one.

Me, I have two. One for the front and one for the back. My theory is if I go nose-in to an off-track situation, I don't want the tow truck to have to spin me around by dragging me around. Thats not going to be good for the car in a variety of ways. So the goal was two hooks.

Another goal: Strength. This car is significantly heavier than your typical track car. Most tow hooks are alloy jobs rated at 3000-3500 lbs (assuming they are not decorative-only, as the fine print reads on some EBay auctions). Thats probably enough, but where capacity is concerned I am a firm believer in "too much" being better than "adequate". I wanted steel.

Mopar actually has a front/rear towing solution. Sort of. Since the cars were originally made when there was a Daimler in front of the Chrysler name, these cars have many underlying Mercedes-Benz parts. The tow hook kits are just such items... but they are not available to U.S. consumers; being reserved for Euro-bound LX's. For once my sources failed me and could not get hold of these export-restricted parts.

I looked around for a home-grown solution. One avenue I strongly considered was a 5/8'' steel eye bolt with a bright-dip finish. Not the most attractive, but rated to 10,000 pounds. I didn't feel a need for that enormous capacity... that was the smallest bolt that had the minimum 2'' inside diameter eyehole. It would have had the advantage of low cost (about $60 for a pair if you buy smart), simplicity and absolute strength. All you'd need beyond the bolt is a solid mounting bracket to the frame and a little machining to thread the monster into the bracket. Alas, this Frankensteinian idea was dropped given that it wouldn't even come close to SCCA compliance... I'd hate to go to this trouble and have a problem somewhere down the road, so to speak.

After much fruitless searching, the perfect solution was found from Rennline. They make an all-steel hook, primarily for the Porsche market, whose capacity far exceeds the alloy EBay hooks that are seemingly everywhere. It is reasonably priced and a model is available with standard threads. I bought two.

[coming soon: Pictures and the custom-build story]