Originally designed and intended for safety, then for chassis stiffening, roll cages come in many shapes and sizes. The trick to a successful cage design is to find the happy medium between building a safe car and a good handling, low-center-mass car.

When building a racecar, you have to make the thing safe before you can make it fast. The major difference between the car you drive to work and the racecar you play with on the weekend isn’t the performance of the engine. It is actually the safety equipment. For our budget build Honda Challenge car, we had to come up with ways to make the car as safe as possible without breaking the bank.

After purchasing and stripping the car — see the March 2016 issue of Speed News — we started with the installation of a roll cage for our Acura Integra. There were options aplenty when it came to choices for the roll cage. We could buy a ready-to-ship bolt-in cage or have a cage custom made for the car. We went with the custom-made option because it allowed us to put specific designs into play that we wanted for our Honda Challenge car. Knowing our own limitations with a welder, we chose to leave this part of the build to the experts. We towed our chassis down to San Diego, and handed over our project to the boys at Autopower. They supply bolt-in or weld-in roll cages for almost any production car built, but they also do custom cage installs if you are willing to take the car to their shop.

Here is our Honda Challenge project car. It has some fresh sheet metal thanks to the local Pick-Your-Part. Now it has a roll cage thanks to the hard work of the folks at Autopower in San Diego. All that is left to do is darn near everything.
Here is our Honda Challenge project car. It has some fresh sheet metal thanks to the local Pick-Your-Part. Now it has a roll cage thanks to the hard work of the folks at Autopower in San Diego. All that is left to do is darn near everything.

NASA’s rules on roll cages and the Honda Challenge rules on roll cages don’t match up perfectly in regard to adding extra support to the cage. The Honda Challenge rules take priority, which allowed us more freedom in the design of the cage. We chose to tie the cage directly to the rear and front suspension pieces — with no weight penalty per the rules. We also chose to add more support to the rear lower portion of the cage and rear suspension. We added these pieces of the cage to the rear of the car to add weight to the back of the front-heavy, front-wheel-drive Integra.

Honda Challenge rules allow for the roll cage to go through the firewall and tie into the front suspension, and there is no weight penalty for this cage design, unlike some other classes and the base CCR rule set. Taking advantage of the opportunity to stiffen the car and make it safer, we tied the cage near the front strut mounts.
Honda Challenge rules allow for the roll cage to go through the firewall and tie into the front suspension, and there is no weight penalty for this cage design, unlike some other classes and the base CCR rule set. Taking advantage of the opportunity to stiffen the car and make it safer, we tied the cage near the front strut mounts.
The rear components of our roll cage tie directly into the rear suspension mounts of our Acura Integra. This makes the car stiffer and heavier in the rear.
The rear components of our roll cage tie directly into the rear suspension mounts of our Acura Integra. This makes the car stiffer and heavier in the rear.

For side-impact protection, we chose an X design on the passenger side to add rigidity to the cage and a modified sloping NASCAR door-bar design to the driver’s side. The lower leading edge of the NASCAR bars allow for the ease of getting in and out of the car. There is nothing in the rules that says both sides of the roll cage must be the same. We chose the best designs of different cages and implemented them into our Honda Challenge car. That is why we went with NASCAR door bars for driver-impact protection and an X bar on the passenger side to keep things square.

Both sides of your roll cage don’t have to be the same. We opted for an X design on the passenger side to give the cage more rigidity and NASCAR-style door bars for direct impact protection on the driver’s side. We had the leading edge of the door bars lowered to help with ingress/egress of the driver.
Both sides of your roll cage don’t have to be the same. We opted for an X design on the passenger side to give the cage more rigidity and NASCAR-style door bars for direct impact protection on the driver’s side. We had the leading edge of the door bars lowered to help with ingress/egress of the driver.
To ensure quick egress from the car, especially with a full containment race seat, we added a steering wheel quick release from Phase 2 Motortrend. The design is clean and easy to install.
To ensure quick egress from the car, especially with a full containment race seat, we added a steering wheel quick release from Phase 2 Motortrend. The design is clean and easy to install.

Once the cage was done, we moved on to other safety equipment. One of the best pieces of equipment you can purchase for your safety is a full containment seat. For this part of our build, we did not go low budget. We waited for a year-end sale and scored a composite Momo seat for $700, which is $200 more than we paid for the whole car. The full containment seat allows us to avoid installing a right-side net for lateral head protection. I’m a proponent of the right side net because it really does assist in driver protection, but they make me nervous about a driver being able to exit a car out the passenger side rapidly. These nets have a breakaway design, but that is just one more thing for a driver to have to pull or get out of his or her way in a fire.

Full-containment composite seats aren’t cheap. But based on NASA rules, they don’t require a right-side net or a rear seat brace, which will save you money and time by not having to purchase them or install them. There is no question that a containment racing seat is one of the best protections you can have in a collision. It is no coincidence that racing seats and infant car seats look very similar. The design can save your life.
Full-containment composite seats aren’t cheap. But based on NASA rules, they don’t require a right-side net or a rear seat brace, which will save you money and time by not having to purchase them or install them. There is no question that a containment racing seat is one of the best protections you can have in a collision. It is no coincidence that racing seats and infant car seats look very similar. The design can save your life.

Along the lines of quick exits, we installed a Phase 2 Motortrend steering wheel quick release. We like to the have the steering wheel pretty close to us in our driver position, which makes getting in and out of a full containment driver’s seat more difficult. The quick release, with handy easy-to-grasp wings on the side, makes removing the steering wheel quick and easy.

You can see the little wings of the Phase 2 Motortrend steering wheel quick release behind our Momo wheel. This design makes the piece easy to use by extending your fingers from the wheel to pull back on the quick release to get the wheel out of the way rapidly.
You can see the little wings of the Phase 2 Motortrend steering wheel quick release behind our Momo wheel. This design makes the piece easy to use by extending your fingers from the wheel to pull back on the quick release to get the wheel out of the way rapidly.

To keep us planted in the driver’s seat, we chose to use a seven-point Autopower harness with the narrowed shoulder harnesses for better fit over a HANS device. We have used these in the past and have had great luck with them, and they are very reasonably priced.

Autopower makes shoulder harnesses that narrow for good fitment over HANS head and neck protection. We really like the design, and the belts stay in place as they should, which gives you confidence behind the wheel.
Autopower makes shoulder harnesses that narrow for good fitment over HANS head and neck protection. We really like the design, and the belts stay in place as they should, which gives you confidence behind the wheel.

NASA CCR requires a fire extinguisher, which is a heavy thing to add to a racecar. We chose to mount ours as low as we could to keep the center mass of the car as low as possible. However, we didn’t put it in the most optimal weight position because we still had to adhere to the CCR, which states the extinguisher must be accessible to the driver while in the seat. Everything in a racecar build is a little give and take. For all of our cars we always use I/O Port Racing Supply’s double-strap fire extinguisher mount. Nobody needs the grief of having a fire extinguisher get loose in a racecar during a race. It happened to me once. Never again.

The trick to installing a fire extinguisher in a NASA racecar is the requirement that a driver can access it while strapped in the seat. Fire extinguishers are heavy. We installed ours as low as possible to keep the weight down in the car. We use the double-strap extinguisher mount from I/O Port Racing Supplies to ensure the heavy extinguisher doesn’t come loose and end up underneath our brake pedal.
The trick to installing a fire extinguisher in a NASA racecar is the requirement that a driver can access it while strapped in the seat. Fire extinguishers are heavy. We installed ours as low as possible to keep the weight down in the car. We use the double-strap extinguisher mount from I/O Port Racing Supplies to ensure the heavy extinguisher doesn’t come loose and end up underneath our brake pedal.

Pursuant to the rules, we added a master cut-off switch. There is much debate about the correct way to install these, positive battery cable versus negative battery cable, two-post versus, four-post, etc. The reason the debate rages on is because there is no right or wrong way to do it as long as the switch turns the car off and cuts off the battery. We chose to use a four-post switch, which includes cutting power to the alternator. We cut off the negative battery cable with the two larger posts on the switch so we don’t have lengthy wires of positive 12-volt power running all around the car to get to the switch. Then we used the two smaller posts on the cut-off switch wired to a relay to cut all power, like the OEM ignition switch, and cut off the alternator. This system works well and fulfills NASA’s rule requirements. We installed it in a location we could reach while strapped into the seat as well as in a location that an emergency worker could use it. A small decal from I/O Port Racing Supplies slapped on the door signifies its location.

Every racecar needs a master cut-off switch mounted in a location you can reach while belted and that can be reached by emergency personnel. Our cut-off switch has a removable toggle, which is easy to lose. A little safety wire attached to it keeps us from losing it. Some help from our Brother P-Touch label maker ensures we know positions for on and off.
Every racecar needs a master cut-off switch mounted in a location you can reach while belted and that can be reached by emergency personnel. Our cut-off switch has a removable toggle, which is easy to lose. A little safety wire attached to it keeps us from losing it. Some help from our Brother P-Touch label maker ensures we know positions for on and off.
Not only are you required to have a master cut-off switch, you are required to label where that switch is for emergency personnel. You can cut your own version of it from vinyl or just press the easy button and order one from I/O Port Racing Supplies for $1.
Not only are you required to have a master cut-off switch, you are required to label where that switch is for emergency personnel. You can cut your own version of it from vinyl or just press the easy button and order one from I/O Port Racing Supplies for $1.

We added a driver’s side window net with a trick swivel mount, which is detailed in this month’s Toolshed Engineer column on page XX. Last but not least, we installed roll-bar padding anywhere the cage could touch the driver. As much as the roll cage is there to save your life, it also can kill you. You do not want to smack your noggin on the cage in a crash. Padding is crucial, as well as the position of the seat and the design of the cage as far away as possible from the driver.

Any part of the cage that can possibly contact your body is required to have roll-bar padding on it. My opinion is you can’t use enough of this stuff. It has adhesive to affix it to the roll cage, but we also use zip ties to ensure it stays in place.
Any part of the cage that can possibly contact your body is required to have roll-bar padding on it. My opinion is you can’t use enough of this stuff. It has adhesive to affix it to the roll cage, but we also use zip ties to ensure it stays in place.

Now that our Honda Challenge car has some safety equipment, it is officially no longer a street car bought for $500 from a tow yard. It is a real racecar. All it needs now is an engine, a transmission, clutch, brakes and, well, pretty much everything.

Bare metal will rust quickly, which means once the roll cage was in, we needed to get to work painting it. After a miserable and painstaking experience, we finally got some blue on the bars to make the car look sharp.
Bare metal will rust quickly, which means once the roll cage was in, we needed to get to work painting it. After a miserable and painstaking experience, we finally got some blue on the bars to make the car look sharp.

Our next installment of the Honda Challenge budget build will detail the suspension of the Integra.

 

To read more from Rob Krider or to contact him go to www.robkrider.com.

The NASA 2016 tech sticker was our goal. If all of the safety equipment is installed correctly, then this is the decal you earn to get out on track and start having fun.
The NASA 2016 tech sticker was our goal. If all of the safety equipment is installed correctly, then this is the decal you earn to get out on track and start having fun.
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Images courtesy of Rob Krider and headonphotos.net