As racecar drivers, we love to unbolt stuff, rip unneeded items from our racecars and throw those things in the trash. We are all trying to do what the Lotus founder Colin Chapman said to do, “Simplify, and then add lightness.” But, sometimes we get carried away and throw things in the trash that we might need later, like headlights, for instance. If you are going to run any sort of endurance race that takes you into the darkness, you are going to need headlights. Trust me on this one. I’ve tried it before without lights and it doesn’t work.

The headlights shown in this photo are from Lightforce Lights. They make night feel like daytime, but they are expensive, huge and not very aerodynamic. They also draw a lot on the vehicle’s electrical system. We are going to switch to LED.

It turns out ripping out the stock headlamp setup wasn’t really a mistake after all because night racing requires much more headlamp power —known as lumens — than most OEM systems can provide. Additionally, stock headlamps are designed for driving directly at someone on a two lane road, with the lamps and brights directed toward the right, so as not to blind other drivers. What stock headlamps are not set up for is shooting light toward an apex to the left or right of your vehicle’s A-pillars. To resolve this, most endurance racing teams add aftermarket lights and aim them left and right accordingly for a large field of view while racing in the dark.

LED technology has come a long way in the last decade, creating a market of off-road light bars that are inexpensive and durable. This one has a curved design to allow for a wider swath of light.

My team has used a number of different light setups during the years running NASA’s 25 Hours of Thunderhill. We have learned the hard way about the durability of lights, placement, and the electrical draw on a stock alternator. There is nothing scarier than losing all your lights at full speed at night on a dark racetrack. Thunderhill is not like Daytona. There are no track lights. You only have your vehicle lights to help you see. When those lights fail, you are in big trouble. The lesson here is to ensure your light installation is solid so you can avoid an electrical failure — and tire barriers.

We purchased smaller LED light bars to serve as apex lights, which we would place on the car near a 45-degree angle to give us lights directed into the corners.

Modern LED lights — LED is the acronym for light-emitting diode — are extremely bright, lightweight, and don’t draw on the vehicle’s electrical system like a tungsten bulb does. These lights are also much smaller than our old-school rally lights, which provides opportunity for better aerodynamics. LED lights are also much less expensive. We decided it was time to modernize our lights and made the upgrade to LED. We searched on Amazon and found a bunch of LED light bars marketed to the off-road crowd, which would work well for road racing at night.

On the shop floor, we mocked up the mounting geometry for our night racing setup. We wanted the large bar in the middle, with the two apex lights offset to aim toward the corners. Each light kit came with the required mounting and wiring hardware for simple installation.

Once our boxes arrived at the shop, we opened things up and started to mock up how we wanted to install the lights on our enduro car. We strategically chose not to mount the lights on the front bumper to keep them safe during common “chrome horn” incidents on track. We chose to mount the lights on the leading edge of the hood, which would be safe and would not block the driver’s view.

Measure twice and drill once. There is always that unsettling moment of pause before you blindly drill a hole into your body work.

We decided to go to Pick-and-Pull on half-price day and grab an additional Acura Integra hood ($50) just for the racing lights. This way we would have a sprint racing hood for daytime races and an enduro hood with lights on it for night races. Our friends at Olson Auto Body painted our enduro hood to match our car’s livery. Then, once we had an idea of where we wanted the lights mounted, we began the process of drilling holes into our freshly painted racing car body. This is never a comfortable feeling.

We needed to grind down the corners on some of the L brackets that came with the LED light bars for fitment. This photo shows exactly what not to do. Anyone using a grinder should be wearing gloves. We were playing things dumb and loose this particular night at the race shop. This behavior is not recommended, unless you hate having fingers.

Once we had holes in the body work — adding lightness! — we started to work with the L brackets and hardware that came with the LED light bars to mount the lights onto the enduro hood. We elongated the holes in the L brackets for the apex lights to allow for adjustment. We have learned over the years that what you “think” will work and what actually works are often two different things. We knew we would want to adjust the lights once we had everything wired up and out in the dark for testing.

After we drilled a few holes and did some grinding, we had nice new light bars mounted on our new enduro hood. Next step, wire everything up.

LED light bars are not complicated. Each one came with a ground wire and a power wire. We simply connected the wiring from all three light bars together, drilled another hole in our hood and routed the wires into the engine bay. Because this hood would be removable, we placed a weatherproof plug in the wiring line before we hard wired power and ground in the engine compartment. This was all run to a switch in the driver’s compartment for the driver to turn the lights off and on when needed, or to flash them at a competitor when passing.

These LED lights had nothing more than a black ground wire and a red wire for 12-volts. We combined the wiring from the three separate light bars into one wire under the hood and ran it to a switch in the interior for the driver to turn on. We cleaned things up with some wire sheathing to make it look professional and to protect the wires from damage.

We finished our project, added the required number and class decals to the enduro hood and headed to our first night race of the season, a Western Endurance Racing Championship event at Buttonwillow Raceway Park. What we found, during the race at speed and at night, was that what we thought would work, didn’t work as well as it could have. Our apex lights weren’t aimed enough to the sides and there was a gap of darkness between the front light bar light and the apex lights. We could do better.

Here is the first attempt at our LED light bar design. What we found was that our apex lights needed be aimed more to the sides and there was a gap between the front light bar and the apex lights. Time to upgrade.

To solve this problem, we simply adjusted the L brackets to allow our apex lights to aim more to the side. But doing this created an even larger gap of darkness between the front light bar and the apex lights. If three light bars were good, then adding two more LED lights would make things great! Isn’t everything better in abundance? We found a small LED flood light that would do just what we needed to get rid of the dark gap in our view. All we needed to do next was wait for the UPS man to show up.

Back to Amazon for more budget LED lights. This time we picked up a small four-LED flood light design to fill the gap. We mounted it between the main light bar and the apex lights. We chose to mount the lights lower on the hood as not to create a shadow from the existing lights.

With our new lights, we took the time to test our lights at night before the race started. We set up cones at different locations to act like corners of a track and sat in the driver’s seat with our helmet on while directing a friend with some end wrenches to adjust the lights until everything in front of us was as clear as daytime. This is the key to success, because when you can see what is in front of you, then you have confidence. When you have confidence, then you press harder on the go-go pedal.

We went out in the dark and spent a fair amount of time aligning the lights just right before the next event. We learned that at night in the middle of nowhere, all the bugs in the world will come to you. It was real fun trying to align these lights while insects swarmed our faces.

Adding the new lights solved all of our vision problems. The apex lights were properly aimed into the corners. The new flood lights took care of the dark gap between the main light bar and the apex lights. And I was able to see where I was going, which is a good thing. In fact, our lights were so good, as things cooled down in the evening, we were able to set our fastest laps of the three-hour enduro in the darkest part of night at the end of the race. That is all attributed to good lighting.

Version two of our LED light setup worked flawlessly handing the team an E3 victory during a WERC enduro.

Before you head to your first night race, take the time to look at some upgraded lighting options. LED lights are inexpensive, easy to install, and don’t draw as much current from your racecar’s electrical system. They are commercially available and will make you a winner on the racetrack. Just turn on the lights and go fast!

Image courtesy of Rob Krider and Brad Dawson

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