When you are prepping a car to take to the track, whether it’s a dedicated racecar or a daily driven Time Trial vehicle, there are required items you need to have that you never really want to use. None of us really wants to need our helmets. The other item we don’t want to have to use — but sadly often do — is a tow hook.
Tow hooks are a necessary evil required by NASA regulations and also by common sense. Emergency crews on the track have priorities and they are as follows: 1) your safety; 2) clear the track; 3) try not to damage your car. For obvious reasons, the “damage your car” component lies at the bottom of the list. This means if you don’t have a defined place where they can put a cable, they will happily hook it onto your tie rod and give you an unwanted new alignment as they pull your car out of the gravel. Make it easy for these guys to get your car off the track so the rest of your friends can get back to racing. Do this by giving them a defined location to hook onto your car.
Installing a tow hook can be relatively easy to do since some cars already have them from the factory. If you have a Japanese car that came to the U.S. on a boat, there is a pretty good chance your car has four tie downs. Get a simple can of spray paint to make the existing tow hook visible and a sticker that looks like an arrow and says “TOW” and you can consider yourself done. The tie down spots are also great for holding your car on a trailer.
The European Union recently has required vehicles to have a designated tow hook that threads into the bumpers of every car. If you have a German car, check your glove box because you might already have a tow hook rolling around in there, ready to go. Pull out the plastic plug on the bumper, thread in your tow hook, get yourself a tow sticker and you’re done too.
If your car was made in America, the land of the free, and the home of “we have a better idea,” sorry, you’re out of luck. You will need to start from scratch and find the best way to install your own hook. Choices for this are all over the map with different fabricators creating hooks and straps which you can bolt to a solid portion of the car. Pro Tip: the thin, stamped steel, lower radiator support is not a solid portion of the car. Trust me on this.
With regard to choices in tow-hook installation, hard eyelet or a soft strap, consider this strategy when placing them on your own car. I like to bump-draft, so having a soft strap on the front of my racecar gives me the ability to bump people — in a friendly manner, of course — without spearing them with a hard tow hook. In contrast, I have not been a fan of being bump-drafted ever since Ryan Flaherty gave me a friendly nudge going into Turn 11 at Sonoma Raceway, causing me to see Elvis, so I place a large fixed hard metal tow hook on the back of my car. If you want to bump draft me, go ahead, but you will probably need a new radiator afterward.
Good luck with your installation and if you ever do need your tow hook, I hope it’s just because you ran out of gas.