Most NASA competitors are DIY folks. We build and maintain our own racecars and take enormous pride when those cars hit the track. But, just because we can do “most” of the work on our cars, doesn’t mean we are experts on every system in a racecar. For a lot of racers, electronics are intimidating. Most racers I know hate anything that deals with wiring. For some of us, wiring just looks like spaghetti. In reality, the underside of a lot of racecar dashes does resemble spaghetti, which can short out, cause a fire and ruin your race.
Nobody wants to have 10 cents worth of vehicle wiring ruing their chances for a victory at the track. The trick is to take the time to wire your racecar and its accessories in a way that under race stress — vibration, heat, water exposure — your wires won’t short out and cause an issue. This can be done with planning, patience and a few accessories.
Our team started using mil-spec wiring harnesses from Chandler Autosport for our engine bay, which inspired us to step up our game in the wiring department for the rest of the car. Here’s how we upgraded some of the harnesses on our car.
When looking at Chandler Autosport’s harness, we saw how it was neatly organized, color coded, the perfect length, and easy to use. We decided to steal the same ideas and fix other wire looms in our racecar.
To move on from the spaghetti-wiring, fire-hazard scenario to a more professional approach doesn’t take a lot of money or knowhow. It comes down to a few accessories you can pick up on Amazon and a couple of hand tools. One of the ideas we stole from Chandler Autosport was the expandable wiring sheath it uses to hold wires together and protect them from outside influences.
Before I jumped off a cliff constructing my own custom wiring harness, I decided to take on something simple, something that made sense to my dumb racecar driver brain. So, I decided my first project would be a ground wire. I knew where it started and I knew where it ended. It was something I didn’t think I could screw up while testing my skills at some wiring clean-up.
The first step was to remove the old beat up ground strap so we could ensure the new ground strap was built to the correct length. Then we grabbed all of our new supplies from Amazon and a few tools (wire cutter, wire crimper, scissors, wire stripper, and small torch) and got to work.
We learned quickly that there is an order to how you do things when it comes to wiring. Things need to be threaded, crimped and heated in a certain sequence. We slowed down a bit and started again on our simple ground strap, which was turning out to be not as simple as we originally thought.
Once you have everything ready to go, here is the correct order of operations:
- Cut the wire to the correct length.
- Strip the wire ends.
- Push the wire through the sheath.
- Thread the wire/sheath combination through a piece of heat shrink wrap.
- Crimp the eyelet onto the wire ends.
- Use torch to melt the heat shrink wrap into place.
Once all of the correct pieces are threaded through in the correct order, we can finalize this part of the project by crimping the eyelet onto the wire and using our heat shrink wrap.
Using a lighter, a heat gun, or a small torch will easily shrink the heat-shrink wrap into place. The trick here is not to burn yourself and to ensure the heat shrink wrap is in the exact position you want it before you start heating it. Because, once it starts to melt, then that is where is will land, period.
There is a slight learning curve with the torch. Heat is great for shrinking the heat shrink wrap just right, but too much fire can melt things. You have to find that sweet spot when heating things up. I don’t need to admit how many times I had to re-wrap this piece of wire because I was too aggressive with the torch. All that needs to be said is I finally figured it out … eventually.
After a few tries, we finally nailed it. The ground strap came out looking like we wanted it to. It did two things, 1) it replaced a piece of wire that was due to fail and 2) it made the engine compartment look more refined and professional.
Once we learned the hard way on our “simple and easy” ground strap, we decided to take on some more wiring clean-up projects in the car. There were existing wires that were in the car that we thought could be in harm’s way and didn’t have the professional look we wanted, so it was time to upgrade.
In attempting to work on the wires in the rear of the car, we realized quickly we needed a different type of wire sheathing. We didn’t want to rewire this part of the car. We simply wanted to add a protective jacketing, which matched what was being supplied by Chandler Autosport. Because these wires were already in place, we couldn’t thread them through the wire sheathing we had purchased online. Back to Amazon, where we found “split” wire sheathing that we could push the wire into from the side. With Prime shipping, we were back in business a day later.
Once we “harnessed” the skills to build our own ground wires, and sheath existing wires, we stepped up our game and began using water proof pin style electrical connectors to upgrade our wiring harnesses’ connections. We built our own chassis harness to run things like Cool Suits and other accessories in the car, and ensured the wiring in our interior looked professional and would work under harsh racing conditions.
If your racecar wiring looks like spaghetti that is about to catch fire, then it is probably time to spend a little money and effort to clean things up. In the end, you will have a more professional looking racecar that won’t let you down when it matters. Happy wiring!
Rob Krider is a NASA National Champion and author of the novel “Cadet Blues,” to read more, or to contact him, go to www.robkrider.com.