Lemons Car

Accessible Endurance Racing: Roll Cage

If you are just joining us you may have missed that some of the team at ShiftAtlanta set out to show exactly how easy it is get into endurance racing. If you read our first post, you know about how we are building an accessible endurance racing team to compete in the 24 Hours of Lemons. We set out to illustrate that average Joes and Janes with not much more money than some people spend on wheels could get into competitive racing. We figured if we could do it, anyone could.

This weeks update we’re focusing on a key area of the process: The roll cage, which is the only part of the project we are actually paying someone to do. Actually, I just lied right now. We also wound up paying someone to weld a bracket for our seat and the exhaust. So welding is the only thing we are paying other people to do. The cage is the only one we originally planned on. The other needs we discovered we needed.

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Roll Cage

The only few pieces that we choose as a team NOT to do ourselves is the Roll Cage. A few reasons for this. First, its one of the major factors ensuring we are being safe. Based on our other incompetency’s, it seemed best to leave this to the professionals. Two, none of us can really weld. Three, re-read number one.

First, we used Chris Ward @ Top Garage who came highly recommended from several different sources. I understand why they did. It was clear from the beginning he knew his business. While I expect that Chris does a number of other things at his fab shop, from our impression the vast majority of his business comes from cages.

Chris generally knew all of the rules already for Lemons. This is great because most people seem to take Lemons lightly given its reputation of being less expensive. However, as we learned going through the rules and safety requirements, this is a not a series that takes safety lightly. There are some very specific rules around the size of the pipes and plates required for the cage. One positive to this is that the car and the cage will be useful for a lot of other racing series as well.

The Cage Itself

For those that won’t bother reading the rest of this, lets just say Chris’ work was fantastic. He cuts the floor and builds the top so he can weld all of the way around. He then lifts the cage and welds the lower plates to the bottom tubes and back into the floor. This gives 360 weld coverage which many home made cages don’t have because they don’t know how to get to the tops.

Getting The Cage Built

Pre Drop Off

Chris did advise a few things before dropping the car off. He also offered to review any pictures to see if anything was likely to be in our way. HIs advice included:

  • Get anything that can be bolted in, out
  • Remove anything that could be in the way
  • Make sure the seat is generally in the position you want it to be in
  • Remove the windshield, or if I couldn’t remove it, I should be prepared to face the idea that it might break and not be able to be re-installed

Normally we’d jump straight into talking about dropping off of the car, but because we are real people do real things here is what really happened:

The day before we are scheduled to take the car to Chris @ Top Garage we needed to do some of the last interior removal. We removed the last of the dash pieces, including removing but then re-adding the front bar that supports the steering column and holds up the dash.

The only problem with this was in the process we disconnected a few things and while we plugged most of them back in, lets just say there were a few things we forgot to reconnect. The car couldn’t start. With no winch on the trailer we had no opportunity to get the car on the trailer (or drop it off). Our appointment for 9am in the next morning was already in jeopardy.

On top of all of that our trailer developed a flat tire. So on a Sunday afternoon we had to jack up the trailer, remove the wheel and find a replacement tire. While the tire itself isn’t uncommon, finding a tire shop on a Sunday in the city of Atlanta with one in stock wasn’t that easy.

While one team member took the tire to get replaced, the rest of the team frantically tried to figure out what we forgot to plug back in. Thankfully Benson, an experienced endurance racer who we recently did a spotlight on, happened to have joined us to point at laugh at our inexperience for the day. He thankfully did some googling and discovered the security module sits on the front bar we removed and never plugged back in.

Drop Off

We used my trailer to tow the car up to the shop. First time I’ve towed a car in 10 years so I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous. While I’m not normally an anxious person there is always that fear of “what if I strapped this thing down wrong”. I had to go up from the city to Buford, so it was a good hour plus of highway speeds. Thankfully my Yukon pulled the car pretty well. It was a bit of a shaky ride but by the back half of it I was cruising with traffic and had stopped looking back at my rear review mirror every 5 minutes.

Once I arrived, the only other thing that made things interesting was that the shop is on a small side street near downtown Buford. In fact it was down a hill behind and below a flower shop. The only long, flat surface without getting down the hill or blocking the driveway was to park in front of the flower shop. Luckily they didn’t seem to mind and there was enough room to allow people to get in and out. Thankfully as well, I don’t think a lot of people buy flowers at 9am on Monday mornings, but I did get a few looks from the handful of people that did stop by.

Chris Ward was right on time and it was pretty painless to pull the car off of the trailer and drive it down into his shop. Following that there was just a quick discussion on timing and a few questions about how we wanted the cage setup. In our case, because we have to strictly follow the Lemons tech rules and we didn’t plan to showcase the cage as part of a show car, which is something they regularly do, I was on my way.

After a while the process of towing came back. It was like riding a bicycle. You remembered to brake a little earlier and avoid swaying in the lane by using a little throttle when cruising to help keep things under control. Other than the initial nerves it was relatively drama free.


The pickup was a little more interesting. It started with a phone call Thursday from Chris letting me know he was right on schedule and the car would be ready to go. He also confirmed the windshield did NOT make it through the removal. Nothing surprising here. He also mentioned that he had to remove a number of cables in order to get to the spots he needed to weld. Not terribly surprising, our BMW has wires everywhere. He did close with not sure if it will start.

Originally I had hoped to have some assistance picking the car up, however due to a deaths in the family of one of the team members, my help was understandably preoccupied. As mentioned before, I don’t have a winch on my trailer, the car had no windshield and potentially didn’t run. It was also due to rain that day. So I needed to get there, pay, get the car running (if it didn’t) and tow it back to its storage location.

I’ll admit, I was a bit frustrated. I knew I wouldn’t have help and I wasn’t expecting to get the car back not running.

When I showed up here are the things that I needed to deal with:

  • The car did not in fact start. While Chris had disconnected a number of grounds it really wasn’t as bad as I had thought. However, even after plugging all of the grounds back in the car still wouldn’t start.
  • The front bar did not fit back in the car because of the cage. We would need to modify it later to get it back in. What this meant was the steering column was not bolted down. While the car drove this made it interesting to drive back onto the trailer without help to guide me.
  • The windshield wasn’t there as Chris noted. Not a huge deal other than it was due to rain
  • The sunroof plate we had needed to be removed in order to work on the cage. Also not a big deal, other than the threat of rain.
  • The seat was there but not completely bolted in.

The car had power, the fuel pump came on, it just wouldn’t even try to turn over. No clicks. While power was a possibility, it didn’t seem like that was the issue. However, thanks to the experience the week before with the security module and Benson looking it up, I decided to check it. I realized that the security module on these E39 BMWs sit on the front bar. So when it was removed and not reinstalled, it was disconnected. Sure enough, when I unscrewed it from the bar and plugged it in, car fired right up.

After a shaky drive up the hill and on to the trailer doing my best to gauge where it is, I got it on the trailer. It wasn’t terribly straight and I tried a few times to back it up and get it closer but with the steering column not bolted down it there was simply no fine movement. It was close enough. I strapped it down and get moving. The rain started coming down about 3/4 of the way back to its storage place. I was able to get the cover on it and avoid any significant water.

The Results

As I noted above the results were fantastic. Despite a little drama getting there and picking up, there were zero issues with the quality of the work. I wish I had my aligned my expectations better knowing what I know now.

Up next we began the mechanical build up of the car and some more installation of the safety equipment.

Stay tuned for more updates!

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