Fire System T-Handle Maintenance

By Bill Strong

December 2016, a friend and teammate of mine took his Toyota MR2 to Barber Motorsports Park to participate in the Central ChampCar Championship. This guy is the king of checklists. But he discovered something that none of our group had thought of checking, and it almost cost him a lot of money. Here is Troy’s post quoted from the ChampCar forum.

I was on lap 8 or so in my first stint and just learning the track, but iRacing helped a lot. It was fun to that point and finally felt ok in the long triple apex last turn complex. After that, the engine started to feel down on power and I radioed in that maybe we had a bad knock sensor and was pitting this lap. Halfway through I felt a bang and massive clunking sound. I first thought an axle and then saw flames in my rear view mirror. A rod went through the block and oil on the hot exhaust system caught fire. I immediately pulled off the track and radioed in the fire. I tried pulling the fire suppression system T-handle, but it did not move. I jumped out on instinct and was out so fast I did not even know it. I then saw the fire had spread to the grass. I then went back to the car and manually did the suppression system and it worked but did not put the fire out. The fire truck pulled up and I grabbed an extinguisher from their truck and also started to put out the fire myself but it was stubborn. It finally went out after a while and was all done. A lot of grass on fire. Then the fire guys got the hose and water out to finish putting the grass fire out. The engine wiring, Lexan cover, rear window, melted from the heat. It could have been much worse.

When we got back to the shop, I looked into why the Fire Suppression System T-Handle Pull Cable did not work. I have had it in for a few years now and when I do my race precheck I had two things on the list. Fire bottle safety pins out, and bottle gauge in the green. I never thought to check the cable. It wound up getting some water in it and it rusted.

You can see the fire happening as this team rounds the corner.

Here is a good explanation of what happened to Troy’s T-handle and how to fix it by inserting the safety pin in the bottle, and removing the t-handle, and applying anti-seize to the cable, then reinserting. This should be done at least once a year.

You can purchase new T-Pull Handles from Lifeline to replace one that is beyond repair. But you should still use anti-seize on the cable before installing.

One other item to inspect before starting each race is to make certain that the tubes for your fire system are not crushed or bent. We run them along the floor or the cage bars. I have seen the tubes get knocked into and crushed. This will limit or stop the fire systems effectiveness.
I have also seen teams mount the fire bottles within the crush zones of the car, like the back of the trunk by the tail lights. It’s best to mount them within the caged area, like the passenger seat, or rear seat area. Make certain you can easily inspect the gauge and cables. And don’t forget to pull the safety pin!

And remember that Lifeline USA is a sponsor of ChampCar Endurance Series. Their full line of fire suppression systems meets or exceed ChampCar fire suppression system requirements with prices starting at $399 a system that will cover the driver and engine.