Originally published August 27, 2020. Last updated May 17, 2024.

You hate to see vehicle fires at the track, but it’s even worse when it’s your vehicle that catches fire. Track environments are challenging, pushing vehicles to their limits and leaving drivers little time and space to respond to emergencies.

For track day participants, knowing what preventative steps you can take ahead of time to reduce the chance of vehicle fires at the track is key. Even more, it’s important to make sure you know what to do if you do have a vehicle fire during an HPDE event. Here’s what to know.

Track Car Fire Risks and Prevention

A track car can catch fire without warning, with flames that spread rapidly in a matter of a few seconds. No car fire is good, but a fire when you’re driving 100 mph down a track is especially nerve-racking. Fortunately, there are safety precautions you can take to minimize the risk of such a vehicle fire happening and reduce the damage done if one does occur.

Vehicle Condition

Accident damage and poor maintenance make a car more likely to experience a fire. There’s always a margin of safety built into vehicle systems, but the worse the condition of the car, the less margin there is for error. Safe driving and regular vehicle maintenance are effective ways to prevent most track car fires.

Fuel Lines

Fuel line installation mistakes, operating malfunctions and split fuel pipes cause many car fires. Signs of a problem can include visible damage or rust, gasoline odor, fuel leaks, misfires, stalling, blown fuses or a burning smell. Don’t take chances with your fuel lines and make sure to have a professional check the fuel system at least once a year.

Ground Vegetation

Environmental hazards such as ground vegetation also frequently spark fires. Tall, dry grasses can catch fire especially easily due to close contact with the heat of components under the vehicle. Be careful where you park and avoid driving into or stopping over such vegetation.

Vehicle Limits

Vehicles pushed beyond their capabilities are more likely to experience a fire. While street cars have better fire insulation than race cars, the typical daily driver is less accustomed to being pushed to its limits on a professional track. Make sure you know your vehicle and its limits.

Track Event Fire Safety

At the track, event organizers are always working hard to maximize safety and minimize the risk of event participants being injured. Fire is a big risk organizers are always thinking about, whether you have a crash or not, and most groups have plans in place to help participants stay safe, including:

Rules and Procedures

Knowing your track’s rules and procedures is key. Each track will have its own rules for driver gear, vehicle safety equipment and track procedures in case of an emergency. If you do have a problem on the track, you’ll be able to help turn workers help you by knowing what to do.

Protective Gear Requirements

Wearing protective gear can help safeguard drivers against burns from a fire. Make sure your attire meets the requirements for your track and the event. Driving suits, driving gloves and underlayers that are fire-resistant are a smart choice for gear.

Fire Safety Equipment Requirements

Having the right fire safety equipment can make all the difference. For example, National Auto Sport Association rules require either a fire extinguisher or fire suppression system (Section 15.1-3). Keeping a quick-release fire extinguisher bolted within reach is good, but you probably won’t be able to operate it while driving. As longtime racer Rob Krider reports, the newer fire suppression systems are affordable and easy to install and operate. The chemical retardant is not harmful to the car or driver which can save your vehicle as well as your life in a fire. NASA rules also require an external fire decal which helps point track workers to the vehicle’s closest fire system access.

Fire Emergency Procedures at the Track

The rules and procedures for what to do in case of a fire will vary a bit from track to track, so check specific guidelines before your next HPDE event. But in general, you should plan on the following procedures if possible, during a vehicle fire:

Stop the Car

Come to a stop as quickly and safely as possible, whether you smell burning, see smoke or see flames. Ideally, try to stop near or behind a turn worker station or track barrier cutaway. Avoid coming to a complete stop on the track.

Shut Off the Engine

Shut off the engine after you have come to a stop. This stops the flow of fuel which can help prevent small fires from developing into bigger ones.

Exit the Vehicle

Get out of the car as quickly and safely as possible. It’s generally never safe or acceptable to exit your car on an active track, but fire is an important exception. Flag workers will help by displaying the appropriate flag to alert other drivers.

Move Away

Move at least 150 feet away from a vehicle that is on fire. Since there is a chance that other cars may still be driving at track speed, move away from the track surface, toward a turn worker station if possible, and don’t cross any other part of the track.

Wait for Help

Let safety workers handle the fire. If there is only smoke coming from the hood without flames, cracking the hood and using a fire extinguisher may be enough to put out the fire. But never open the hood all the way, as the sudden rush of oxygen could stoke a larger fire. If the fire is coming from the rear of the vehicle, don’t attempt to put it out. Instead, move away from the vehicle and call 911.

Track Day Protection

Vehicle fires on track day can be devastating for you and your vehicle, as a small fire can cause expensive damage to your car. Standard auto insurance policies likely do not cover your car when it’s on the track, and even when take proper safety precautions, there’s still a risk of damage to your car.

That’s why we offer HPDE Insurance to protect your car from damage when you’re participating in HPDE, track day or time trial events. Coverage is specifically designed to protect your car from physical damage while you’re participating in an event and it includes:

  • Street-legal cars and non-licensed track cars.
  • Modifications you’ve made to your car.
  • Two drivers at each event at no additional cost.
  • Any demonstration laps your instructor drives.

Along with Track Day Insurance, we also offer Off-Track Insurance to protect your track car when it’s not on the track, Auto-Cross with Off-Track Insurance for autocross enthusiasts and more.

You can purchase track day coverage conveniently, either ahead of time or the day of an event, online at LocktonMotorsports.com. Have more track day questions? We’re happy to help! Give us a call at (866) 582-4957 to speak to our motorsports insurance experts.