Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the snow is starting to melt in the Midwest. As the snow mounds get smaller, our smiles get larger, and there is a feeling of “about damned time,” as the track season approaches. In my last article (Phase 1), I covered the basic things I felt the C5 needed to turn some quality laps. The thing is, I will be doing more than just turning a few laps and there’s more protective equipment that is required for wheel-to-wheel racing. In this article, I’m going to cover the most important one: the roll cage. Full spoiler alert, you should probably put the kids to bed because there will be some fap-worthy fabrication in this one.
To design and construct a well-engineered roll cage, the most important place to start is the rules of the organization you will be competing with. There isn’t one cage that fits all, you need a certain diameter and thickness of metal tubing depending on how much your car weighs and a design that arranges those metal tubes in a way so that if there was a collision with another car…..or a wall, the driver is protected (a fancy way of saying a not dead Devin). The rulebook this cage was built for was the Trans Am SGT class, but I wanted to overlay it with Gridlife’s GLTC class as well.
The next critical step is picking the right person to build your cage. As a certified welder, I can tell you that it is not as easy as pointing your welding torch and blasting away. It takes a well-thought-out plan and solid fundamentals on what makes a structure strong. With that in mind, I reached out to a few people that I trusted to see who they recommended. I also asked a Facebook group that I run called Track Midwest who they recommended. Unanimously they all came back with Thompson Racing Fabrication.
Thompson Racing Fabrication, or TRF for short, has built cages for vehicles competing in American Rally Association, SCCA, NASA, NHRA, NASA, and various hill climbs including the famous Pikes Peak. Some teams such as Wesley Motorsports, who have strong support from Dodge, also trust TRF. In 2019, the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody that was piloted by Randy Pobst was caged at TRF. They’ve been in various motorsports for over two decades, and nearly 15 years professionally. That’s a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge that’s hard to beat. To say that these guys are the real deal would be an understatement.
Another key element that sets TRF apart from the rest is their quick turnaround time. Usually, I expect a cage to take around a month to complete. Especially at a shop that is as highly recommended and busy as they are. You can imagine my brain’s process when the business owner, Ryan, told me it was going to take about 5 days. Of course, the “yeah okay, bullshit” meter went off but I went ahead and proceeded with getting a quote.
Typical quotes I was seeing around the interwebs were around $4,500-5,000 for what I wanted. This left me with a feeling of someone ripping my cheap ass heart out, but I settled down and prepared to pay it for high-quality work. I know those prices typically include removing the windshield, removing everything that can catch on fire, general preparation, cage designs based on the rules, add ons (such as passenger X door bars), and further designing based on the chassis. TRF let me know that typical cages for road racing generally cost anywhere from $3,000USD to $5,000 USD. To my surprise, they came back with a price of $3750 out the door, with minimum preparation on my end.
Before you bring your car to a cage builder you want to remove everything you can that is going to get in their way. With that in mind, I removed anything that was flammable and removed everything I didn’t want to get sparks on. Cage building is a very invasive process. There will be sparks, there will be hammering, there will sharp objects, phew let me calm down ’cause I’m getting all excited. That being said, I quickly sent over my deposit before he realized what a great deal he was giving me.
As you know (because you read the last article, ya jerk), the C5 is constructed in an unconventional way. This is what Ryan had to say on caging C5/C6 Corvettes: “Most Corvette’s including C5 are very unique cabin designs, so they are not like many other cars, that in itself makes them tricky. Specifically, they are very narrow at the roofline, so we have to cut into the body to push the tubes out far enough. Many parts of the car are not steel. Working around these materials can be tricky. Overall, it’s technically a very challenging roll cage.” Seemed like TRF knew exactly what they were doing, which made me feel more confident about bringing my C5 to them. On top of that, Ryan and the lead fabricator at TRF are both formerly trained welders which provides some aspects and virtues that you possibly can’t get from someone that learned to weld and do cages on the go.
With that good news, I loaded up the C5 and headed to Cedar, Michigan, a short 6-hour drive from me. Upon arrival, I was greeted by Ryan waiting for me even though it was after the shop had closed. We went over everything that we had discussed via email, making sure we adhere to the rules. We also went over cost again, Ryan has a strong belief that no customer should be surprised when the bill comes. In fact, he can explain this better: “Surprises are good for no one in my business. This applies to every step of our process. From clearly defining expectations, goals, and costs, to making sure billing matches quotes and keeping customers informed as we progress. I truly believe it’s best for myself, my business, and my customers if we all have very clear expectations of how our relationship and project will be conducted.” I don’t know if he is doing this on purpose but he sure impressed me with all these things that you usually don’t hear from a fabrication shop that can run into all types of hiccups. I signed on the dotted line, agreeing to the $3750 and was assured again that it would take about a week. I still didn’t believe him but I walked my happy ass to the truck and headed home.
A few days went past and I got a text from Ryan letting me know to come to pick the car up on Monday. It had been four days since I dropped it off. I thought for sure this was some sick joke but no, it was done. He sent me a photo of the car, fully caged and ready to be picked up. I was so excited I nearly threw my phone out of the window. I asked Ryan, “How in the actual f*** can you get cages done so fast? That’s just not normal!” He chuckled and replied, “This is just what we do.” He let me know that he works hard to make sure that the schedule is good for TRF and for the customers. This may sound simple but they make money on getting projects out the door and back to their customers. The longer they sit, the longer they can’t start on the next project. This is good for everyone and I truly wish more shops would take this approach. Ryan would go on to say, “A roll cage can take 30-60 hours to build, so it’s something we SHOULD be able to do in a week!”
I looked at all the pretty tig welded joints, how tight the cage was inside the Targa top to maximize headroom, how the X braces tied into the main hoops connections, how the X brace also tied into the intrusion bars, and the extra braces around the harness bar. All of this reassured me that I made the right choice. If you need a roll cage or fabrication done, go to TRF. I don’t usually recommend shops like this, but these guys are the bee’s knees or however that stupid saying goes.
Now it’s time to prep this for paint. Since you’re already following me on Instagram, I appreciate you helping me decide what color to go with. If you missed the poll, you should have already been following me, ya jerk. With that being said, track season is quickly approaching, so it’s time to get those project cars ready. It’s March Madness, get all the shit you said you were going to do three months ago finished! This includes me too, but I’ll leave that for next month.
Gallery of cage photos: C5 Cage by TRF
Podcast: HyperCritical Presented by Professional Awesome
Facebook Discussion Group: Professional Awesome Support Group
Special Thanks to the following: