No matter the form of racing, a racer’s biggest fear is fire. The fear exists whether you are in a Formula 1 car or a Miata, and everyone should consider some kind of fire safety apparatus in their vehicle — even on the street. Most sanctioning bodies don’t mandate fire safety equipment until you get to into door-to-door racing, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have it. Unforeseen, weird things can happen on a racetrack. You never know if or when it will happen, but it’s best to be prepared, just in case.
When I first started racing the Project CrossTime Miata, I just jumped out on track with nothing more than a rollbar and a helmet — because they were required. After some talk with my family, I came to the realization I am mortal after all and got serious about my safety. I wrote a series of articles on the measures I took to make CrossTime a safer race car. But, there was still one significant safety measure left to check off the list: a Lifeline fire suppression system.
Fighting With Fire
I am still in the HPDE ranks, but between track days and autocross events, I am running almost every weekend during the summer. With that kind of track time, there is more exposure to risk. I figured I should get some fire-fighting equipment and started researching different products on the market. It can get very confusing. There are various bottle sizes and suppressing agents to fight different types of fires. There are both manual- and electronic-actuated systems, even ones that will trigger automatically when thresholds are broken. The prices can range from $25 for a mini-handheld extinguisher into the thousands of dollars for a super sophisticated, automated suppression system.
I was in the market for something relatively inexpensive, but I also wanted something easy to use and install. My first thought was to get a fire extinguisher and mount it on the transmission tunnel within reach. But the more I researched, the more I thought about the steps involved in getting out of the car and putting a fire out.
I would have to slow the car, stop the car, release the steering wheel, unhook my harness, unlatch the fire extinguisher, grasp the bottle, pull the pin, point it at the fire, and then get out of the car. Or, I could do all the steps to get out of the car, then go back in to do the extinguishing steps. Guess which steps I will skip if there is a fire anywhere near me or the car — any step which slows me down from getting away from it! The vehicle can be replaced; I cannot!
Yes, a fire suppression system is a little more expensive, but I finally decided it was the safest and best option. Not only would it most likely save me, but it might also save the car as well. There are several manufacturers of these systems: OMP, Fire Bottle, FireSense, Safecraft, Lifeline, and others.
I chose Lifeline for several reasons. It was established in 1980 and is the leading manufacturer of fire safety systems in the motorsport industry. After Halon was outlawed, Lifeline was a pioneer in introducing Zero 2000, a lightweight, environmentally friendly, foam-based suppressant which is FIA tested and certified. I also like the fact the employees of Lifeline are racers too, which tells me they have their finger on the pulse of what racers experience.
I put in a call to Brandon Marshall, the brand manager at Lifeline, to talk about which system would be best for my needs. “First off, I applaud you for getting a system even though it isn’t mandated. We always say ‘Fire doesn’t discriminate.’ It doesn’t care what you are doing! I think our Zero 2000 FIA 4.0-liter Fire Marshal Steel Fire Suppression System [P/N: 106-001-001] would be a perfect choice for what you are doing,” Brandon says. “It is the ‘best bang for the buck’ fire-knock-down system we offer. In a car like a Miata, it will provide plenty of suppressant to protect you and the engine compartment.”
The 4.0-liter Fire Marshal is an entry-level, mechanical, plumbed-in suppression kit which has four nozzles for the cockpit and four for the engine bay. That is two liters dedicated to the cockpit and two to the engine bay. To be honest, I’m not that concerned about the car, but it would be nice to save it if possible, and this system will allow me to do that.
Planning And Installation Of The System
The Fire Marshal arrived a few days after I ordered it. Once I opened the box, it was immediately apparent I better get a game plan together on where to mount and route everything. I perused the installation guide, which is really “best practices” seeing they obviously can’t have instructions for every car. As a side note, the guide is written in European English, so it can be a little confusing for Americans, especially seeing measurements are in metric, but nothing you can’t figure out.
The layout proved to be a bit of a challenge in the Miata. There were four primary considerations to think through:
- Position of the bottle
- Placement/mounting of the nozzles
- Routing the tubing
- Routing the Bowden cables
There are eight total nozzles to mount — four in the passenger compartment and four in the engine bay. The guide says to consider the overlap of the fan of nozzles for best coverage. The Zero 2000 nozzles produce a fine mist in a 90-degree pattern, so I needed to spread them out. Surprisingly, one of the toughest parts of the layout was figuring out the position of the bottle.
Mounting The Bottle
The guide says the bottle should be mounted laying down and transversally (sideways). I don’t have a passenger seat anymore, so I thought it would be easy. But, I soon realized there isn’t enough room in a Miata to mount it transversally and not kink the cables and/or tubing. Even though placing the bottle lengthwise was not ideal, it was my only option, so I checked back with Brandon.
He put my mind at ease. “Any orientation in the direction it points is fine, as long as it remains horizontal and not vertical. Our bottles utilize a weighted end on the dip tube, so the entry point always remains in the pickup — even if the car ends up in a ‘not-so-correctly-oriented’ manner,” he quipped. I hope I never have to test the orientation!
The aluminum mounting brackets are shaped to hold the bottle securely in place along with the provided bottle clamps. There was just enough room between the stock seat mounts to fit the brackets in-between. Note: for obvious reasons, the instructions don’t recommend self-tapping screws, so I bolted the brackets through the floor with nylon lock nuts on the bottom. Lifeline also provides some double-sided tape to help keep the bottle from sliding in the mounts. With the bottle secured, it was time to figure out how and where to mount the four nozzles in the cockpit.
Positioning And Mounting The Nozzles
Mounting brackets for the nozzles are not provided due to the various configurations of race cars. I just bought some flat-stock steel at Lowes which I cut to length, bent in a brake, and drilled holes for the nozzles. In the cockpit area, seeing I won’t have any passengers, I chose to point three nozzles toward the driver’s side and one toward the passenger side. I used self-tapping machine screws to mount the brackets.
As you can imagine, under the dash is pretty tight in a Miata, with a lot of wiring taking up most of the space. Though I wanted to mount one nozzle somewhere on the left side (by my clutch foot), I just couldn’t find an unobstructed mounting location. I ended up mounting three on the transmission tunnel — one pointing toward me (but downward), one pointing toward the pedals, and one pointing toward the firewall on the passenger side. For the fourth nozzle, I found a spot way up high on the firewall where I pointed the nozzle straight down at my feet.
With everything copacetic in the cockpit, I moved to the engine bay. There are four nozzles to consider for placement. They produce a high-volume spray which floods the engine bay, so you want to spread the coverage at the four corners, if possible. Consider the most likely sources of ignition such as induction, exhaust, fuel pump, injectors, or carbs. The install guide says mid-block height is a good starting point.
I managed to mount two nozzles somewhat high on the firewall, pointing slightly downward toward the valve cover and injectors. I got the third installed lower on the driver’s side inner fenderwell pointing at the front of the engine and exhaust. The fourth is looking straight at the mouth of the intake.
Routing The Tubing
Next was the tricky part — routing the 8mm tubing. The name of the game here is to make gently sweeping radiused bends to keep from kinking the tube. The minimum bend radius is 25mm (almost 1 inch), but Lifeline recommends 50mm to be on the safe side. I was able to roughly layout each piece of tubing along with the T-connectors to form them into the shape I wanted before I made any cuts. It’s actually pretty slick tubing.
“The tubing is called ‘Dekabon,’” Brandon told me. “It’s a spiral-bound aluminum layer, so it’s somewhat rigid, but has flexibility without just pancaking, creasing, or collapsing in normal bends. The metal is covered internally and externally in a very thin, clear layer of ethylene copolymer and then has a high-density polyethylene coating around it.”
Once I had my first tube roughed out, I used a tubing cutter to cut it (Lifeline does not recommend using a hacksaw, as it will leave jagged edges). I may have just had a dull cutter, but I found the coating to be extremely tough to get through with it and didn’t make a clean first cut. Luckily, I have a deburring tool and was able to clean up the end and blow out any debris. After the first one, I started cutting the outer coating with a razor blade then used the tubing cutter on the actual tube, which worked better.
I took my time planning out the tube routing, being careful not to have any tight bends. The nozzles and T-connectors have a nice push-lock feature which gives you a positive click-feel as the tube is seated past the sealing O-ring. Once it’s seated, you can’t pull it out unless you depress the release ring — even then it’s not easy, so make sure you’ve got your lengths right. It wasn’t until I was 100-percent confident in the layout when I clicked the tube into the nozzles.
The cockpit routing involved some very short runs in-between the T-connectors and nozzles. My three nozzles on the trans tunnel were pretty close together, so the tubing in-between connectors had to be lined up dead-on because there wasn’t a lot of room for bends. The engine bay was a bit easier, mainly because there was more length between connectors and nozzles. The challenge was making sure to route the tube away from moving parts and securing it from moving much — zip-ties come in handy here.
I ran the main tube from the bottle through the hole in the firewall where the A/C hoses used to come through, so I didn’t need to use the supplied bulkhead connector. Once through the firewall, I put a T-connector in place and ran one tube to the passenger-front corner pointing at the intake. Another T-connector was placed close-by the first one, with one side going to a nozzle on the passenger side of the firewall. The other side headed across the top of the firewall to the final T-connector which supply the two nozzles on the driver’s side.
The final tube-routing step was making sure all the tubing pushed into each and every connection securely.
Routing The Bowden Cables
The Bowden cables come in two different lengths (6- and 12-feet) which can be cut to length. Just like with the tubing, care should be taken here to ensure no sharp bends or S-bends, as it can make the cable harder to pull. The Miata is so small, I only used about 2 feet of one cable and 4 feet of the other, but I didn’t cut them until I had the routing trial fit and tested.
I mounted one pull handle on the passenger side of the transmission tunnel where I could reach it easily. The other cable runs up to the package tray and makes a gradual bend back to a perfect mounting location by the main rollbar hoop. I have seen Spec Miatas mount their kill switches and fire suppression there, and it is a known spot for safety workers.
Once I had both cables secured — before connecting them to the bottle — I made sure they were easy to pull and operated smoothly. Lifeline recommends leaving 10mm of slack to prevent accidental firing and for technical inspectors to be able to confirm the cables are free. With this in mind, I pulled the cord out of the sheathing a couple of inches before cutting them. All that was left to do was to push the cable back through the sheathing and route them through the handle of the bottle and secure them with set screws.
The final step was to label the system with the supplied stickers so corner workers would be aware I have a system on board and where the handles are located. I put the two large stickers, one with a large red “E” and the other with a blue triangle and red lightning-bolt, on the quarter panel right next to the door where the handle is located next to the kill switch. The other smaller sticker is on the trans tunnel by my pull handle.
Although it looked a little daunting at first glance, the setup of the Lifeline Zero 2000 system actually went very smooth. I think it took me longer to figure out where to put the nozzles than it did to install it. Taking the time on the front end to plan out the layout paid dividends when it came time to connect everything together. Luckily, even though the Miata is small, I managed to find easy mounting locations for the various parts.
Heck, I hope I never have to use the system, period. But if I do, I’m happy to know I have a system designed to work in the majority of situations. I like having the extra security of knowing I have a system installed that works efficiently and takes less than a second to activate.
The price-point is a no-brainer for anyone who hits the track, whether you are door-to-door racing or running autocross. If you’ve been holding off on getting a suppression system because you think they are too expensive, you don’t have an excuse anymore. You can skip one event and use that money to install this system for the next event. I would rather pay $399 for a suppression system than $100 to $250 for an extinguisher. That little extra money is worth it for peace of mind alone. I think my life is worth it and thankfully Lifeline thinks so too! You can check out its website or give them a call.
Lastly, PLEASE — before your next trip to the track, consider some kind of fire suppression equipment, whether it is from Lifeline or any other company. You wouldn’t show up to the track without a helmet or seatbelts. So, why would you show up without something to protect you from a fire? As Brandon so eloquently put it: “Fire doesn’t discriminate!”