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That’s exactly what licensing is about for tow rigs

Words/Photos John DiBartolomeo

Some of the questions: It must have been a long winter. You can tell because racers took to the internet bulletin boards seemingly more than ever. Possibly one of the most talked about issues was the ever-looming Commercial Drivers License (CDL) issue as it pertains to racers. It almost appears as if the entire racing fraternity is in a panic over laws they believe as new and impending (neither correct) regarding CDLs and other towing issues. When the truth is that there is no more reason to panic today any more than at any other time in our lives.

I have a dual-wheel pick-up truck and tow a 36′ enclosed trailer with my race car inside. Do I need a CDL?

I tow a 24′ trailer which carries a 9,800-pound GVW and my car with my motorhome that is registered as a recreational vehicle. Do I need a CDL?

My pick-up truck and enclosed trailer weigh more than 26,000-pounds. Do I need a CDL?

The myriad of tow rigs being used today can be rather confusing when it comes to answering questions about legality.

The myriad of tow rigs being used today can be rather confusing when it comes to answering questions about legality.

The answer to these and many of the other questions is… probably. But it’s such a gray area that is more open to interpretation than just about any other question on the face of this planet, which just might be the salvation for anyone being stopped and detained. Therein lies the problem though, because everyone seems to “think” they know it all when in fact, it’s doubtful even the people in charge of enforcement know the answers.

At last year’s PRI Trade Show, the Motorsports Parts Manufacturers Council (MPMC) hosted a round table discussion on the subject of licensing with regards to race trailers and the like. The three-man panel consisted of Kyle Fickler of Aeromotive, a racer himself; Kip Rhoton, who runs a trailer on the NHRA Manufacturers Midway as well as a former law enforcement officer and a racer; and Lonnie Troyer of ShowHauler, a manufacturer of motorhomes.

It was explained by Troyer that years ago the recreational vehicle industry lobbied for an exemption from a CDL requirement for a legally licensed recreational vehicle. The understanding was that to require a CDL for every senior citizen who decided to tour the country in an RV would severely limit sales of those units. He suggested the racing community attempt to do the same.

Rhoton disagreed though, noting that the ship has sailed on that opportunity in part because of insurance companies looking to limit their losses when an accident occurs. Troyer agreed with that scenario and understood the massive effort it would take to tackle that subject.

The concern of proper licensing is such a hot topic that the Motorsports Parts Manufacturers Council (MPMC) hosted a round table discussion at last year’s PRI Trade Show on the subject of licensing with regards to race trailers. The consensus? There was none.

The concern of proper licensing is such a hot topic that the Motorsports Parts Manufacturers Council (MPMC) hosted a round table discussion at last year’s PRI Trade Show on the subject of licensing with regards to race trailers. The consensus? There was none.

The Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) is quite aware of the concerns and as such has been attempting to lobby officials on the state level to make them aware of the inadequacies of the rulings.

This gray area exists because there is a lack of understanding with many of the rules and regulations on the books. The Pennsylvania Commercial Drivers Manual specifically states: “You do not need a Commercial Driver’s License to drive military equipment while in military uniform, certain fire and emergency equipment owned by a fire company, or recreational vehicles, implements of husbandry, or certain motorized construction equipment.”

Seems pretty straight forward so far.

But there is also an exemption listed in accordance to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s rules which questions an exemption to ruling 390.3(f)(3) for the “occasional transportation of personal property by individuals not for compensation nor in the furtherance of a commercial enterprise” apply to a person who occasionally use CMVs to transport cars, boats, horses, etc., to races, tournaments, shows or similar events, even if prize money is offered at these events.

The Guidance further states: “The exemption would apply to this kind of transportation, provided: 1) The underlying activities are not undertaken for profit, i.e., (a) prize money is declared as ordinary income for tax purposes, and (b) the cost of the underlying activities is not deducted as a business expense for tax purposes; and, where relevant; (2) corporate sponsorship is not involved.”

Placing this lettering on the side of your truck/trailer might make you feel better, but it probably isn’t going to mean much to the long arm of the law, nor is it a fix-all. If it were, every tractor-trailer on the road would letter it on.

Placing this lettering on the side of your truck/trailer might make you feel better, but it probably isn’t going to mean much to the long arm of the law, nor is it a fix-all. If it were, every tractor-trailer on the road would letter it on.

Not exactly the best feeling in the world when you’re on your way to enjoy yourself at the races. However, the old saying of “you get more flies with honey” might be somewhat of a salvation.

Not exactly the best feeling in the world when you’re on your way to enjoy yourself at the races. However, the old saying of “you get more flies with honey” might be somewhat of a salvation.

Read into that what you’d like, but the real fact of the matter is that a very large percentage of racers are traveling up and down the nation’s roadways illegally. Can you get legal? Absolutely. But the costs involved will follow along the same lines as any other commercial vehicle, tractor-trailer, etc. This means that your relatively inexpensive RV registration will increase exponentially when registered as a commercial vehicle which also will be reflected on your insurance bill.

The fortunate part about the gray area is that it could just benefit the racer. We can almost assure you that with all due respect, most law enforcement personal are as confused about the legalities of towing your racer as you are. Let’s look at it from their point of view.

The fact of the matter is that you are racing for money, regardless of how you declare it on your income tax forms. To be stopped on the side of the road and proclaim to the officer that you only race for trophies will pretty much insult their intelligence, which will become your first problem.

Advice No. 1: Don’t insult their intelligence.

I’ve been stopped a number of times over the years and almost every time have managed to drive away unscathed. “Almost,” because the one time I was disrespectful (or at least that’s what the officer said I was), I left there with a $500 over-length ticket and had to have a shorter truck come and move my trailer. Obviously, I failed to adhere to Advice No. 1.

The next issue is a CDL. Technically, you might not need one. However, should you be involved in a traffic fatality, you can be assured you’re going to end up in a court of law, if only in a civil suit. Despite the fact that you might be in the right to drive a vehicle over the 26,000-pound limit and/or a trailer with over a 10,000-pound GVW without a CDL, you can bet that issue will surface which can be ruled against by a jury of your peers.

The 26,000-pound limit for a CDL also includes trailers with over a 10,000-pound Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR).

The 26,000-pound limit for a CDL also includes trailers with over a 10,000-pound Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR).

In most cases it’s not necessary to pull into the various weigh stations across the country, but be sure to adhere to the actual wording of the signs.

In most cases it’s not necessary to pull into the various weigh stations across the country, but be sure to adhere to the actual wording of the signs.

Advice No. 2: Get a CDL license.

The fact of obtaining a CDL is no harder than taking an additional written test followed by a road test. In most cases there are very little downsides to obtaining and carrying a CDL. Obviously there’s the slightly extra dollars to renew your license each period. There is also the possibility of increased points against your license for a traffic citation in addition to a decreased blood alcohol limit for a DUI stop, both of which you shouldn’t be doing anyway.

Along with the license, having a medical card is another part that is renewable every two years. So obtaining the CDL medical portion with your racing license is a no-brainer. Having a CDL does not mean that you have to carry and fill out a log book, nor does it mean you having to pull into scale houses.

“I highly recommend everyone obtain a CDL,” Fickler says. “It won’t make you legal but it could help to at least allow you to utilize some of that gray area to your advantage.”

Oftentimes without a CDL, a racer could be parked by a law enforcement officer on the side of the road which can severely curtail your trip and the enjoyment you meant it to be. By having one it certainly doesn’t mean you’ll drive away scot-free, but it just might make a huge difference.

One issue with regards to obtaining the CDL could come at the time of your road test. In most states, you must take the road test with a commercially-registered vehicle. This could become a problem if you’re attempting to use your personally-registered vehicle, be it a motorhome, pick-up truck, whatever. However, in the state of Pennsylvania, we were told that if what you’re using for your road test is over the 26,000-pound number and is what you intend to drive with your CDL license, then by all means, that’s what you take the test with. It might take a little bit of elegance (for lack of a better word) when discussing this concern with your local motor vehicle department, but once it’s done, you’re good to go.

Signage on the side of your trailer may or may not indicate corporate sponsorship which (and we hate to keep using this term) may or may not fall in line with Federal Motor Carrier regulations. But by just having your company name on the side of your trailer doesn’t always mean you’ll get a visit by an enforcement officer.

Signage on the side of your trailer may or may not indicate corporate sponsorship which (and we hate to keep using this term) may or may not fall in line with Federal Motor Carrier regulations. But by just having your company name on the side of your trailer doesn’t always mean you’ll get a visit by an enforcement officer.

Of course, just having a CDL is not the end of the story. It’s also wise to make yourself aware of the vehicle requirements. Obviously, taking care to make sure your vehicle is in tip-top mechanical shape; tires, exhaust system, belts and air lines where applicable, etc. Also, it’s not a bad idea to carry a fire extinguisher along with a set of road flares.Your trailer should also be in the same good shape with special attention to trailer brakes, tires, etc. Enclosed trailers should have their load (cars, tools, fuel canisters, and the like) properly tied down.

There is also the issue of over-length. The rules change from state to state but in cases such as Florida, an over-length permit is available at a very reasonable price, and requires nothing more than filling out some paperwork.

And of course there is always the issue of signage on your trailer which may indicate sponsorship that flies in the face of the aforementioned Guidance: “(2) corporate sponsorship is not involved.”

Having signage on the side of your trailer does not indicate sponsorship as we all know. However it is one of those issues which could signal a road-side visit with the long arm of the law that might require a little bit of explaining. Will you win the argument? Hard to answer yes or no.

So what is the answer? There is none.

In addition to licensing, making sure your truck/trailer is in good shape with proper inflation and tread depth tires, along with carrying road flares and a fire extinguisher is certainly not a bad idea.

In addition to licensing, making sure your truck/trailer is in good shape with proper inflation and tread depth tires, along with carrying road flares and a fire extinguisher is certainly not a bad idea.

For the foreseeable future, this issue will continue to be a hot topic. Does it mean you should panic? By all means, NO. There is nothing to panic about any more than at any other time.

Will we suddenly see hordes of race rigs pulled to the side of the road and detained? Probably not. Bear in mind that our drag racing cousins are in the same situation as well as the many other enclosed trailers hauling God only knows what. Again, not a reason to panic.

If there were somewhat of an answer, it just might be for you to follow Advice No. 1 and No. 2 above. Don’t insult their intelligence and Get a CDL.

UPDATE: Our friends at Drag Racing Scene have an update with some very cool information about changes for haulers in Iowa. Check it out here.


Post A Comment

  • Marty says:
    May 5, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    Not sure why you would need a CDL to pull a “36 inch enclosed” or a “24 inch trailer”… 😀

    Reply
  • May 6, 2015 at 6:58 am

    Thanks, that was corrected. Brain fart.

    Reply
  • Phillip Baxter says:
    May 6, 2015 at 9:06 am

    A friend was involved in an accident while towing his race car. He was cited for No Commercial Tags on vehicle, No Health Card and No Form of a Commercial License. This was in OH. He was told you race for money and therefore this is considered a for hire vehicle. He was told he could get buy with a Class D and a F Endorsemet which I think is borderline. My quesion is and always has been is about Haz Mat Endorsement since we carry fuel.

    Reply
  • leon borden says:
    June 12, 2015 at 6:33 pm

    The feds set the rules for CDL requirements states can make changes but they only apply to residents of that state in that state. If you are legal in the state where your license is issued you are legal every where Good example is California where every truck from a mini truck and up is registered as a commercial but they can’t do anything about pickups from other states that are not registered as commercial vechicles

    Reply
  • Tony says:
    June 24, 2015 at 7:07 am

    I was stopped in the State of Oklahoma for an inspection. Driving a 3/4 ton pickup with a 26 ft. enclosed trailer with a full wrap displaying a well known corporate image, and weighing in at just over 19,000 lbs. I was issued two citations. 1. For not having apportioned plates and 2. For not having IFTA stickers. All because of the way my truck was titled in my home state of Minnesota. The state of MN sees my 3/4 ton as an automobile and registration is based on value, so the value is printed on the registration where the weight would be for a commercial vehicle. Obviously making it look as though Im registered for 40,000 + lbs, when I gross at 19,900 combined. It took a letter explaining it ll from the MN DMV to get out of them.

    Reply
  • June 25, 2015 at 5:12 am

    Or better yet start racing boats not so much of a problem… Works for me…
    Oh an yes I have a CDL

    Reply
  • Edmond says:
    June 25, 2015 at 6:55 am

    I am a racer, I pull a 44″ trailer with a 3500, and have a CDL. There is a lot of useful information in the CDL book / test that can be beneficial to everyone on the road, even those driving cars.
    If you learn the CMV laws, you will learn the legal ways around them! I would recommend a CDL to anyone.

    Reply
  • jmredneck says:
    June 26, 2015 at 2:41 am

    Pertaining to the question on Hazmat. You don’t carry enough bulk fuel to need one. As far as crossing state lines. Regardless where your vehicle is registered you still have to follow the guidelines for the state your in. CDL issue. Any vehicle with a gvw of 26001lbs and above used for making money regardless of what they are registered as require a CDL. Vehicles lighter than that contain a larger gray area. This all came from Ohio’s DOT officer. I drive truck as well as race. I just added all my race stuff to my commercial insurance as I’m an owner op. Just easier, but with doing so I have to run time ticket(12 hours) for days I’m less than 100 miles from house and a log book(14 hour rule) on trips farther than that. Since I drive the truck and car. When racing I have to show on duty/ not driving time. It gets confusing if your not familiar commercial regulations. Hope some of thus helps. Other than that contact your local state police station and talk to a DOT officer. Good luck.

    Reply
  • June 30, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    Only if you are hauling over 1001 pounds of haz mat

    Reply

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