On the surface, handling and storing racing fuel appears to be simple. However, racers can make a lot of mistakes.

To find out the most common errors and to gather some tips for handling fuel safely, Stock Car Racing found some advice that all racers should abide by whether they compete in a top series or a local short track.

For starters, experts say a little common sense goes a long way when handling fuel safely. It’s the little things that are taken for granted, such as smoking a cigarette around gasoline fumes or keeping the fuel out of direct sunlight.

“It is obvious, but people do things wrong every day,” says Tim Wusz, performance products engineer with 76 Racing Gasoline. “I had a friend of mine who caught his garage on fire because he wasn’t thinking when he was working with a welding torch. He was using gasoline to wash his parts and that’s something you should never do. I asked him what in the world he was doing that for, and he told me it was quicker than using the proper cleansing solvent.

“I agreed with him, and told him that was why he had all those fumes in his garage before he torched the place. It is common sense, but not everybody exhibits that trait all the time.”

Whether it’s at the track or back at the shop, race teams should follow several guidelines for storing and handling fuel.

Correct Storage

One critical area is the type of container used to store and transport fuel. It is recommended that fuel be kept in 55-gallon steel drums.

“Plastic jugs are very poor storage containers for a number of reasons,” says Art Brown, technical and operations manager for Sunoco Performance Products. “For one, they can’t be sealed tightly.” In addition, Brown says, the white containers are bad about allowing the light to hit the fuel, and that’s detrimental to the gasoline.

Racers should make sure their containers meet Department of Transportation standards for transporting fuel. Approved containers will feature an embossed stamp on the bottom.

“Some of those plastic-type materials are insulators and don’t allow for the dissipation of any of the static charges that might be built up,” Brown says. “It’s always better to use a metal container, though the colored containers will work fine if handled correctly and if they’re not used as storage containers for long periods of time.”

Wusz agrees that plastic gasoline jugs should be used sparingly, especially when storing fuel at the shops.

“I suggest steel containers as the way to go,” Wusz says. “Plastic jugs are a poor way to store fuel because the sunlight or the florescent lights in the shops can get to the fuel and that does two things: it deteriorates the level of lead in the gasoline and it also attacks the dye of the gasoline that is there for identification purposes. If you have a clear white jug sitting around full of red gasoline for a couple of weeks, it’s not going to have the same red color that it should have.

“The dark-colored jugs are better than the clear jugs. If you can see the level of gasoline in the jugs, then you don’t want to store it in them for very long. If worse comes to worse and the white jugs are all you have, put a blanket over them to shield them from the light.”

Time Limits

Teams should also consider how long they can store gasoline before it runs the risk of getting contaminated. Brown says Sunoco racing fuels will last from six months all the way up to a year if stored in the proper containers and not exposed to extreme swings in temperature or direct sunlight. Wusz says 76 Racing Gasoline can be stored for up to two years.

Then there’s the issue of how long fuel should be left in the race cars. Experts say it’s OK for Friday- and Saturday-night racers to simply leave their leftover fuel in the fuel cells until the following week, as long as the cars are stored in a well-ventilated area.

“On a week-to-week basis, what I would recommend is using the leftover gas at the next event during warm-up laps,” Wusz says. “That allows the older fuel to get used, then when they get near empty, fresh gas can be put into the car. “To drain the fuel out of the car every weekend just isn’t safe because of the way some people do it. Sometimes you can do more damage messing with the fuel than you would get if you just left it alone.”

The only time fuel should be taken out of the fuel cell is when the cars are going to be sitting for a long period of time, such as when the season is over. “At the end of the year you definitely want to drain all the gas from the fuel cell,” Brown says. “Racing gasoline, in general, is very stable, but it can still degrade over long periods of time because of the atmosphere. Over the winter, you want to keep any leftover fuel in an approved metal container.”

The location of those containers—stored inside or outside—is also important.

“If fuel is stored inside, it needs to be stored in an area that is very well ventilated,” Brown says. “You most certainly wouldn’t want to store a drum of gasoline sitting inside an attached garage at a home. The most important thing is to keep that drum out of the sunlight so the drums don’t get overheated. There is nothing wrong with storing the fuel outside as long as it’s stored in the shade.”

If fuel is stored outside, it should be kept on the north side of the building so it never gets any direct sunlight, Wusz says. “It’s the same thing as a house that faces north and there’s that one little area near the front porch that never receives any sunlight. The same thing applies to storing drums of fuel because those drums are less likely to get any sunlight.”

Disposal Process

When it comes to getting rid of old racing gasoline, strict federal and state laws prevent the disposal of any type of hazardous materials into any drainage system.

If fuel has to be disposed of, it should be placed in the proper container and taken to a local hazardous materials disposal center, Wusz says. “But really the best way to get rid of old gas that’s in the fuel cell is to burn it off when they get back to the track the following weekend. If you’ve got something and you don’t know what it is, the best bet is to take it to the local hazardous materials center where you can take things like contaminated gas and old paint.

“You should never dump it down the drain or into the sewer systems. Never. If somebody lit a match under the right circumstances, you could see manhole covers lifting up for quite a ways.”

How do you know if the fuel is contaminated and needs to be properly disposed of? Wusz says a good initial check is the color.

“If you know the fuel is supposed to be red but what you’re looking at isn’t red, chances are something has happened,” Wusz says. “Another important way to check is to actually look down inside the container. Normally, if there are contaminants like water and dirt, they are going to be on the bottom of the drum.

“Gasoline will separate from water, that’s how you can tell if water or dirt is in the drum. On the other side of that, you can’t take a visual look and measure the octane level.”

Safety Equipment

If all the proper steps are taken, the threat of fire can be greatly diminished, though it’s very important for all race teams to have the proper safety equipment within arm’s reach at all times. It doesn’t matter if it’s at the shops, in the garage area, or out on pit road, having a good fire extinguisher around at all times is imperative.

“What those teams need is a dry chemical fire extinguisher, which is more of a powdery material,” Brown says. “The extinguishers come in 15- to 30-pound sizes. One very important thing a lot of the teams overlook is having their fire extinguishers close to the gasoline. If there is a fire, you really need to be able to get to an extinguisher fast to put it out.”

“If you’ve ever been burned, it’s very painful and it takes a long time for those wounds to heal,” Wusz says. “So I would recommend the teams have fire extinguishers around them at all times, whether it’s the pits, garage, or in their trailers. A good fire extinguisher is the cheapest insurance you can get.”