In dirt racing, cleaning your car can sometimes be as damaging as anything you can do to it on the track. If you aren't careful, water can invade the hubs and ruin your wheel bearings, cause electrical problems, and even contaminate the fuel system. But washing your car is a weekly chore that's as routine for most dirt racers as loading up to go to the racetrack.

Besides the other problems listed above, preventing rust is also a constant battle. Rust kills the strength and durability of steel, besides galling bolts and looking just plain ugly. The best way to prevent rust is good, old-fashioned paint. And that works in most areas. But when it comes to mild steel headers, paint just won't cut it. Even high-temp paint doesn't last more than a couple races on a high-horsepower Dirt Late Model. And with the constant washing, it won't take long before any area where the paint has been burned off to start rusting.

A common solution to battle the rust problem with exhaust headers is to have some sort of coating applied. Modern coatings do an excellent job of both holding heat inside the headers and holding rust at bay. Most look great and are durable, but they can also add quite a bit to the expense of a new set of headers. Plus, if the headers are ruined in a wreck, so is the coating. You can also use stainless steel headers, but the expense there is often even worse.

If you can afford it, coating your race headers is certainly the way to go. But if the cost is prohibitive, there is another rustproofing method to consider. We recently stopped by the Dirt Late Model shop of Eddie and Chris Hargett while they were making final preparations on their car for the start of the season. The father-and-son team uses a method that basically "pickles" the steel in the headers using heat and automatic transmission fluid. The idea is that the heat (from a torch) opens up the pores in the metal so that the ATF fluid can get good penetration, and then the oil cuts off the oxidation process. The process is a little bit messy, but Chris Hargett says they treated their headers to this process at the start of last season and didn't touch them afterward. The headers were still rust-free at the end of the season.

In fact, the headers we photographed were the same ones Chris Hargett used the previous year. He recommends purchasing a new set and specifying that they arrive unpainted (a set from Schoenfeld are used here) so that you will not have to remove the paint. Sandblasting a painted set or an old set of headers isn't recommended because the sandblasting process will close the pores in the metal. But with a new set of unpainted headers all that's required is to disassemble all the pieces (if applicable), wipe them clean, hang them up, and get started.

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