Drag Race 101: Generators

Gen Lead

Get a Charge out of This: Picking the Right Generator 

Generators are a common sight (and sound) in motorsports.  Everyone from the touring pro to the low buck little guy racer seems to have one. Of course, the big guns often have massive diesel-powered gen-sets buried deep within the bowels of their semi trailers.  Wander though the pits of any race event and you can regularly hear the characteristic generator drone,  even over the cacophony of multiple nitro methane bullets as they warm up in the pits.  These are all-powerful pieces of machinery  (some could probably light a small town for a day or two), but just as important, they’re expensive.

On the other end of the spectrum are the small, portable gasoline-powered generators – the ones used by little guys like us. These pieces of machinery are, for the most part, affordable, are easily moved and perhaps most important, are efficient to operate.   Although the scope of this series prevents us from examining each and every portable gas-powered generator available on the market, we will provide you with insight into generator selection.

Something else:  For some of us who are, uhm, “Rural”, the racecar support generator does double duty.  For this writer at least, our gen set gets fired up at least a half dozen times during the winter.  Sometimes the generator is in use for a couple of days at a time.  This means we have a pretty idea of what works and what doesn’t. It also means we need a generator that is somewhat portable (wheels are good idea!), so that it can be moved from the garage to the trailer and back again.

Many larger generators (usually 3,000 Watts and larger) are equipped with 120V and 240V outlets.  The AC output of this Honda generator offers four 20 amp outlets along with a single 30A service.  In addition, the 240V outlet has an 30 Amp rating.
Many larger generators (usually 3,000 Watts and larger) are equipped with 120V and 240V outlets. The AC output of this Honda generator offers four 20 amp outlets along with a single 30A service. In addition, the 240V outlet has an 30 Amp rating.

Power = Watts

When selecting the generator AC output, one of the most important steps is to determine the power requirements (measured in Watts or Kilowatts) of the equipment you intend to run.  Virtually all electrical tools, lights and even small appliances along with larger pieces of electrical equipment have tags affixed to their bodies.  On these tags you’ll find the wattage requirement. Add up the wattage requirement on all of the equipment you intend to run before making the generator purchase.

Something you should consider for your generator is a good old-fashioned rope pull start (which can be a blessing if your generator battery dies).
Something you should consider for your generator is a good old-fashioned rope pull start (which can be a blessing if your generator battery dies).

Coffee & Toast To Go?

You might be surprised to find that some items that seem insignificant have major watt draws.  As an example, a common 3/8-inch electric drill has a wattage requirement of approximately 240.  A common 1/2-inch drill has a requirement of 600 watts.   A small refrigerator consumes approximately 350 watts (running). OK.  No big deal.  But guess what the wattage requirement of a simple two-slice toaster works out to?  Try 1,000 watts!  Similarly, a large drip type coffee maker can mandate as much as 1500 watts while a medium to large microwave oven might need 1400+ watts.   Simply stated, a very small generator won’t be capable of running a 3/8-inch electric drill and a coffee maker (or toaster) if you’re so inclined.

Electric start is optionally available on many smaller generators and standard on the big brutes.  Having the luxury of an electric starter versus a pull starter may not be a luxury at all, dependent of course on your application and if the generator is buried deep within the bowels of your trailer.
Electric start is optionally available on many smaller generators and standard on the big brutes. Having the luxury of an electric starter versus a pull starter may not be a luxury at all, dependent of course on your application and if the generator is buried deep within the bowels of your trailer.

Certain items that feature large electric motors (a compressor or a roof air conditioning unit are good examples) require more wattage for startup rather than operation.  If you intend to operate electrical equipment such as this, be certain that your generator is large enough to handle both the startup and the running requirements.  Further to this, some generators have rated capacities for “running” along with added capacity for “startups” (usually in the order of 10% more “startup” capacity).

The following chart shows equipment that generators can operate, based upon rated watts and rated amperage (@ 120 V).  By no means is this chart complete or specific, but it should give you a general idea about generator capacity:

Another good feature is an oil circuit override.  With this circuit, if the engine oil level drops too far, the generator will automatically shut down.  It might seem like an insignificant feature, but when you leave a running generator unattended for long periods of time, it can become rather important.
Another good feature is an oil circuit override. With this circuit, if the engine oil level drops too far, the generator will automatically shut down. It might seem like an insignificant feature, but when you leave a running generator unattended for long periods of time, it can become rather important.
Auto Throttle is a nice feature. When set to Auto Throttle, the generator when the loads are reduced or disconnected. It makes for a much quieter pit environment.
Auto Throttle is a nice feature. When set to Auto Throttle, the generator when the loads are reduced or disconnected. It makes for a much quieter pit environment.
Appliance 550 W4.6 A 900 W7.5 A 1200 W10 A 2000 W10 A  3000 W25 A  4500 W37.5 A
Charge Battery  Yes  Yes  Yes  Yes  Yes  Yes
3/8″ Drill  Yes  Yes  Yes  Yes  Yes  Yes
Color Television  Yes  Yes  Yes  Yes  Yes  Yes
Refrigerator  No  No  Yes  Yes  Yes  Yes
½” Drill  No No No  Yes  Yes  Yes
Coffee Maker  No  No  No  Yes  Yes  Yes
Toaster  No  Yes  Yes  Yes  Yes  Yes
Microwave Oven  No  No  No  Yes  Yes  Yes
Roof A/C Unit  No  No  No  No  Yes  Yes

 

Next issue, we’ll dig deeper into what to look for.  Watch for it.

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