Adding a car-to-car and car-to-spotter communication system is something that can both make racing even more fun, and give you a real competitive advantage . However, Radio systems on the market are WAY more expensive than my budget would allow. After borrowing and testing cheap radios from a friend, I went forward with piecing together a cheap system for less than $150 total. The results have been impressive.
Parts list with links is at the bottom of this post:
Getting a system together without spending a fortune:
The problem with in-car radio systems is the extremely high cost. Typical “Name Brand” systems seem to start at $700 and go up to (and well beyond) $1500. If you are racing on a budget (Be it with NASA, SCCA, Champcar, Lemons, etc) that’s just out of the question. I’m sure there are some very high quality setups out there, but I just couldn’t imagine they were THAT much better than some cheap generic radio with pieced together accessories.
Nobody online seemed to have done a super-cheap setup before. There were a few posts of people asking and being told “no, no, that would never work!” but I couldn’t find anyone who actually tried it and failed.
I was able to get a WORKING car-to-car, and car-to-spotter radio setup for right around $150. So far it has been working great between a few cars and a spotter.
The only spot that has given me a bit of trouble as of yet is communication out of my car. It’s quite loud Inside a car constantly at Wide Open Throttle, 5-7,000 rpm. I initially tried using a standard generic earbud mic, but all the other side could hear was engine noise. I added a lapel mic (Below) and clip it inside my balaclava, and it has improved output sound quality dramatically but is still hard to hear my voice from other cars. I’m still checking out other microphones to see if i can find a good one before I try a more expensive option.
Range has been super impressive. The biggest single concern people voiced to me was that without spending big money on super powerful radio units we would have terrible range and most tracks would work for only a few turns. Even with my cheap $25 car antenna and $10 spotter antenna, I have had full reception across all of NJ Motorsports Park. Others running similar setups at Watkins Glen this year (A notoriously huge, hilly facility) have had reception everywhere but in the toe of the boot.
Here are the main parts of the kit I pieced together: (Items on amazon change availability and price often, please let me know if you notice any unavailable products! )
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1) 2 Baofeng UV-5R Radios (One for in-car, one for spotter)
2) Antenna for the Car
3) PTT (Push-To-Talk) Kit (The PTT button is on a bit shorter of a wire than I hoped and with my layout it doesn’t reach my steering wheel, but it reaches my shifter just fine)
4) Battery Eliminator (While this isn’t required, hardwiring the radio to the car’s power saves me from forgetting to charge the radio)
5) Headphone extension cable (Gives me plenty of wire to run the wire to a convenient spot for hooking the in-car system to the wire coming off me)
6) Microphone (earbud microphones didn’t seem good enough, this is a work in progress but is doing well)
A noise canceling version may perform better, but costs a bit more, this will be my next try: Option #2
7) Generic Earbuds (without an inline microphone would be nice, I just taped over my earbud mic because I’m using the lapel mic). You can use fancy noise-canceling earbuds as well, but they seemed unnecessarily expensive and any generic ones seemed to muffle my loud exhaust just enough when under a helmet. Get ones that are relatively flat so they fit snugly under the helmet without being uncomfortable.
8) Spotter Antenna. Standard antenna should be fine for small tracks, but I figured with how cheap antennas are, it was good insurance. My exact antenna doesn’t seem to be sold anymore but this one is very close
9) Spotter Earpiece. It gets really loud at the track, and you don’t necessarily want people around you hearing what’s being said, so some sort of headphones is good for a spotter as well. I’m considering spending the money on a full earmuff style headset, but so far a cheap setup like this has worked well.
If you want to go even cheaper, leave out the hardwire kit, spotter antenna, spotter earbuds, and use old earbuds you have lying.
Other Misc Items:
- “Radio Boxes” are prohibitively expensive (Around $50 for a metal box, some foam, and a roll cage mount). You can’t just sit a radio in the passenger seat, some sort of holder is important. I also wanted to minimize vibrations from the car getting to the radio, so bolting it directly to the chassis was out. I used an old metal tea box, shoved some soft packing foam in it, and attached it a the seat-back brace a friend made (Since I was no longer running a passenger seat).
- I mounted a Dual Cigarette Lighter Plug to the cage near the radio to get power. The open plug is also was a convenient way to get power to my cameras. (Check out my post on recycling your old cell phones for trackday cameras!)
Good luck, let me know how it turns out for you!
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