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 about $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.
After a few years, the system continues to work great. The only spot that has given us trouble so far 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 but is still hard to hear my voice from other cars. If your car doesn’t have the “angry bee” buzz of a revvy, rattling Spec Miata, this may not be an issue at all. I’m still checking out other microphones to see if I can find a good option before I try a more expensive mic. Nerdie racing sells a good kit but I also want to give Aviation mics a shot.
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, We have had mostly flawless results all across tracks in the Northeast. Even the sprawling Watkins Glen has spotter 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! I try to stay on it finding and replacing similar parts.
**Note: If you order through these links, I earn a small percentage off the sale, You’ll be helping to support this blog and it’s content (And it doesn’t cost you anything extra)… so please use the links, thank you!
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)
*This part seems to be temporarily unavailable on amazon or ebay. I’ll fix the post with an updated link if/when it comes back… hopefully soon.There seem to be some other style “Baofeng PTT” connectors out there, may be worth checking out.
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) Depending where you want your helmet hookup, you may be able to get a significantly shorter cable.
6) Microphone (earbud microphones didn’t seem good enough, These are currently working somewhat well for me, but from a loud car they send a lot of noise out)
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.
7.5) Input Splitter. Depending on which mic and earbuds you go with, you may need a splitter so you can plug both your mic and earbuds into the PTT adapter. (Hat tip to Steve for pointing out that I missed this!)
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 around.
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 to my cage via u-bolts.
- 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!)
January 2021 update:
A few other local racers have tried out the “Nerdie Racing” kit. At $150, It is a bit more expensive than piecing together parts from amazon, but results are clear: The Mic works great and there is no distortion even from loud cars.
This kit replaces your PTT button, Mic, and headphones. You’ll still need to get the Radio, Hardwire kit, and Antennas, but in the end it’s not much more money. When 2021 season begins I’ll be giving this setup a trial myself.
Good luck, let me know how it turns out for you!
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