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Race Scanning Tips & Hints
I have been scanning circuits for almost 25 years. Long before manual programmable scanners, my first scanning setup consisted of a big old Bearcat 250 mobile scanner attached to a huge 12 volt flashlight battery. The entire setup must have weighed 10 pounds and I had to carry it in a large camera bag! I guarantee I was the only guy in the stands at the Milwaukee Mile listening to those USAC cars spin in 1980! Things have changed a bit since then.
Estimates are that there can be more than 10% of the fans in a typical NASCAR event are “scanner equipped”. Speedway scanning has become so popular, it has expanded well beyond NASCAR speedways to dirt tracks, drag strips, and even Saturday nights at local short tracks. I’ve compiled a collection of tips and hints to help you get the most fun out of your racing scanning experience. If you have anything else to add, please send it to me so I can share it with others. Enjoy!
Why bring a scanner to the races? What can I hear?
Once you’ve experienced a ride with a scanner, you’ll be hooked forever. Scanning at the races adds that extra “dimension” or layer to the experience. You can hear the conversations between the driver, his crew, and the spotters. You will hear from the race officials and safety teams. You’ll also be able to monitor the “behind-the-scenes” action of the TV and radio broadcast crew. IMPORTANT! One thing you may want to be aware of when it comes to listening to race communications, it’s not necessarily for children! Emotions can run high during the racing action and quite often, the language can be a little “colorful” to say the least. You may want to consider this if you are easily offended by harsh language. What kind of equipment do I need for the races? The two main elements of a running scanning setup are the scanner itself as well as a noise-reducing headset.
First – The scanner. What kind of scanner do you need? It really depends on your needs or your budget. Almost any portable scanner made will work at the races. They are available with as few as 10 or as many as 5000 channels! In terms of price, expect to spend anywhere from a minimum of $75 to over $400. The most popular frequency ranges are 150 – 174 Megahertz and 450 – 470 Megahertz. There is some but not much racing activity in the 800 Megahertz band. Popular “racing” scanners are the Uniden Sportcat 200 and 230, Racing Electronics RE-2000, and the Radio Shack Pro 99. A couple of features that are really nice to have are alpha-displays, which allow you to program the name of the driver instead. just the frequency, and CTCSS or tone function, which allows you to program a certain tone code on a channel to help cut down on interference.
The second thing you need is a good quality, noise-reducing headphone. Racing is noisy! A headset will not only help protect your hearing, but will help you hear your scanner more clearly. They are available in many styles to suit your personal preference. You can also get small in-ear devices, made of foam, similar to the ones that drivers wear. Some other accessories you might consider are a “race” or stub antenna, which will help reduce local interference, a leg strap to help keep your scanner secure while watching the race, and a headphone splitter or a “Boostaroo” unit to be able to carry. a second headset for your friend to listen too. Don’t forget extra batteries! Nothing worse than running out of “juice” mid-run. Where can I buy a running scan setup? You can purchase a complete setup near your local Radio Shack store. Some specialist dealers that sell racing scanning equipment are Racing Electronics and Racing Radios.
If you’re not sure if you’re ready to buy a setup, most of these dealers also offer rentals. These dealers have trailers that offer equipment for most of the larger breeds.
OK, I have my scanner and headset, now where do I find the frequencies?
While you can find some free information on the Internet, most of it is outdated, incomplete, or just plain wrong. I highly recommend purchasing updated information from one of the vendors above. It’s worth the few dollars it costs. They have information on national series such as NASCAR, IRL and Champ Car. Most newer scanners are computer programmable. You can even bring those to the dealer trailer at the track and get the latest frequencies loaded right into your radio while you wait.
The new Uniden SC230 scanner comes with the frequencies for Nextel Cup, Busch Grand National, Craftsman Trucks, Champ Car, and IRL already programmed into it! For the regional series, your options are more limited. For Midwest fans, we have put together the Midwest Racing Frequencies website. Contains information for local tracks and regional touring series such as the ASA Late Models, Big 8 Series, and MidAm Limited Late Models. Information on the Midwest Racing Frequencies website can be found at;
At The Track Tips
1 – Do as much as possible before leaving the house. If you can get the frequency information before the race, you will save a ton of time by preprogramming your scanner before you get to the track. Don’t forget extra batteries, paper and pencil to take notes, and sunscreen. Packing a plastic bag to put your scanner in in case of a sudden downpour is also a nice addition.
2 – Programming advice. A popular trick is to program the frequencies so that the number of channels is the same as the number of the car. For example, you would program Mark Martin, Car #6 on channel 6 on your scanner. That way during the race, if you want to quickly switch to a particular car, you can just manually switch to that channel. With the newer scanners with alpha displays, it’s much easier to keep track of who’s who.
3 – Don’t try to hear everything! In a big race, there are too many things going on. Choose the leaders or your favorites and close everything else. It also helps to have race control in your scan list. At the big races, you can also hear the TV and radio broadcast feed (MRN broadcasts on 454.000 Mhz). Some tracks rebroadcast the PA track either on a scanner frequency or a low power FM radio station. These transmissions will “block” your scanner though, as they are continuously transmitting. You will have to close out and switch to them manually if you want to listen in.
4 – Get to the track early. If there is a vendor that sells running frequencies, this will give you a good chance to check or have your scanner programmed for you. Buy a souvenir program. They had the line ups so you know who to listen to.
5 – Practice and qualification are a good time to check the frequencies. Taking notes now will help you during the race. Listen to the spotters and crew chiefs talking to the drivers. You may be able to tell “who’s who” when they pass or come into the pits.
6 – When the drivers get into their cars before the race, it’s a good time to listen to the radio controls. Pace laps and caution periods are also the time when radio traffic increases.
7 – If you are using the search mode on your scanner to try to find new frequencies, narrow your search to smaller intervals at a time. The 450 to 470 Mhz range covers almost all race communications. Some race officials use frequencies in the 150 – 174 Mhz range. Even if you already have an accurate list, you can usually find something new by using the search function.
8 – Take good notes!
Using your scanner really adds a new dimension to the “racing experience” and what’s more, it’s just plain FUN! As you can tell, running scanning can seem a bit of a challenge at first. The more you do, the better you get. I went to a race with almost no information and by using these techniques I found over 90% of the field by the time the race was over.
Happy scanning and see you at the races!
By Scott W. Lowry Editor, Midwest Racing Frequencies
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