I have been scanning racetracks for almost 25 years. Long before programmable handheld scanners, my first scan setup consisted of a big old Bearcat 250 mobile scanner taped to a huge 12 volt flashlight battery. The whole setup must have weighed 10 pounds and I had to carry it in a big camera bag! I guarantee you I was the only one in the stands of The Milwaukee Mile listening to those USAC stock cars go round and round in 1980! Things have changed a bit since then.
It is estimated that there may be more than 10% of the fans at a typical NASCAR event who are “scanner equipped.” Race track scanning has become so popular that it has expanded far beyond NASCAR super tracks to dirt tracks, drag tracks, and even Saturday night local short tracks. I’ve compiled a collection of tips and advice to help you get the most out of your racing scan experience. If you have others to add, please send them to me so we can share them with others. Enjoy!
Why bring a scanner to races? What can i hear
Once you’ve experienced a career with a scanner, you’ll be hooked forever. Scanning in races adds that extra “dimension” or layer to the experience. You will be able to listen to the conversations between the driver, his crew and the observers. You will listen to the race officials and the security teams. You can even monitor the action “behind the scenes” from broadcast television and radio equipment. IMPORTANT! One thing to keep in mind regarding listening to racial communications, it’s not necessarily for kids! Emotions can rise during racing action, and quite often language can get a bit ‘colorful’, to put it mildly. You may want to consider this if you are easily offended by harsh language. What kind of equipment do I need in racing? The two main elements of a race scan setup are the scanner itself, as well as a noise-reducing earpiece.
First- The scanner. What type of scanner will you need? It really depends on your needs or your budget. Almost any manufactured handheld scanner will work in racing. They are available with as little as 10 or up to 5000 channels! Price wise, expect to spend as little as $ 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 Radio Shack Pro 99. A couple of features that are really nice are the alpha displays, which allow you to program the driver’s name. frequency-only, and CTCSS or tone function, which allows you to program a certain tone code on a channel to help reduce interference.
The second thing you will need is a good quality noise reduction earphone. Racing is STRONG! Not only will a headset help protect your hearing, it will also help you hear your scanner more clearly. They are available in various styles to suit your personal preferences. You can also get the small, foam-type, in-the-ear devices, similar to the ones that drivers use. Some other accessories you might consider are a “racing” or cutting antenna, which will help reduce local interference, a leg strap to help keep your scanner safe while watching the race, and a headphone splitter or “Boostaroo unit. “so you can wear a second earphone so your friend can hear it too. Don’t forget spare batteries! Nothing worse than running out of “juice” in the middle of the race. Where can I buy a race scan setup? You can purchase a complete setup as close as your local Radio Shack store. Some specialized vendors that sell racing scan equipment are Racing Electronics and Racing Radios.
If you’re still not sure you’re ready to buy a setup, most of these providers also offer rentals. These vendors have trailers that offer equipment on most of the major races.
Okay, I have my scanner and headphones, now where do I find the frequencies?
While you can find information for free on the internet, most of it is out of date, incomplete, or just plain wrong. I highly recommend purchasing updated information from one of the above providers. It is worth the few dollars it costs. They have information on national series like NASCAR, IRL, and Champ Car. Most of the newer scanners are computer programmable. You can even take them to the seller’s trailer on the track and upload the latest frequencies directly to 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 regional series, your options are more limited. For fans of the Midwest, we have created the Midwest Racing Frequencies website. Contains information for local tracks, as well as regional tour series such as ASA Late Models, Big 8 Series, and MidAm Limited Late Models. Information can be found on the Midwest Racing Frequencies website at;
Tips on the track
1 – Do everything you can before leaving home. If you can get frequency information before the race, you will save a lot of time by pre-programming your scanner before hitting the track. Don’t forget spare batteries, note-taking pencil and paper, and sunscreen. Packing a plastic bag to place the scanner in in the event of a sudden rain is also a nice addition.
2 – Programming suggestion. A popular trick is to program the frequencies so that the channel number is the same as the car number. For example, you would program Mark Martin, Auto # 6 on channel 6 of your scanner. That way during the race, if you want to quickly switch to a particular car, you can simply manually switch to that channel. With newer scanners with alpha screens, it’s much easier to keep track of who’s who.
3 – Don’t try to hear everything! In a great race, too much happens. Pick the leaders or your favorites and block everything else. It also helps to be in control of the race on your scan list. In big races, you can also listen to TV and radio broadcasts (MRN broadcasts in 454,000 Mhz). Some tracks will broadcast the track’s PA on a scanner frequency or on a low-power FM radio station. However, these transmissions will “lock” your scanner as they transmit continuously. You will have to manually lock and change them if you want to hear them.
4 – Get to the track early. If there is a provider that sells race frequencies there, this will give you a good chance to verify it or program your scanner for you. Buy a souvenir program. They will have the lineups so you know who to listen to.
5 – Practice and qualification are a good time to check frequencies. Taking notes now will help you during the race. Listen to the observers and team leaders talking to the drivers. You may be able to say “who’s who” when passing or entering the pits.
6 – When the drivers get into their cars before the race, it is a good time to listen to the radio controls. Fast turns and caution periods are also the time when radio traffic spikes.
7 – If you are using the search mode on your scanner to try to find new frequencies, narrow your search to smaller ranges at a time. The 450 to 470 Mhz range will cover almost all race communication. Some racing officials will use frequencies in the 150-174 Mhz range. Even if you already have an accurate list, you can usually find some new things by using the search function.
8 – Take good notes!
Using your scanner really adds a new dimension to the “racing experience” and on top of that, it’s just FUN! As you can see, racing scan can seem like a challenge at first. I’ll get it. I have gone to a race with almost no information and by using these techniques they have found over 90% of the field when the race ended.
Happy scanning and see you at the races!
By Scott W. Lowry Editor, Midwest Racing Frequencies