Communication is key in NASCAR. Drivers need to constantly communicate with a plethora of individuals to stay updated on their car’s conditions and even on track conditions. With so much communication, many fans ask whether NASCAR drivers can talk to each other during an event.
NASCAR drivers cannot talk to each other when they race. However, they can talk with their team’s spotters, crew chief, team manager, and other team members. Often, however, team members listen in on two-way radios while the spotter and crew chief handle most of the communication.
Below, we will outline how NASCAR radios work and when they became commonplace in the sport. We will also reveal if NASCAR ever allowed its drivers to talk to one another, and why a rule exists prohibiting direct communication between drivers.
How NASCAR Radios Work
NASCAR teams may use a mixture of analog and digital radio equipment.Some choose to use both, and others may insert intercom systems in their pit boxes. As of 2022, Racing Radios serves as NASCAR’s official radio supplier.
Racing Radios is a branch of Diversified Radios, which NASCAR initially joined forces with in the mid-1970s. Racing Radios fine-tunes all the frequencies for each NASCAR race, from the drivers to the teams, racing officials, and safety crews.
Motorola supplies the in-car radio systems that sit on the driver’s left-hand side during a race. They also install the driver’s earpiece into the helmet, allowing for easy communication with their spotters, crew chief, and team members via a push-to-talk switch installed on the steering wheel.
A mounted antenna on the car’s roof allows for ideal reception, and Active Noise Reduction technology, also known as ANR, eliminates background noise. A small harness wires in both the driver’s earpiece and microphone, and the driver can adjust volume and channels via the in-car radio system.
When Did NASCAR Start Using Radios?
NASCAR started using radios in the 1950s, although they became more common in the decades after that. NASCAR has a long history of team communication, which dates back to the sport’s earliest days. However, they weren’t using radios to communicate back in 1949’s Strictly Stock Series.
Instead, teams got creative with their drivers during NASCAR’s formative period. Drivers and crews often used predetermined signals, akin to what you see at a Major League Baseball game or a high school football game. To inform drivers of their position during an event, teams used “pit boards,” where they recorded their driver’s position in large-font numbering.
These boards also came into good use when crews needed to inform the driver about the amount of fuel remaining in their cars, when to pit for tires and fuel, plus the number of remaining laps.
Often, pit crews designated one member to climb to a high vantage point and display the pit board. When the driver passed pit road, they glanced to their left to gain any necessary information. So, if the pit board informed the driver to pit for tires, they would pit during the next lap.
Drivers Communicating With Pit Crews
For obvious reasons, drivers could not communicate back with a pit board of their own. Instead, they used hand signals to relay information. Unfortunately, drivers could not effectively communicate any alarming concerns unless they entered pit road to verbally inform their teams.
In NASCAR’s earliest days, drivers communicated minor issues by knocking on the door panel or tapping the hood. The former often stood for a suspension issue while the latter told their crews to prepare to service the car during the following lap.
The pit boards also carried numerous flaws. A driver’s focus always left the track when they looked over to read the board’s information. This led to a plethora of high-speed crashes that better technology like radios could have prevented.
To prevent such accidents, some teams converted to using radios over pit boards. The first recorded use of NASCAR drivers and their teams using radio occurred in 1950. However, this was controversial, as not all teams could afford them, and NASCAR banned their use.
Radios Become Commonplace
NASCAR’s ban on radios did not last. On July 4th 1960, Jack Smith won the Firecracker 250 after he maintained two-way communication throughout the race. Smith set up the communication with his pit crew and with his crew chief, Bud Moore.
Throughout the 1960s, more NASCAR teams saw the benefits of two-way communication. When the mid-1970s rolled around, radio communication became a normal sight in NASCAR. By the 1990s, technology advanced so much that the drivers started wearing miniature earpieces in their crash helmets.
Drivers Communicating With Officials
If there is one non-radio system still in place today, it is the flag system. Officials still communicate with drivers via the flag system. Also, to this day, NASCAR has continued adding flags to its repertoire. For example, the green checkered flag, introduced in 2017, indicates a racing stage has ended.
Overall, you will probably never see the NASCAR flag system go away, regardless of how much radio technology they adopt. The flags in NASCAR have become a symbol and a tradition for the sport.
However, NASCAR officials will communicate with NASCAR teams via radio,despite the flag system being in place. This is especially important if the red flag waves because of weather, or if there is an unnecessary hazard on the track.
Can NASCAR Drivers Talk To Other Drivers?
If you ever played NASCAR-related video games over Xbox Live or similar services, you may know what it’s like to communicate with your friends who are playing the game as other drivers. It made the experience more entertaining, and it also gave you an advantage during races.
The same would hold true for NASCAR drivers. If two drivers of a specific team or manufacturer were racing nearby, they could gain a huge competitive advantage by relaying their track positions to one another and lining up in single-file, ultimately pushing each other to the front.
Spotters and other personnel on the various NASCAR teams could further game plan,which would lead to high finishes all around considering everyone communicated properly, from the spotters on the roof to the drivers in the cars.
However, NASCAR banned all types of communications between drivers for varying reasons. Despite this, spotters of different teams may communicate with one another and relay communication from other drivers to their spotters if an opportunity to work together arises.
Could NASCAR Drivers Talk To Each Other In The Past?
NASCAR drivers could talk to one another before 2012. This allowed drivers to engage in tandem drafting, either via bump or side drafting to gain an advantage over their competition. However, this was outlawed by NASCAR, and it hasn’t been allowed since.
While some drivers embraced the ban, others opposed it, citing that, with restrictor plate racing, they already had a tough time knowing what was surrounding them on the track, even with a skilled spotter.
Now that NASCAR banned driver-to-driver communication, racers could no longer directly hear feedback from other drivers as to what was going on throughout the track, forcing them to rely only on their spotters for such information.
Can Drivers Still Communicate?
Other than relying on their respective spotters to relay information to opposing spotters, who will then relay info to opposing drivers, there are ways drivers can communicate with one another during a race without a radio.
If you watched a race and saw the in-car camera, you may have seen drivers waving a hand. This signals trouble on the track to drivers behind them. Of course, the overall efficacy of this maneuver is debatable, but every little bit of information will help other drivers avoid on-track incidents.
Drivers may also communicate via retaliation on the track. For example, if a driver believes an opponent slighted them at a previous or even the current event, they may nudge the other as a show of retaliation. Obviously, this isn’t encouraged and drivers will be penalized if they begin to drive in a dangerous manner.
Why Did NASCAR Ban Driver To Driver Communication?
You may think driver-to-driver communication would be a good thing since it could help teammates strategize during a race. And if you watched NASCAR or any individualized sportover the years, you may also recall how powerful a small group of collaborating competitors can be.
NASCAR teams may comprise up to four cars, and that alone gives some teams monstrous advantages. But if they communicated with one another, it gives them an even greater advantage. Imagine if Driver A was able to communicate with Driver B and their crew all race long.
That would give Drivers A and B an unfair advantage, especially if they invited Drivers C and D (also from the same team) into their alliance. Imagine if they all raced for a well-funded team, and it becomes obvious that their winning probability increases.
NASCAR Levels The Playing Field
NASCAR leveled the playing field before the 2012 season. The original rules allowed drivers to align in two-car drafts, constantly communicating with other drivers racing nearest them. It was an especially notorious strategy at superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega, where drivers are in constant need of draft partners.
Despite the perceived benefits that drivers could attain from talking back and forth with one another, it also carried a few disadvantages. Some drivers were not fans of driver-to-driver communication because it could be distracting and confusing.
The drivers have a spotter’s voice to focus on, plus their crew chief, among others on their team. Add in another dozen voices for other drivers and it could be seen as chaotic and dangerous.
Who Can NASCAR Drivers Talk To During A Race?
NASCAR drivers can talk to various people during a race, most notably their spotter and their crew chief. The spotter keeps them up to date with what’s going on around them, while those in pit road can help form race strategies and keep the driver updated with the car and track conditions.
There are often more than 30 members of a NASCAR team. Mainly, you only see the driver, their pit crew, and the team’s crew chief. You may glimpse the spotter when the cameras give them a cameo, but the team also comprises mechanics, specialists, and a team manager.
And it is imperative that NASCAR drivers remain in constant contact with their teams throughout an event. NASCAR races are steadily becoming more complex, given the numerous types of races available from additional road courses to dirt track racing at Bristol.
The cars have also changed technologically, featuring improved aerodynamics and downforce with engines of similar horsepower designed to make racing safer and more exciting. This prompts drivers to interact more with their team during a race.
While NASCAR drivers can talk with anyone on their team except for other drivers, too many voices in a driver’s ear can cause serious confusion when racing at full speed. That said, drivers will often primarily talk with two team members.
The spotter is the driver’s most frequent correspondent throughout an event. They warn the driver of any on-track incidents ahead or behind them, and it is also the spotter’s job to inform the driver about fast-approaching cars, and whether anyone is riding above or below them.
Since the driver is in constant communication with the spotter, it is common for other members of the team to relay necessary information to the spotter, who will then inform the driver. This gives the driver more familiarity during a race and allows them to further focus on their spotter’s voice.
While drivers rely mainly on the spotter for guidance, the crew chief relays the race strategy. Therefore, the crew chief will confer with their pit crew, the team manager, mechanics, and specialists via the radio so they can make collective strategic decisions. These decisions often involve tire changing strategy, fuel strategy, plus necessary adjustments to the car’s handling.
NASCAR drivers can’t communicate with each other, even though they used to be able to. Some drivers liked getting feedback on conditions and aligning with draft partners. Other drivers embraced the ban, believing NASCAR should truly be about all of the drivers competing against one another.