For sprint racing, you can get away without having a radio communication system and a spotter at the other end. At least for a while. Sometimes you need someone to tell you when the green flag flies. For endurance racing, a radio system is a must. Hand signals will only get you so far, which is to say, not very.
We turned to NASA sponsor Sampson Racing Communications for a setup that would work for sprints and enduros and agreed on the company’s 5-watt “The Racer’s System” with an upgraded push-to-talk button, helmet cord and antenna.
Installation is reasonably straightforward, though we were glad to be close enough to Sampson’s shop that we could take the car over for the helmet and antenna installations and routing and cutting the cables, which is critical.
“When you’re installing an external antenna kit, make sure you follow the directions on how it gets run,” said Shawn Sampson, owner of Sampson Racing Communications. “No coiled loops zip-tied together. Don’t run the loom with power sources. Make sure you run the antenna kit from where it starts to where the radio is all by itself and separate. That’s one of the biggest things, so you don’t end up with electronic issues in your radio transmissions.
When you use an external antenna, buy only as much of the RG58 cable as you need to route it from the antenna to where the radio is mounted. If you loop any excess cable, it loops the energy essentially makes the loop the tip of the antenna, which makes for poor reception and transmission.
“Every kit that we sell we purposely ask the customer what kind of car they’re putting it into, whether it’s a sedan or an open-wheel car and where they’re going to mount the antenna kit,” Sampson said. “Even on our website, we tell folks they can order the coax in 2-, 4-, 6-, 8- and 12-foot lengths. That way we can make sure we cut it custom for the customer so they don’t have to deal with extra cable.
“If you loop it up, put zip ties on it and throw the extra coils underneath your seat, well your radio antenna just got mounted underneath your seat,” Sampson said with a chuckle.
Another key to good reception is to ensure your harness and loom are separate from all other electronics and power sources, such as battery cables. If you zip tie your radio cables to existing harnesses, you will get interference. An external antenna also gives you the freedom to mount the radio within in reach of the driver, where he or she can change channels and adjust volume.
Another key part of the system is the push-to-talk button and the coiled cord that mount to the steering wheel. You want any stretch as a result of turning the steering wheel to take place in the coiled portion, rather than tugging on the ends.
You also want to locate the jack that connects the driver’s helmet in a convenient spot. Attaching it to a roll cage or a seat is a good idea. That way, enduro crews can access it easily, as can a solo driver suiting up for a sprint race.
Installed properly, driver and crew should be able to communicate using a normal speaking voice. Sampson added that the microphones are designed to be used right on the lips. If the microphone is too far away, and even an inch is too far, the volume on the other end will suffer. Shouting won’t fix it either, because it just creates distortion. The driver should reach up into his helmet and press the microphone close to his lips. The crew chief needs to do the same with his headset and mic.
The next time you find yourself straining to see the starter’s flag, or are curious where the emergency vehicle is on track, you can just ask your spotter. You’ve got him on the radio.