Whether you are teaching HPDE, hosting a drivers meeting or giving a toast at a motorsports-themed paddock wedding, you are probably going to need a public address system, more commonly referred to as a PA system. Race tracks are loud places, and the information provided during a drivers meeting is extremely important for everyone’s safety. For obvious reasons, it is imperative that folks hear you. How can they hear you in a loud environment? The answer is a PA system.
We all have enough gear to bring to a track just to get our racecars car to make a single lap, which is why I’m not suggesting a massive PA system be loaded into your trailer. You don’t need a large commercial PA system. Big amplifiers, speakers, stands, microphones and mixing boards are not necessary for what you want to accomplish as a driving instructor or as a series leader talking to a group of 20-30 people. Additionally, a commercial PA system can set you back around $1,500 — spend that money on the racecar. I can tell you how to source a portable PA system for around $200.
It all starts with a Block Rocker. These cool little portable speakers are loud, and they can connect to your phone via Bluetooth to play music. They have a microphone input and include a microphone and a cord. They have a rechargeable internal battery, which lasts more than 50 hours and include a USB charging port for charging phones or GoPro cameras at the track. We use ours in our paddock space at every event to play “Jerry was a Racecar Driver” by Primus over and over again to the chagrin of our neighbors Yes, I’m talking to you in the garage at Mid-Ohio during the 2019 NASA Championships! You remember!
These little Block Rockers are essentially karaoke machines, which is why they come with microphones. They’re great for use as a portable PA system. I’ve used this feature numerous times at different events to ensure everyone heard what I had to say. The microphones aren’t the best quality, but a simple $5 foam wind-blocker ball on top of the mic really cleaned up the sound. The foam ball works two ways: It keeps wind out of the mic and it forces you to keep the mic out of your mouth — which is not good for sound. The only drawback to the microphone is the cord limits your ability to move around or use both hands with visual aids. But, I have an inexpensive solution for this. Wireless!
I purchased a wireless FM transmitter with a microphone headset from Amazon and tested it at a recent performance driving school where I was scheduled to lecture. The transmitter and receiver have small rechargeable batteries inside, which are charged via a USB cord. Once both units are charged, ensure that the transmitter and receiver are on the same FM channel, and start talking. The transmitter has a quarter-inch plug that plugs into the microphone jack on the Block Rocker.
Once the transmitter is set up, connect the microphone headset to the receiver and clip it to your belt at the small of your back. Then run the wire under your shirt and place the headset over your head. If it makes you feel like a reality TV star, it should. This is the same technology they use.
Once everything is connected, simply adjust the volume on the Block Rocker. There are two options here, one knob is for the overall volume of the Block Rocker and the other knob near the microphone input is specific to the microphone. It is easy to get feedback if the volume is too high and you are standing right in front of the speaker. Adjust your position or the Block Rocker’s position to avoid feedback.
The headset takes a little adjustment to get correct. It is malleable so you can get the microphone just where you need it so it sounds good. If your voice sounds funny it is one of two things, the microphone is too close to you mouth, or you just sound funny when you talk. I can’t help you with the latter.
Once you have the receiver/transmitter setup and your Block Rocker in the correct position with the volume adjusted, all that is left to do is say some important stuff. This is your chance to be creative and use both hands to communicate. I have found this to be advantageous when it comes to teaching HPDE and using a steering wheel to demonstrate hand position and to write on a white board while lecturing. The wireless microphone gives you freedom of movement.
An adequate wireless PA system makes presentations at the track much easier and certainly saves your voice from trying to yell over the brap-brap-brap of a rotary Mazda in the paddock. The system I built is inexpensive and I use the Block Rocker all the time for entertainment purposes — or in some cases, to just annoy other teams in the garages. Either way it was always a win for us!
Rob Krider is a four-time NASA Honda Challenge 4 National Champion and the author of the novel, “Cadet Blues.”