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Clear Signals, Fast Laps: Using Radios at the Track

Greg Troester December 1, 2023 0 comments

Photo Credit: Taco Gunner – Stefan Jones

I’ve had radio kits in every car I’ve had since 2016 and installed them in every endurance race car that I’d be driving if it didn’t already have one. Having a skilled crew member observing from the sidelines can be a real game-changer in certain circumstances, helping you make informed strategic decisions and adapt to a changing environment before your competitors even know what’s up ahead.

Having a line of communication to your team must be used judiciously, or else it’ll become a distraction (or crutch) and stop serving it’s real purpose: it’s a tool to assist the driver in doing as well as they can in any situation.

Your benefits from the radio link will vary based on what type of session you’re running – let’s take a look at those, starting with the most basic.

Warm-Up & Practice Sessions

These sessions should be fairly quiet on the radio. It’s your time to get laps in, calibrate to the track, familiarize yourself with your competition, and sharpen your focus for the day. Excessive radio use can either be a distraction or a crutch in these sessions – there’s only a few things you need to talk about:

  • Incidents up ahead and session-ending flags (checker, black, red)
  • Sharing car operating data to use for setup changes later (handling characteristics, temps/pressures)
  • Signaling pit-in and pit-out (getting prompt tire pressure/temperature readings and assisting with safe re-entries)

Pretty basic, right?

If it’s a busy track with lots of traffic, the driver needs to be heads-up and working with the other cars on-track. Getting a “car behind” prompt all the time will only hamper the driver’s habits of doing mirror-checks and being aware of what’s going on.

The most-useful communication will typically be around making sure the crew is ready to hop off the pit wall and get tire pressure and/or temperature data as soon as the car comes off-track so that accurate adjustments can be made to optimize handling and wear. Getting a good sense for how much pressure gain is occurring (and how that changes) throughout the day is absolutely critical to maximizing the car’s potential – if you only talk about one thing, talk about this and get it right!


Things get quite a bit more precise for these sessions. Having someone who can see where other cars are at in relation to the driver can help with things like:

  • Managing gaps so you don’t catch a leading (but slower) car in the wrong spot
  • Knowing where your driver stacks up agains the competition (and if they should push for one more lap to try to eek out another tenth in order to gain a position)
  • Allowing the driver to more-fully focus on only the driving, while the crew watches for incidents and the like
  • Cancelling a “flyer” if there’s chaos ahead and regrouping for another attempt
  • Coordinating mid-session or end-of-session pit stops to record and adjust tire pressures

One of the major challenges in qualifying is managing the other cars so that you can hopefully get a tow in someones draft, run as few hard laps as possible, and avoid wasting laps when you’re going to get parked in a corner. Some regular touch-points I’ll have with my crew on the wall are:

  • Hearing my gap to the car ahead – I’ll then check my lap timer to see if I’m close to that time, telling me if I should keep pushing or pit-in and call it a session
  • Managing the gap ahead and behind – if someone I can’t see is really slow ahead or really hauling from behind, it’s great to know so that I can make a judgement call on what to do so that I don’t find my self side-by-side in a hairpin, compromising an otherwise fast lap

It’s helpful to reduce the number of hard laps you run because you’re going to have to race on those tires at some point – why run more laps than you need to at maximum effort? Sure, you’ve already “spent” the heat cycle, but preserving the amount of rubber on the hoop will pay dividends when the white flag flies during the race!


Races can vary quite a bit in how much there is to “talk about”. If you’re a front-running in a small field, it’s likely going to be a quiet day at the office, but if you’re in a close battle and faster cars are coming to lap you or you’re moving through traffic yourself… it’s going to be something else entirely.

Short, precise, and well-timed bits of communication can make all the difference in being able to take advantage of a slow car ahead or a flag condition that’s about to clear up. It’s also going to be helpful for getting a good start.

Here are some of the types of calls I’ve found the most useful over the years:

  • Green Flag – by being able to closely monitor my gaps to cars, I can remain in-line and tight, not having to compromise my starting position to see the flag stand
  • Split Start Conditions – if I’m in the second pack of a split-start (which is typically the case), it’s good to know that the lead group either got away cleanly or that there’s a car parked in T1
  • Lap Traffic – whether they’re ahead or behind, it’s helpful to know about when you’ll be catching (or be caught) other drivers. If you’re in the heat of battle, this can be crucial and useful
  • Flag Conditions and Off-Track Cars – though the driver must always be looking ahead for flag stations, having a second set of eyes has helped me in more than one of these situations
  • Pace – it’s not always easy to tell if you’re catching the group ahead and/or gapping the group behind. This is a nice bit of info if I’m clipping along at a comfortable pace and get a heads-up that the cars ahead are battling and I’m catching them. Talk about motivation!
  • White Flag, Checkered Flag – again, the heat of battle can be overwhelming and it’s good to know when these flags come out, particularly when you’re running in mixed classes and the lead car triggers the checkered flag behind you – leaving you with clear track behind and the option to push harder, knowing that you won’t lose your position if you make a mistake

Your race might only include the green flag call and a reminder about the checker, or it might be full of everything I’ve mentioned above and more, but I’ve experienced the most benefit from having a crew person on the radio when I’m racing. It’s a slight, but sometimes very impactful, advantage over those without.

Endurance Racing

This is the point where radios become a must-have piece of gear, for obvious reasons. You’ll be coordinating pit stops for driver changes, fueling, tire changes, and hopefully not mechanical issues.

Endurance racing involves all of the communication of a 30-minute sprint race-just a lot more of it! I’ve had a number of pseudo-conversations with my team while in the car, determining how to mitigate the impact of a car issue, determining Plan-A or Plan-B, or giving a quick check-in so that they know I’m still awake out there!

One thing I see that always bites first-time teams: not installing and using the radio well-before the event! If everyone’s used that radio before, their personal equipment is confirmed working, and the car equipment is solid, then you can get away with installing the hardware just before an event and doing a quick test. But if your team isn’t well-versed in radio use or the equipment is new (to you, anyways), then it will benefit you all to get some practice with it.

Though it doesn’t seem like much, it’s one more step to plug-in and un-plug the radio during driver swaps. How about where the buttons are and how to adjust the volume? What if you need to reset the radio or do a channel change to get a clear signal? All of these are things that I’ve seen sink a team’s chances at the podium because they have to revert to a safe pit-stop strategy or accidentally pit at the wrong time.

Practice and be Judicious

The first time you’re on the radio, it feels pretty cool (at least it did for me!). You’re now “like the pros” and can talk about a whole slew of things – the possibilities are endless!

However, remember: the point is to help the driver go fast and stay on-track. So consider these tips in order to make the most of your radios:

  • Practice before it matters – don’t throw a new guy (you or your crew) on the radio just for “the big race”. Work out the kinks in low-stakes situations.
  • Use it regularly – make it part of the routine so it’s second-nature in critical situations and so you’re working out those kinks
  • Keep it simple – use short, clearly-spoken words. Make sure that the words you say are the words that are heard on the other end. Cut out filler words.
  • Be consistent – use the same words for the same thing, all the time. Get clear on what you mean by the words you use before you use them.
  • Reference things from the driver’s point of view – track-left always means driver’s track-left. If you’re on the pit wall, imagine yourself in the cockpit and what you’d see as the driver, then speak
  • It’s not a phone conversation – you don’t need to be talking unless there’s something to say. Over-communicating makes it easy to tune things out or get complacent

Wrapping Up

I’ve found radios to be useful and I’ve gotten better at using them over the years. Fortunately, it hasn’t taken much time or effort, but even then I’ve had some races where I’ve gone “radio off” and just driven the car when the voice in my ear is a distraction! The whole point is to help me as a driver, so if it’s not doing that for me… *click!

At the amateur level, I consider a radio optional in all situations but an enduro. It doesn’t need to be flashy or “extra” in order to be useful. It does take some work to get things right and you’ll need to have a reliable person on the wall in order for it to be useful at all. So if you decide to get a kit, make sure you install it early and take the time to get it dialed-in and troubleshot, if needed. If you do, you’ll find that little voice in your ear can give you a real boost next spring!

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