All NASCAR drivers are in constant communication with their pit crew, the crew chief and spotters around the track. It has become an essential part of the race, knowing when to pit, what position they are in and most importantly if there are any incidents on the track ahead that they may not be able to see. However, can the actual NASCAR Drivers talk to each other during a race?
Prior to the NASCAR 2012 Cup season NASCAR drivers could talk to each other by radio, In 2012 NASCAR, to stop tandem drafting occurring during the race, banned driver to driver communications. However, drivers are still in constant radio contact with their crew chief, mechanics, and spotters during the race.
This was not universally welcomed as drafting in NASCAR still occurred at the time, bump drafting and side drafting for example.
With so many cars so closely bunched together, especially after the introduction of restrictor plates into the cars, some drivers argued that the closeness of the races and cars already made them blind. They said that now with the banning of NASCAR drivers talking to each other they were being made deaf as well.
Why Did NASCAR Ban Driver to Driver Communication?
NASCAR was increasingly becoming worried about the practice of tandem drafting (see explainer below) a practice undertaken by two drivers to gain speed on the track. The following car can not see anything but the rear of the lead car. The practice gave both cars and advantage but was considered unsafe. The rear car was unable to react if anything happened.
As it was easier for drivers from the same team to communicate at the time to arrange this practice NASCAR banned driver to driver communication. They also took other measures, reduction in radiator size for example so tandem drafting came with a risk of overheating the car as well.
In 2014 they banned the practice of tandem drafting ( although not other forms of drafting) altogether, again citing safety reasons. However when the restrictor plates were replaced by spacers in 2020 the practice started to appear again.
What is Tandem Drafting in NASCAR?
- Tandem Drafting in NASCAR involves two cars, the lead and trailing car driving in tandem (like the bike) so close as to touch. the front of the following car touches the rear of the leading car. This give both cars a boost in speed.
- How Does Tandem Drafting Increase the Speed of a NASCAR? The following car when close enough to the lead car pushes high pressure air into the lead cars spoiler. The lead car reduces the movement of air behind it creating low pressure which in turn helps to pull the following car. This results in less drag on both cars and increased speed.
Who Can NASCAR Drivers Talk To During A Race?
Although how much chatter goes on during a race varies depending on the team and the driver, people who may have access to the radio during a race can be, the team manager, driver, crew chief and spotter mainly. Others who may be needed could be the race engineers and mechanics.
These communications are essential for the driver to keep informed of what is happening in the race, when to pit, to discuss tactics and car problems and in the case of the spotter to be kept informed of what is happening on the track, especially regarding crashes and cautions.
The spotters role has become even more vital in recent years as safety improvements to prevent horror crash’s like Dale Earnhardt’s in 2001. Now drivers movement and ability to see the sides of their cars is restricted by both full helmets and head, neck and shoulder restraints spotters will keep them informed of, crashes and hazards, cars coming up or opportunities to overtake or pass others.
Although fans quite rightly can’t communicate with the drivers they can listen in to the race crew and driver communications that occur in real time on the radio. Drivers and crews are of course aware of this and try to keep it clean, but of course in the heat of the moment sometimes language can get a little colourful. Imagine how colorful it would be if drivers could talk to each other!! Although never admitted i cant help but think this may be another reason driver to driver communication was banned!
What Information Do Drivers Need During a Race.
Communication is a two way street, so the communications between the pit crew and a driver are an exchange of information however below are some common topics covers by pit to driver radio and what NASCAR Drivers talk to their pit crews about.
- Car Condition and any problems
- Lap times and remaining laps
- tire condition
- Pit Stop planning
- Race position and tactics
- Problems on the track, crashes and cautions,
- A driver’s feelings on the race / incidents (Can be NSFW! if something has happened)
- Position of other drivers and competitors
The list is not exhaustive by any means and drivers have used the radio to inform crews when they are feeling ill, need refreshment or even the toilet before. We have a whole article devoted to how NAScAR drivers deal with that!
Are There Other Ways NASCAR drivers Can Communicate With Each Other During a Race?
Drivers in NASCAR races can communicate with each other in different ways, not all suitable for families, while racing. Some may be more tactile in their approach if a driver has annoyed them in some way and give them a nudge while driving, others may let their feeling sbe expressed with certain hand gestures.
On more positive notes drivers will often warn those behind them by waving their hands if there are incidents ahead. How effective this is travelling at 200 miles an hour and with so little visibility is debatable but at least the effort is made.
The best way to communicate between drivers is to get ahead and win the race of course, that message is unmistakably loud and clear .
How Do Drivers Get Information While Racing?
Although even in 1950 drivers were talking on Walkie Talkies, soon banned for being unfair, the first radio assisted win ( for want of a better phrase) was in 1960 by driver Jack Smith. A decade later and most teams were using radios to communicate.
NASCAR Pit Boards: Pit Boards were chalkboards that gave the driver information as they went down the straight, often when to pit, lap number, position and other easily readable information.
NASCAR Hand Signals: Pitboards gave information to the driver from the pit crew, but the only way a driver could communicate with the crew, without stopping was to devise hand signals to do while he went past. Not the most efficient way as they true nature of the problem or message wouldn’t be known until they actually came into the pits.
NASCAR Flag System: It is not just the Driver and Crew that have to exchange information and before radios, and still used to day is the NASCAR Flag system. This is a series of colored and patterned flags that have specific meanings. We have full article on what these flag meanings are in NASCAR on the site. However when race marshalls need to caution or stop a race they can order the waving of yellow or red flags.
What is on a NASCAR Dashboard: Although somewhat different to the inside of the car you drive every day, or the crazy amount of information in a F1 car, NASCAR Cars dashboard does give the driver access to important information. Since 2015 the dashboard in NASCAR has been a digital display which can be changed to driver and team preference.
However commonly the NASCAR dashboard displays the following:
- the cars revs per minute ( RPM)
- the pressure of water, oil and fuel,
- lap time and lap number,
- current voltage
- transmission and rear temperature.
- They even have the choice of color, layout and design,
As long as they dont mess with the settings and appearance, or add twitter or facebook to it while racing this should be a benefit!
Members of the NASCAR team can speak to drivers. Team Managers, crew chiefs and spotters as well as drivers are the roles that will use it for most of the race. NASCAR drivers talk to these members of the team but not to other drivers.
Before 2012 Drivers,at least those who were teammates were able to speak to each other, but with the attempt to reduce tandem. Communication has always been an integral part of NASCAR, from pitboards, to hand signals to flags and now to radio,
However the best way to spend a message if a driver needs to communicate with another driver is to go out there and win the race.