Before You Buy a NASCAR Scanner

NASCAR driver listening to scanner
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

There's nothing like being in the stands at a NASCAR race. The scream of the cars, the roar of the crowd, the smell of burning rubber and gasoline. But the experience can also be disorienting, not to mention so loud, it can be as bad for your hearing as a rock concert. Which is why so many fans buy handheld NASCAR race scanners.

Having a scanner for NASCAR racing allows you to better understand what is going on with individual teams and what issues are affecting the race by listening in on real-time driver talk (drivers communicate with their pit crew and other team members via radio). Scanners also allow you to listen to exciting racing broadcasts at the same time. Buying a scanner and a headset can be a daunting task, though. The feature can run on and on, and if you have never owned one before it can be difficult to tell what is important and what isn't.

Channel Surfing

The first question to ask yourself is: "How many channels do I need?" Scanners with 100 channels are considered the absolute minimum for the average fan. Models with 100 channels or less won't allow you to program the entire field at the same time—which is a must for avid followers of the sport. Scanners with 200 channels (or more) are best for fans who plan to attend the race weekend from start to finish. They will allow you to program Cup cars in channels 1–100 and Nationwide cars in 101-200, all by car number, and then you won't have to reprogram.

Available Bands

Because scanners work by picking up radio frequencies, another factor to consider is which scanners can reach which frequency bands. Many scanners can't pick up the 800-Mhz channels. While the majority of race frequencies fall in the 450–470 Mhz range, there are some drivers up in the 855-Mhz band. If your scanner doesn't support the 800-Mhz band then you simply won't be able to listen to those drivers.

Audio Modified

Some scanners will specifically state that they are "audio modified." This means that they have been altered to boost the volume. Some race fans don't find this to be all that much of a necessity, though. But if you are having a hard time hearing, you should definitely consider buying a higher-quality headset to better block the outside noise.

Battery Type

Many scanners take regular off-the-shelf alkaline AA batteries, but some do require their own custom rechargeable battery pack. Rechargeable battery packs require a little pre-planning to ensure that your scanner is charged up before you go to the race, but AA battery powered scanners are going to cost you more money over time as you regularly replace the batteries.


The adage "you get what you pay for" holds true with most electronics, and scanners are no exception. Plan to spend at least $100. Double—or triple—that will get you something really top of the line. You can also rent a scanner and headset come race day from any number of businesses that line the track. This is a great idea if you are new to the sport, or only attend the occasional event in person.

Back Talk

In case you're wondering if race fans can also talk to the drivers, the answer is no. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prohibits fans from attempting to communicate via radio with teams or drivers. As an extra precaution, the radios used by drivers and teams are outfitted with special programming equipment and security codes that ensure two-way communication remains on NASCAR-only allotted frequencies.