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Will NASCAR scanners ever be squelched?

By admin | September 13, 2008

By Richard Allen

Will there come a time when fans will not be able to hear Joe Gibbs talking with his team?

Of the big time professional sports, NASCAR holds a unique distinction over all the others. More access is allowed during the actual running of an event than perhaps all the other sports combined. Fans, media and even other competitors can access any team’s communication frequencies at any time.

This year, however, that freedom of access has caused teams and drivers to have to put out fires they might not have to put out otherwise, at least not publicly.

After some of these incidents one has to wonder if there has been any thought put into limiting or eliminating such ease of access to team communications. No doubt, there are things drivers, crew chiefs and team owners would rather be doing after a race or in the week leading up to a race than trying to reassure everyone their team is not coming apart at the seems because of something said over a radio in the heat of the moment.

There have been three particularly publicized incidents of scanner chatter to have received a great deal of attention in recent weeks.

In Michigan this August Jeff Gordon, whose public persona is that of a calm and reserved individual, was heard over his team’s radio to admonish his crew on more than one occasion. The driver believed his team’s pit stops were not up to par and let them know about it.

Soon after dropping out of the race Gordon was asked to explain his conversation with his crew.

Peyton Manning does not have his huddle or locker room talks with teammates captured by television microphones and then have to explain those comments immediately after a game.

In the Bristol night race a few weeks ago a transmission was overheard from Clint Bowyer to his crew in which he called Michael Waltrip a terrible driver and questioned why sponsors would want to place their logo on his car. ESPN caught and replayed the comments during a red flag situation.

Almost certainly, there have been times when Derek Jeter or some other baseball star has questioned an opposing player’s ability while sitting in the dugout talking with teammates. Those conversations are not easily heard so players do not have to answer for them.

In the most recent instance of overheard scanner chatter, Tony Stewart and crew chief Greg Zipadelli had a somewhat heated debate as to the inner workings of the team dynamic at Joe Gibbs Racing. Stewart believed a poor pit stop had cost him a win and Zipadelli defended his crew.

Kobe Bryant has probably made comments to his teammates that he would rather not have known by the general public. Since everything he says is not being listened to and recorded during a game, the vast majority of those remarks go unknown to everyone except the person they were intended for.

If left solely up to the teams, it might very well be that communications would be scrambled or somehow disguised. However, being able to listen to team chatter over a simple scanner has become so ingrained in NASCAR that any attempt to change it would be met with a great deal of resistance by fans, media and the sanctioning body.

Teams would rather not have to deal with answering questions about what they thought were private conversations. But, it is just part of the NASCAR way.

Ultimately, the determining factor as to whether or not there will be any limitations placed on the ability to listen in on teams during the course of a race will be, as it so often is, money. Allowing fans to listen to a favorite driver as he races has become a highly lucrative business.

NASCAR.com sells a service called TrackPass which has as a major selling point that fans can sit in their own living room and listen to any driver by way of an internet feed.

NASCAR corporate sponsor Sprint offers a device which can be rented at each track in which fans can both watch and listen to whatever they may chose while sitting in the grandstands.

With that being said, it is highly unlikely that anything will change in regard to the ability to listen via a scanner to NASCAR teams.

The bottom line is that if teams do not want to have to explain what they say they may just have to be more guarded. However, in the heat of competition that can be difficult. So, it is more likely that teams may have to develop plans for putting out more and more fires.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.

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