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Race Communications in a Recreational Rig

Posted in How To: Electrical on March 20, 2017
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When we got the idea to take our 1977 Ford F-150 to NORRA’s Mexican 1000, our goal was not to race but rather to chase the race while shooting photos and pulling stuck buggies out of silt beds. That didn’t mean we didn’t want a few race car amenities, though, to upgrade our Ford. The F-150 already fit the vintage theme of the race, but it was built as a rockcrawler. In the future we plan to swap out the factory bench seat for PRP buckets, put a lockable Lund box in the bed, and add big King bypass shocks to control all the unsprung weight. The first addition, though, is an intercom and race radio from Rugged Radios. Even though we aren’t planning to race, we definitely feel like race car drivers when we put on these headsets.

Rugged Radios has some of the best sales and customer support in the business. One call was all that we needed to have a complete system on its way, right down the details like inline fuses and a hook to hold the microphone. Rugged Radios offers race radios with power varying from 25 watts up to 110. The company recommended its 60-watt radio for our use, which provides a range of up to 35 miles at an affordable price.

We considered several places to mount the Rugged Radio components, including in the dash where the Cheap Truck Challenge sticker resides and inside the glovebox. The factory radio location made the most sense, though, considering that it did not work and the location was in easy reach of the driver’s seat.

The radio came as part of the RM60 kit, which also includes an intercom, headsets, and all necessary wiring. The race radio will allow us to monitor traffic during the Mexican 1000 and communicate with race officials and teams. Once the components arrived, we headed to Nate’s Precision in Sparks, Nevada, where Nate Jensen and his crew completed the installation in a day. The most time-consuming portion was trimming the Ford dash to fit the radio and intercom.

Looking cool wasn’t our only motivation for adding an intercom from Rugged Radios to our truck. Driving an old truck with big, aggressive tires can be loud enough to tire you out (pun intended) by the end of the day. This is tolerable in short spurts, but driving 2,000 miles in a week down in Baja would definitely take its toll. Rugged’s intercom reduces ambient noise and allows the driver and passenger to talk at normal volume instead of having to yell. There is even an auxiliary port on the front of the intercom where you can plug in a smartphone and play music through the headsets. We still might be yelling at each other after a week in Baja in an old truck, but if that is the case we can’t blame it on noise.

We will admit that we don’t know nearly as much about communications as we do about, say, axles or tires, but fortunately Rugged Radios makes the process easy. In addition to a dizzying number of individual products, Rugged has packages tailored to specific needs for race cars, UTVs, and recreational wheelers like us.
Rugged Radios offers a wide variety of universal mounting brackets and tube clamps, as well as specific brackets for vehicles such as the Polaris RZR and Can Am Maverick X3. Nate Jensen of Nate’s Precision in Sparks, Nevada, could have fabricated a custom bracket for our dash, but the Rugged Radios bracket made that unnecessary.
Jensen was stacking a radio and an intercom where the factory radio originally resided, so he had to trim the bezel and also the metal dash to make everything fit. By only trimming the minimum necessary, there was still enough metal left to solidly mount the Rugged Radios bracket to the metal dash.
Whether you prefer written instructions or visual aids, Rugged Radios has you covered. The included color instructions were easy to follow and saved us time on the install. If you lose the instructions, don’t worry—they can be downloaded from Rugged’s website.
We laid out all the components and read the instructions before getting started. The fitment was tight enough that Jensen had to wire everything before installing them in the dash.
The back of the radio is pretty straightforward, with wires for power, ground, and the antenna. The intercom is more complicated, but the included instructions made wiring easy. We only used half of the connections for the intercom, but it is expandable to allow the use of four headsets.
We wired the radio and intercom directly to the battery. This serves two purposes. First, it allows us to operate the radio with the key off when the Ford is used a chase truck (as it was at King of the Hammers). Second, it limits the possibility of electrical noise in the radio. If wiring through the ignition, Rugged Radios has a filter that it recommends adding during installation.
We removed the bench seat in our truck and snaked the wires for the headsets under the floormat by taping them to a heavy-duty cable tie. Then we zip-tied the cables to the cage where they were convenient and easy to plug in to the headsets.
The ideal place to mount the antenna is in the middle of the roof, where it is high off the ground with a clear view in every direction. We didn’t do that, though, for fear of scraping the antenna off of our tall truck. Jensen TIG-welded a mount that allowed us to position the antenna where the factory radio antenna was located.
If there is any excess coax cable after installation, do not coil the cable. Coiling coax cable will cause transmit problems and limit radio range. We were running short on time before King of the Hammers, so we routed the excess cable around the truck, but we plan to go back and cut the coax cable and then recrimp it.
The intercom allows the driver and passenger to talk at all times without the need to yell. In order to communicate with the outside world, Rugged has push-to-talk (PTT) buttons wired into the system. Nate’s Precision mounted our PTT buttons on the down bars for the front of the rollcage, where they are easy to reach yet out of the way.
Rugged Radios offers tube clamps to hold their headsets when not in use. The H42 Ultimate Headsets use a hardwired cord with a quick disconnect and comfortable gel ear muffs with washable cloth covers. We have found that the closer the mic is to your mouth the better.
When the headsets are not in use, the included mic can be used to communicate with the outside world. The backlit mic even has a lot of built-in functions like the ability to scan channels and adjust squelch. We mounted the included hook on our steering column.
The completed installation looks like a factory install and is well within reach of both the driver and co-driver. The Rugged 60-watt radio comes preprogrammed with many popular channels used in racing, but custom channels can also be added. Rugged will even add channels for free at the many races and events the company attends around the country.
Our Rugged Radios intercom and race radio have made the Ford much more tolerable on long trips, not to mention that we look like race car drivers. Next stop Mexico!

Sources

Rugged Radios
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
1-888-541-7223
www.ruggedradios.com
Nate’s Precision
775-358-2555
natesprecision.com

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