Build Your Own RFID Race Chip Timing System

Build Your Own RFID Race Chip Timing System

New race directors and race timers often ask for our guidance with putting together an RFID race timing system, also known as a chip timing system. They often have a do-it-yourself mentality and are eager to build their own chip timing system, but may not necessarily know where to begin.

After watching other companies set up timing systems at races, most DIY race timers are familiar with the basics of race timing, but the inexperience of managing a system may create some headaches when you begin building your own system. This short guide will point you in the right direction and cut down on those headaches.

Updated on April 4, 2014: With the continued popularity of this article, we turned it into a video! I hope the video makes it even easier for you to get up-to-speed with RFID chip timing. 

Basic equipment needed in an RFID timing system:

  1. Reader:  A reader will scan the tags as they cross checkpoints and finish lines.
  2. Antenna:  The antenna serves as the crucial piece that communicates information between tags and the reader.
  3. Chips/Tags:  A tag contains the RFID chip which stores and processes unique information. Race participants will wear a tag, usually on their bib.
  4. Cables:  Cables connect the antenna to the reader.
  5. Timing Software:  Software will process the information and track time stamps of participants.

At, we offer off-the-shelf equipment for your system, so you can buy all the necessary readers, antennas, tags, and cables. If you’re looking for a complete timing system with software, take a look at our chip timing starter kit.

Also, many of our customers use a software development kit (SDK) from the manufacturer and code their own timing system. If you are interested in going this route, we provide the SDK at no additional charge with the purchase of a reader.

I asked Rick Williams, our lead sales engineer, to give us some suggestions for hardware options:

RFID Reader

  • If you are a software engineer or have contracted a programmer, you can choose from several great RFID readers:
  • If you wish to avoid integrating with the reader, Impinj offers software that will read RFID tags and output data in various formats (e.g. keyboard wedge, http post, etc.).  The software, Speedway Connect, only works with the Impinj Speedway Revolution R420 RFID Reader.
  • For close range RFID chip encoding, many race timers use a simple ThingMagic USB RFID reader.  It connects directly to the PC and has a short range antenna so that only the desired tag is encoded.

RFID Antenna

  • Many types of antennas will work with the readers; however, choose antennas that are rugged enough to withstand the wear and tear of constantly being moved around, packed and repacked, stepped on, etc.  Also, the antenna needs to be rated for use outdoors in case of rain or high humidity.
  • If you’re looking for an outdoor mat antenna, Times-7 manufactures a low-profile, rugged ground antenna. The RFID mat antennas will read tags when race participants travel over the mats.
  • In some occasions, placing antennas on the sides of the course is more practical. MTI Wireless Edge has an outdoor RFID antenna with a long read range.


  • Typically, race timers use RFID chips that provide the greatest read range, and a variety of race timing tags are suitable for different applications. Most timers use the following tags affixed to race bibs:
    • The SMARTRAC ShortDipole and the Alien Squiggle offer good read range at a great price per tag. These tags are used most often.
    • The SMARTRAC DogBone is slightly more expensive than the aforementioned tags; however, the read range cannot be beat. If you are in a situation where maximum performance and accuracy is required, this is the tag to use.
  • For an optimum set up, affix two RFID chips encoded to the same ID on the race bib with one in a horizontal position and the other in a vertical position.

RFID Cables

  • Depending on your hardware configuration and the set-up of your system on race day, the RFID cables you need will vary in terms of length, insulation rating, and connector types.
  • It is important to ensure that cables are not an afterthought as using the wrong cable type can lead to a high amount of loss and, as a result, missed tag reads.

If you’ve created your own race timing system or have questions or comments regarding this post, please let us know by posting below.

If you would like help creating your own race chip timing system, you can contact a sales engineer at by emailing or calling (888) 238-1155.

RFID Basics

Receive a FREE eBook When You Subscribe to RFIDinsider!

When you subscribe to the blog, we'll email you Basics of an RFID System, our most popular eBook!

You'll learn the differences among frequency ranges, basic components of a system, and more!

About James Thrasher

James is a contributor to RFIDinsider and the Digital Marketing Manager for atlasRFIDstore. When he's not following the latest news in tech, James is probably watching a basketball game. He currently resides in Birmingham, AL with his wife.

  • Thomas


    is the ALR-8698 a good choice for a race timing system or can you recommend a better antenna

    best regards Thomas

    • With all the factors that could impact read rates in a MX race, it’s hard to truly recommend a specific antenna. The ALR-8698 is a high gain antenna with a high IP rating, but testing is always essential in any application.

      If you have more specific questions or would like more recommendations, I encourage you to reach out the sales team:

  • Kurt Xavier

    Does anyone know of someone who is experimenting with 2D and 3D location based applications using this approach?

    • Are you referring to real-time locating systems and/or mapping?

  • Céderic

    Hi, I’m looking to buy the Impinj Speedway Revolution system. What is the aprox. range of the two antennna’s provided with the test package? Also can none impinj tags be used with the system and my last question…. Is the system strong enough to use with the 2 antennas for a running sports event up to 500 contestants?

    • To answer your question, it will be important to take a holistic look at your system. This includes what tags you will be using. If you were using, for example, a DogBone then a read range of 15-20 feet would be a conservative estimate provided that appropriate foam backing and label placement strategies are used.

      I do not fully understand your questiona bout impinj tags. Can you re-state it please?

      Regarding 500 contestants, this question is very difficult to answer as it moves along a sliding scale. Some race timers (who were doing a gun start and not a chip start) would find that it performs very well. Others might opt for more or different antennas.

      In short, we cannot warranty the system for any specific number of racers. Rather each race timer should test test test and determine what is best for them.

  • Abraham

    You haven’t timed a race in your life and you have no idea. You are a dangerous man, spewing ignorance. Time 7 mats and two tags one vertical and another horizontal? Bravo! deceitful salesman…

  • dbrb2

    When a reader unit advertises itself as having X antenna ports, is this X/2 ports for TX and X/2 ports for RX, or does there tend to be an internal circulator so that each of the physical ports on the outside of the unit can be used for both TX and RX…?

    • If you are working with a reader with two or four monostatic ports, each antenna port will be transmitting and receiving radio waves. You are correct, each reader unit does have an internal circulator that allows the antenna ports to both transmit and receive. However, if you are using a bistatic reader (example: Zebra FX9500), then certain antenna ports can be designated for transmitting and certain ports can be designated for receiving IF you have configured it to bistatic mode. Most bistatic readers have both a monostatic (all antenna ports and antennas are both receiving and transmitting) as well as a bistatic mode (where two antenna ports are designated ‘receiving’ and two antenna ports are designated ‘transmitting’).

  • Dago Gonzalez

    Can I use a combination of the system parts to use it for a Racetrack? I want to use this as an option to a Mylaps system.

  • Todd Hartley

    Looking to build or buy a system for an elementary school. This will just be used to count the amount of laps each student makes. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Any suggestions on where to begin for an affordable solution? Thank you.

    • Suzanne Smiley

      I definitely understand that race timing systems can be costly. Our sales team works with certain companies that provide timing software with different functionalities and costs. If you have a chance, give us a call and they can talk with you more about what you are looking for specifically and try to match you with hardware and a software within your budget.

  • Mauricio

    Hi, can I use RFID chips for motorcycle races? Thank you