I know a driver who has won three NASCAR championships, all without ever climbing into a physical race car.
No, I haven’t been drinking too much vodka before writing this article. It’s true.
Welcome to the world of eMotorsports and its highest level, the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series. The series is a fully-recognized, NASCAR-sanctioned championship that competes for wins and year-end rewards just as drivers do in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, NASCAR XFINITY Series and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
The driver I referenced off the top of this piece is Florida’s Ray Alfalla, and he wears three honest-to-goodness NASCAR championship rings.
How can that be so you may ask? It’s all done through the racing simulation called iRacing.
Notice that I didn’t call iRacing a game, but instead a simulation. NASCAR has seen the potential eMotorsports has to be the next big thing, and they are right. People like Alfalla, Bryan Blackford, Michael Conti and others get behind the wheel on their computers every day and compete for real NASCAR championship titles, just like your favorite drivers in the national ranks.
In fact, many of those Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers are also iRacers competing online while at home, practicing for the next stop on the schedule.
Ty Majeski, the highest-rated iRacer in the world and a super late model star in the Midwest, recently made two NASCAR XFINITY Series starts after transferring from the sim world to the physical world, and current XFINITY rookie sensation William Byron got his start on the sim as well before ever jumping into a Legends car five years ago.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been an enthusiastic sim-racer since the late 1990s, and many drivers have attributed wins directly to sim racing. Denny Hamlin showed up at Pocono Raceway in June of 2006 for the Cup race there having never driven on the track in real life before, and not only did he take the pole for the race, but he won it too.
I interviewed Hamlin a few years later and inquired about the victory. When I asked him if the use of racing simulators helped him win that race, his response to me was, “Absolutely.” Hamlin went on to tell me that he regularly uses simulators to prepare for upcoming events, and to have a good time racing the fans, as do many other drivers.
Still not convinced that eMotorsports are the real deal? Right now eSports are being seriously considered as an Olympic sport that will compete for medals in the 2024 Paris games.
If that weren’t enough, McLaren and Logitech have teamed and are offering the winner of their “World’s Fastest Gamer” competition a one-year contract with the historic Formula 1 team as their official factory team simulator driver.
That may not sound big at first glance, but it’s a very important team position used by all F1 operations. The simulator driver works directly with the teams engineers in the shop, and at the tracks directly with the drivers to develop and improve the cars. Simulators are being looked at as way to get unlimited testing time at any venue.
Continued on the next page…