THOMAS: NASCAR’s iRacing Event Brought Smiles To Faces During COVID-19 Pandemic

THOMAS: NASCAR’s iRacing Event Brought Smiles To Faces During COVID-19 Pandemic

by March 23, 2020 0 comments

The first-ever eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational eSport race at virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday had social media talking as it brought smiles to faces during the terrible coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

With NASCAR’s real on-track action being suspended through at least May 9, the industry needed a placeholder to keep the momentum of the season going. What does the industry do with more free time? It organizes an event that probably you and your buddies have only joked about as you race and crash each other on your favorite NASCAR game. The NASCAR industry and its most popular stars organized and scheduled an actual iRacing event and had it broadcast live on FOX Sports 1 (FS1) as a replacement for the real NASCAR Cup Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway that will hopefully be run later this season.

The Dixie Vodka 150 featured 35 real NASCAR national series drivers, and it was the industry’s embracement that made this event a real success. All week long, NASCAR drivers and their teams flooded social media about sponsorships, test sessions and the impressive simulator setups that they had in their homes. It almost felt like a digital version of NASCAR’s old pre-season thunder that was always held just prior to Speedweeks in Daytona.

“Yeah, you know, the thing is that nobody got together and said, Hey, let’s all do this,” Joe Gibbs Racing driver, Denny Hamlin said. “I think everyone just started doing it, and then iRacing got involved and emailed everyone, said, Hey, this is what we’re thinking about.  NASCAR got involved, television got involved and said they’d be interested. So, I think it all just came together. But no one really talked to the drivers about unifying and participating. It was all free will, and that’s what’s exciting is you had 25‑plus full‑time Cup guys out there willing to spend their time doing this.”

People were interested in the idea and why not? There were no live sports on TV and what else was there to do? Not so fast! As soon as the live broadcast on FS1 kicked off, NASCAR fans quickly realized that they were about to enjoy a full-fledged broadcast that featured their favorite TV personalities. The virtual race had a prayer and an anthem performance.

Of course, when the green flag flew to kick off the event, the inevitable crash fest began, but it was humorous seeing Clint Bowyer swerving to avoid wrecks while providing an “in-car” commentary. It was funny seeing Alex Bowman’s tweet blaming his dog for accident that he was involved in. The Dix Vodka 150 brought smiles to people’s faces during a time when they really needed it. At one point during the race, the event was even trending No. 1 on Twitter.

The finish of the 100-lap race featured an incredible battle for the victory. I don’t care who you are, if you were watching the final 15 laps, then you were on the edge of your seat as if it were the real thing. Coming out of the final turn with the checkered flag in sight, Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. collided, creating a finish that would’ve gone down as one of the greatest. Hamlin won, and Earnhardt Jr. crossed the finish line in second. Young guns, Timmy Hill, Chase Briscoe and Garrett Smithley completed the top-five.

After winning the race, Hamlin said, “I mean, it was big, and I think at one time it was No. 1 trending, so that’s really, really big. You know, although NASCAR has its struggles at times, for the regular fan to go out and simulate a game‑winning shot or game‑winning pass, like iRacing has given them that platform, and there’s no other sport ‑‑ like NBA players can’t go play NBA2K and put it on TV and make it look like the real thing.  You can’t go play Madden and make it look like the real thing. There’s so much animation.

“But iRacing’s platform, like we really ‑‑ this is something that really can gain a lot of traction simply because it’s as real as it gets.  I’m excited that this was just a first step and hopefully something that builds for years and years to come.”

Several drivers raised thousands of dollars through the effort for the NASCAR Foundation too.

This effort wasn’t about replacing an actual race. It wasn’t about featuring the best iRacing drivers in the world. This event was about adding a little bit of normality to our lives. It was about hearing the same voices that we’re used to hearing and in the format that we are used to hearing them in. The drivers were having a blast, and it was cool for fans to see more of the “average Joe” side of the industry’s stars. It appears that we will be without stock car racing for a while…at least for a few more months. Let’s embrace this unique effort and see where it goes. Hey, NASCAR is back on TV!

Photo Credit: NASCAR

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