NASCAR has postponed races until May due to the Coronavirus outbreak. But to fill the demand for cars repeatedly driving around an oval, the company held a virtual race that featured actual NASCAR drivers behind the wheel of simulators. Apparently the digital event was actually quite epic.
On Sunday, NASCAR held a race called the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series. iRacing, as former Jalopnik racing expert Alanis King notes in the video below, came out in 2008 as a subscription gaming service. Its extraordinary verisimilitude is why even seasoned NASCAR drivers iRacing as a training tool.
Business Insider (again, Alanis) wrote last week about NASCAR’s announced iRacing event. From the story:
While [NASCAR and Formula One] are on hold indefinitely during the pandemic, they each scrambled together to bring viewers a replacement of sorts: online racing, but with many of the drivers who would be out on the track — giving the people who aren’t quite into esports yet but don’t have anything else to watch something to be invested in.
NASCAR announced on Tuesday that it would start an exhibition round called the eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series on iRacing, a realistic simulator that’s been around since 2004, for big names to compete in during the lull. The opening race will be live on Fox Sports 1 on Sunday, complete with the network’s broadcasters and top-level Cup Series champions Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, and Joey Logano in the race.
The race took place on Sunday, and by and large, folks seem to have loved it. Especially the National Anthem, which country musician Dylan Scott sang from his garage:
Dylan Scott sang the National Anthem from his garage in Nashville. pic.twitter.com/8DauqshAv8
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) March 23, 2020
The simulator rigs that the drivers had at their homes were pretty impressive. Here’s Denny Hamlin, who won the race in his No. 11 Toyota. Watch as his family gets to actually see Hamlin “race,” up close:
What a swing of emotions for a 7 year old. And a dollar into the swear jar ???????? pic.twitter.com/JB4Z2j3vai
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) March 22, 2020
Here’s No. 20 Erik Jones in his No. 20 Toyota:
The last time I went iRacing, there was a solar eclipse. So, yeah, two rare events. Don’t miss this one!
????: 1:30 p.m. ET on FS1 pic.twitter.com/qgkbF0DNRu
— Erik Jones (@Erik_Jones) March 22, 2020
Check out Alex Bowman’s dog driving the No. 88 Chevy. Alex, and a number of other drivers, had to take pee breaks:
Update: I have to pee. Finn may take over during the next caution. I’m sure that’ll come soon pic.twitter.com/TQadkvIce2
— Alex Bowman (@AlexBowman88) March 22, 2020
And here’s recap of the full even, which took place at a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway, and was announced by racing legend Jeff Gordon and Fox Sports host Mike Joy:
I didn’t actually watch the race, since I had more important things to do like attempt to have a deep conversation with my phone’s Google Assistant and organise my sock drawer while wondering why the hell I don’t just buy one type of sock. Still, despite me not having witnessed the festivities, it’s obvious that the general consensus among internet-ers is that the virtual event was pretty damn epic. The race winner, Denny Hamlin, talks about how much attention this shindig received, writing on his twitter:
Tonight I did more interviews post race then what I do normally. Received 131 text to what is about 140 after Nascar win. @GMA in the morning and @SportsCenter tonight. I’d say today was a hit.. happy to be a part of it.
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) March 23, 2020
Racing reporter Jeff Gluck quotes twitter-er “Lokis mum,” who lauds the whole experience:
Nice way to sum up a lot of the Twitter reaction I’ve seen about yesterday: https://t.co/rzDyWY6ZZ3
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) March 23, 2020
What a moment in history. A worldwide pandemic has brought America’s economy to a crippling halt, and all but shut down the sports world. NASCAR is adapting by using technology, and it seems to have worked. At the very least, in that it brought joy to many.
I’d definitely recommend you check out the drivers’ Twitter accounts, because there’s quite a lot of hilarious banter to behold.