Although NASCAR fans will be without on-track activity for nearly two months, iRacing is stepping in to fill that void — and its upcoming event has 300 entries.
With the official postponement of the 2020 NASCAR season until at least Martinsville Speedway in May due to the coronavirus outbreak, everyone in the racing community was left without on-track racing for the foreseeable future. However, this upcoming iRacing event has drawn immense interest from the racing community.
The eTruck Series Night in America Powered by FilterTime.com will take place on Thursday, March 19, at 7 p.m. and is presented by Podium eSports and Speed51. The race will be streamed live on Twitch, with a whittled-down field of 43 trucks vying for a win at the virtual Atlanta Motor Speedway.
NASCAR driver Ryan Vargas, who raced in three NASCAR Xfinity Series races last year, was the main organizer of the event. On Friday (March 13), in what he described as a “half-joking” tweet, Vargas pitched the idea of a collaborative online race between drivers and fans to make up for the absence of racing.
Should I do a big hosted race on iRacing?
Get some drivers and fans involved and Find a way to have someone stream it? I feel like we all need something to pick our spirits up.#NASCAR
— Ryan Vargas (@RyanVargas_23) March 13, 2020
Vargas’ tweet exploded within the NASCAR Twitter community, receiving more than a thousand likes and almost 200 replies.
“By the time two hours had come around, we had inked a deal with Podium eSports and inked a presenting sponsor and several other little sponsors,” Vargas said. “And it seemingly all just kind of came together.”
The 19-year-old California native says he and other organizers are still finalizing details, but he gave a rough outline of the qualifying format, which will be in the style of three elimination rounds.
Qualifying will be held Wednesday, March 18, with the first round consisting of seven 15-lap heat races with roughly 40 cars in each. The top 20 in each heat will then advance to the subsequent round. From there, four heats of around 40 cars will have the top 20 finishers move on from each. The third and final round will feature two 30-lap events to decide which drivers will race in the main event Thursday night, with the top 10 advancing from both races.
For the final 43-truck field, 23 of the slots are filled by pre-entered drivers. Those spots consist of numerous current or former drivers across NASCAR’s touring series, all of whom are locked into the main event Thursday night.
“We wanted to do 32, expecting we would have that many entrants,” Vargas said, alluding to the regulation field size for the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.
Drivers already locked in include current Truck Series drivers Ryan Truex and Christian Eckes, as well as Xfinity Series drivers Brandon Brown and Josh Bilicki. Other prominent names include 2019 eNASCAR iRacing champion Zack Novak, four-time iRacing champion Ray Alfalla and semi-retired NASCAR driver and current NBC Sports analyst Parker Kligerman.
“This has all been put together in three days … my chest hurts,” Vargas added with a laugh.
Also joining the fray will be ARCA Menards Series driver Chase Cabre and former ARCA Menards Series East driver Ruben Garcia Jr. Vargas said he had his name on the guaranteed list, but given the interest in the race, Vargas backed out.
“I said, ‘If I’m going to go out there and run not good in my own race, that’s not a good look,'” Vargas said. “Also, if I can’t race my way in, then I shouldn’t deserve a spot. Frankly, I am okay with that, only because I know I have several avenues I can go with it by being in the booth and stuff like that.
“I mean, for me, it’s just super difficult … it’s a polar opposite from real racing, and I’m not knocking iRacing, it’s just a feel thing and for me. It’s not really there, but I love playing it all the time.”
Vargas said the 23,000 viewers at the end of Sunday’s (March 15) iRacing Replacements 100 gave him a lot of confidence heading into Thursday’s event, and credited his friends Jon Palmieri and Austin Blair with helping him set everything up.
“None of this would be possible without [them],” Vargas said. [Palmieri] coined the term ‘Truck Series Night in America,’ and it was kind of an inside joke among many in our friend group and some in the racing community. … Seeing all the companies involved and all these people, it’s kind of funny. It’s kind of a meme — it became a huge event, and it’s neat to see that.”
“It gives me a ton of energy,” he said, referring to Sunday’s viewership. “Those same guys who put together that race are putting together our race, so it kind of reaffirmed my anticipation going in, knowing that these guys were the real deal, and I’m just really excited to get it all going. It’s going to be a blast.”
As for that real racing, Vargas had been in talks to do some of that this season, but wasn’t able to release any detailed information about where or when.
“We have a good idea of what I’ll be racing and how much I’ll be racing,” he said. “Unfortunately, with the schedule mixed up right now, that announcement has now been postponed, and we got to really get figured out on what the schedule will look like. I actually had a meeting yesterday with the team so we’ll be figuring out what we’ll be doing, and I’m praying that we’ll be able to announce something soon.
“[The iRacing event] just kind of showed to me that all the hard work that I put in behind the scenes really encourages a lot of people to want to work with me and be around me,” he added. “That really helped. And that was a really good reassurance that my place in the sport is still very much welcome.”
Regarding the postponement of the season on the heels of the coronavirus outbreak, Vargas knows the effect it will have on drivers, sponsors and teams.
“It’s not good for anyone, and I don’t blame anyone at NASCAR for anything,” he said. “But for the smaller teams, it’s definitely going to hurt them a lot. … And as a driver who is doing that part-time basis, my daily routine consists of sponsor hunting.”
“I consider everything that’s happened so far in my racing career a blessing, and I know that all this hard work that we’re putting in … makes it that much sweeter to go out there and compete. I remember racing Iowa [Speedway] and how sweet that was, and racing at Elkhart Lake [Road America] and racing at Phoenix [Raceway]. That was a level that I never expected to race on, and now we’re talking about me running more races at that level … so it’s a blessing. And I’m excited to continue to learn more, not just as a driver, but as a business person.”
Vargas added that Podium eSports commentator James Pike told him that similar events usually take two to three weeks to organize.
“It’s almost crazy,” Vargas said. “I’m really happy with how it’s all come together.”
Carolina Sim Works and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway contributed $100 apiece for a $200 purse, which will be donated to a charity of the winner’s choosing.
Additionally, all funds from sponsorship, donations, entry fees and anywhere else are planned to be sent directly to two charities close to Vargas’ heart: Cranio Care Bears and FACES: the National Craniofacial Association.
“Being a person who has grown up with craniosynostosis and having the scar in my head is something that I wear with pride,” Vargas said. “It’s the reason why I’m here to race. It’s a blessing, and I’m glad that I’m able to represent a huge community of people. And if I can bring those two organizations to NASCAR and utilize my platform that I’ve been blessed with to get them the spotlight that they deserve, I’m going to make sure I use it and this race is all for them.”