2020: Meet the New World

Unlike most of the staff at Frontstretch, I didn’t watch Sunday’s iRace. I’ve been opposed to the concept of watching other people, be they gamer jocks or racecar drivers, play video games since my youngest brother and South Park filled me in on what (who) Pewdiepie was. No, Sunday was a much more somber day for me.

On day 10 of self-isolation with the remainder of my family while my mom and sister treat patients, COVID or not, in the emergency rooms of West Virginia and New Orleans, I finally took the cover off the Mustang to take it for a spin. Some 13 miles later, I ended up in the parking lot of the Winchester Speedway, my home track.

Like so many of the emotions that have gripped millions of Americans over the pandemic thus far, returning to my home track was a mixed blessing. Just as being locked in at home with family has allowed for us to spend time together that we seldom get to outside of holidays, such time also comes riddled with the suspense that comes with what’s likely to be months of health scares and caution. Just as becoming a fully virtual employee is a dream that I’ve been asking for for years, such has proven to be a wish gone bad, with the idea of working remotely while traveling the country a seeming fantasy at this point. And just as it was refreshing to see my home track and its high banks bathed in the sunlight, it was both disappointing and sad to see the clay surface unscarred by Hoosier tires, as should have happened with last night’s previously scheduled practice session. To see the garage area smooth and uniform, with no tire tracks from haulers or racecars to be seen.

It seems ages ago since I penned my season opening column entitled Speedweeks 2020: Meet the New Year, Same as the Old Year. That title aged about as well as cottage cheese on top of a furnace. What haven’t aged however, are the concerns that I have about the ever-growing role eSports seems to be playing in stock car racing’s future. 

Sure, it’s a coup that NASCAR of all sports led the way among professional American sporting entities back onto live television, and judging from the comments I read in the Frontstretch group chat Sunday’s race proved to be a welcome and entertaining distraction for much of the staff. The same could be said from the majority of Twitter comments that I read.

But the lead into Sunday’s race also produced more of the same concerns voiced by Brian Keselowski and others leading into the 2020 season. On Twitter alone, racers have been seen spending tens of thousands of dollars getting iRacing rigs installed into their homes, tens of thousands of dollars that, despite the necessity of the circumstances, will not be going into the racecars that have gone silent across the country. 

Perhaps more distressing, however, is reading recaps of a race that was marred by caution flags, including an incident that saw Jimmie Johnson, “a seven-time champion, arguably the GOAT, just ARCA brake somebody then failed being lapped” as our own Michael Finley put it. While some will argue that Sunday’s race was a video game and nothing more than that, the weight and credence assigned to such a race both by the depth of the driver talent in the field and the national broadcast lend to it a legitimacy that continues a trend of “gaming” big league stock car racing. After all, we’re just barely into the second year of the “slot-car era” in NASCAR’s top echelon. And I won’t even start about the virtual grandstands that haven’t been that full at Homestead in the last decade. The perception of the sport being sold here can’t hope to convert new fans, because the real thing is nothing like iRacing, televised or otherwise.

So call it red meat for the NASCAR base, and so be it. I’m glad so many drivers, fans and writers enjoyed the show. The last thing anyone should do to anyone during these times is to take away safe forms of escape. With as irate as I’ve been taking walks around my local park during quarantine only to see dozens of people playing organized sports, breathing God knows what over each other, it’s great to see so many playing it safe and making the best of a bad situation.

The problem, however, is just that, a bad situation. And we’re not talking about the current pandemic, but the aftermath. Racetracks, just like restaurants, are going to emerge sorely hurting from this mess, with many race fans lacking income to go to the track, businesses lacking dollars to sponsor cars and racers themselves lacking funds to keep their machines on track.

It’s going take an immense amount of sacrifice to keep stock car racing alive and kicking once society can go back to normal. I have faith that racers and race fans will make such sacrifices, but I can’t say with certainty it’ll happen. Especially with virtual reality becoming reality. 

On this Sunday, with video gaming on national TV and self-isolation continuing, my home track felt a whole lot more than 13 miles away.

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14 comments

  1. Avatar

    For anyone that missed the re-broadcast of the 1986 Richmond race on Fox yesterday, it is being shown on Fox Sports 1 RIGHT NOW (8AM to 11AM)

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    I agree with your assessment of the “realism” depiction. It just wasn’t there. I watched with some others in our regular Sunday gathering that I call the GarageBar. Yeah yeah, I know gathering”. However, we really did practice the recommended “Social Distancing”. And, there are wipes and a bottle of Purell that I supplied. There were only 6 of us watching, and all were pretty far apart.

    I lost interest in it pretty quickly. I wish the rerun of a 1968 Richmond race that was to be broadcast on FOX at 3:00 PM had been made available in our area. Sadly it wasn’t. I had told the others beforehand that “Fake Racing” is better than NO Racing, but not many of us thought so afterwards.

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    I will not watch fantasy racing or fantasy anything. I took the bike for a run and then read magazines. If I want fantasy, it will be me spending time with Olivia Newton John, and I know that’s not happening, or winning the lottery, ditto. So I am going to shoot steel plates next weekend and ride the scooter, weather permitting.
    Mike Joy narrating that crap is fitting. He has zero credibility. Let’s just hope we get going by July, but that is looking more doubtful. A 10 race shoot out with an elimination format would be fun, but please, no fantasy racing.
    Watch a cartoon!

  4. Avatar

    had no desire to watch a bunch of high paid guys with their high priced toys play a video game. never have been a fan of video games.

    i wonder if racing does return this year if that first race back will be an overly hyped event.

    • Avatar

      When/if things back to normal, everything is going to be overhyped. And rightly so. Every so often we need to be reminded of how special the things we take for granted are.

  5. Avatar

    I watched for 2 or 3 minutes. I’m just not into computer games. Pretty boring.

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    I loved it! The twitter comments on by themselves w/the drivers were priceless! Sorry it didn’t appeal to everyone.

  7. Avatar

    Excellent way to put it…Watching other people play games. No thanks!

  8. Avatar

    I watched it just for a diversion, fully understanding that it was a video game. It was a welcome change from reading about the tens of thousands who die in the USA from the flu every year in the USA. Oh wait, never mind. We don’t get daily updates on who has died from the flu. It’s not that important.

  9. Avatar

    I’m with you all, Once you’ve seen or done the real thing, everything else is 2nd choice. it’s like glasses, or hearing aids, etc. they may help, but they will never replace the “original equipment.’ There is no way anybody can replace the excitement of 50 to 100 thousand fans on the run-up to the event.

    As far as recovering – Nothing, nothing will be as it was before this catastrophe descended on us.

  10. Avatar

    ONE OF THE THINGS I MISS MOST DURING MY DOWN TIME IS NOT HAVING YOUR ARTICLES TO ENJOY ON FRONTSTRETCH. LOOKING FORWARD TO THE DAY YOU ARE BACK ON YOUR COMPUTER !!

  11. Avatar

    After reading about the race yesterday I saw it was rebroadcasted overnight. Being curious I set the DVR. Just finished watching it. Yeah I stuck with it. Two things that struck me as to how it was like the real thing? Clean air and I dozed a few times while watching. Just like the real thing.

  12. Avatar

    Was very sillly, but at least Timmy Hill led laps….