Week No. 2 of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series brought the stars of NASCAR to the virtual Texas Motor Speedway for 195 miles of racing. A very competitive race saw Timmy Hill go to victory lane. In addition, we’re going to take a look at The Ruch Life, a streaming reality series that follows Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series regular Angela Ruch and her family.
O’Reilly Auto Parts 125
Sunday afternoon brought 35 drivers to the virtual Texas Motor Speedway for a good amount of action. It was a fun race that seemed more competitive than recent Cup races at Texas.
The race was preceded by two pre-race shows. NASCAR streamed some pre-race entertainment. Alex Weaver interviewed Ricky Stenhouse Jr. before he got in his rig for the race. There was also a mini-concert with Cole Swindell.
Meanwhile, FOX Sports 1 aired a new edition of NASCAR RaceHub. Unlike regular RaceHub episodes, this one featured Lindsay Czarniak (from her house) interviewing Denny Hamlin. This is the first in a series of interviews that Czarniak will host for the show in the regular timeslot of 6:00 p.m. on weeknights.
Where you could see Sunday’s race broadcast depends on where you live. Here in Upstate New York, the race did not air on FOX. They were showing a press conference with Governor Andrew Cuomo when the race started. When that ended, they went to a series of infomercials; the same thing happened with the Dixie Vodka 150. Thank goodness that FOX Sports 1 is simulcasting these races. Bristol this weekend will have a similar airing setup.
Presentation-wise, Sunday’s broadcast was very similar to Homestead. Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon were in the studio in Charlotte, along with Clint Bowyer and his rig (which he had to haul down there once again).
We had pre-race interviews as well, but with different drivers. Michael Waltrip went to Garrett Smithley’s house to talk to him before the race, while Regan Smith talked with Kyle Larson. The webcam setups (I guess) give you an idea of just what the drivers use to compete. Hill won the race with probably one of the cheapest setups of anyone in the field. You can’t really outspend anyone here.
For this week’s race, there were two changes of note. One was a visual change. Joy made a suggestion to iRacing after the Dixie Vodka 150 to come up with a way to better identify each car when they showed in-car cameras. The result was the small decals you saw Sunday.
— Steve Myers (@iRacingMyers) March 27, 2020
While I cannot vouch on whether or it creating these kept Brian Simpson from playing Call of Duty last week, I think these came out nice. It’s not just for the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, either. Anyone racing Cup cars in the platform can take advantage of this. I can’t, though. My laptop’s video card isn’t good enough to run iRacing and this isn’t the time to try to get someone to install something like that since computer shops are closed.
The other change actually affected the drivers. After the wreckfest in Homestead, the drivers were given only one reset Sunday instead of two. This change, which was relayed to viewers during the pace laps, cut down on the ridiculousness and made for a better race.
The race itself was pretty good, with a strong pack of drivers that raced each other hard. It was enjoyable to watch. Problem is, it’s still too exclusive in its focus. Unless you glue yourself to the scoring pylon, it’s hard to tell how drivers are progressing through the field.
Take the transfer drivers from the Last Chance Qualifier (Alex Labbe, Anthony Alfredo, Ruben Garcia Jr. and Ty Majeski). They all did well to move up the order, but you really didn’t see much of them until after the halfway point. The exception to that rule was Alfredo, who crashed out early after contact from Smithley. The in-car replay was something else, though.
Daniel Suarez’s parking came as a result of him apparently attempting to intentionally wreck Ty Dillon. This was the incident that caused the yellow on lap 109, but it wasn’t noted for quite a bit. The booth described it as a terrible attempt at payback (for an unseen incident). Afterwards, Suarez apparently tried to blame it on his Papillon, Emma.
— Daniel Suárez (@Daniel_SuarezG) March 29, 2020
Much like with the Dixie Vodka 150, the race ran long once again. The moment I saw that this race was scheduled for 125 laps with the same 90-minute timeslot that Homestead had, I knew it was going to run long. Despite being a quieter event, the race still ran long by 15-20 minutes. Viewers only got a post-race interview with Hill prior to the broadcast ending.
In addition, there was a big wreck coming to the finish that saw Larson end up on his roof. This was not mentioned on the broadcast at all. I didn’t find out about it until late Sunday night on of all shows, ESPN’s SportsCenter. Given the current complete dearth of sports programming, the O’Reilly Auto Parts 125 actually led off the show.
For now, these broadcasts are still a work in progress. If iRacing were at full strength, I feel like they would be able to bring viewers a more concise and inclusive production. However, with so many people working remotely, it’s very difficult to pull that off. Last week, I mentioned that there is a fair amount of control over the cameras in the sim. Viewers in the sim can focus on whatever car they want and use whatever angles they want. They need to take as much advantage of this as possible.
Last Chance Qualifier
With car count up significantly from the first race at Homestead, NASCAR made a rather late decision to stream the last chance qualifier Sunday morning. 34 drivers were originally entered in the LCQ, but only 32 took the start (Drew Dollar withdrew, while Sheldon Creed apparently didn’t take the start). For comparison, only 10 drivers raced in the LCQ at Homestead.
For this race, NASCAR streamed the race on YouTube and eNASCAR.com using their regular commentary crew for the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series. That means that Evan Posocco, Tim Terry and Justin Prince were in the booth for the race. All three commentators live in Canada and were calling the race from their respective homes.
The 30-lap sprint was run with cautions disabled. The move was likely made so that the race would finish faster, but there is a downside to that. As we discussed last week, the general plan for iRacing broadcasts is that you’re going to get limited replays of incidents when you don’t have yellows.
That can be a problem when you have a broadcast that is almost completely focused on the front of the field. The LCQ had a multi-car crash on lap 5 that involved a number of drivers. This is why Tyler Ankrum was two laps down and right with the leaders late in the race. He was in that wreck, stopped for repairs, then ran down the leaders with a repaired car on fresh tires.
Viewers watching the official broadcast didn’t really know about the specifics about this incident until after the race. In my case, I didn’t see it until the beginning of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 125 broadcast. Honestly, it’s more of a production issue than a commentary issue. I’d be hard pressed to believe that Posocco, Terry and Prince could see much more than what the regular viewers could see.
What they were able to commentate on, I felt that they did well. Posocco’s voice reminds me a little of Bob Dillner’s, but with a different commentary cadence. The overall feel was similar to radio broadcasts. That generally seems to be the norm with iRacing broadcasts. In other words, they fully recognize the limitations of the broadcast and do what they can with it.
The Ruch Life
Last week, I talked about potentially reprinting my thoughts on the Facebook Watch series The Ruch Life here in Couch Potato Tuesday. Within hours of last week’s article going live, I was contacted by people associated with the show, wanting to know what I thought about it. So, we’re going to give them what they want.
Over the past year and change, you’ve probably seen logos for The Ruch Life on FOX Sports 1’s coverage of the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. It sponsored an in-truck camera for Angela at Daytona last year, but with no explanation of what it was at the time.
The Ruch Life is a reality show on Facebook Watch that followed Angela and her husband Mike over the span of a few months starting in late 2018. I wanted to watch this show more or less so that I could say I did it. That said, I wanted to see how this was presented. Is it real reality or kayfabe reality (kayfabe being a wrestling term that describes reality as it is being presented)?
Overall, Angela is presented here as a go-getter, someone who wants everything. However, life balance seems to be her issue. She’s all in. She has sold her personal businesses in order to obtain capital to get rides. This includes her share in a number of hair salons, which she sold to her twin sister, Amber Cope.
Mike is more or less the typical kind of husband you often see on reality shows. He admits to being a goof. He’s not the biggest fan of all the things Angela wants because he believes that he’s earned the right to relax and enjoy the spoils of his labor now that he’s nearly 50. The headquarters of Mike’s company, Industrial Timber, is seen on the show a couple of times. If you’re wondering, they design and manufacture frames for the furniture industry. They have five manufacturing facilities, one in Taylorsville, N.C. and four more in Mississippi.
Connor is Mike’s son who lives with Mike and Angela. He works full-time, doing what I don’t know. All I know from the show is that Angela seems to be constantly frustrated with him. Seriously, this show makes Connor out to be the prototypical scrub from TLC’s 1999 hit “No Scrubs.”
A few things do stand out. One is the lack of continuity. I purposely watched the series in order of the episodes being released. Having done that, I believe that they outright aired episodes out of order. The events of Episode No. 3 clearly occur after Episode No. 4. As a result, while Mike and Angela are in the Bahamas, they’re talking about things that are introduced in the next episode. It’s weird to watch. Arguably bad for any show, reality or non-reality.
Also, the show doesn’t really describe prior relationships. In the first episode, Angela wants to get a decent ride, so Mike sets her up a meeting with Jason, who serves as her manager during the series. Given the truth of this show, this scenario doesn’t really make sense.
Jason is Jason Sciavicco. In addition to serving as Angela’s manager, he’s directing the show. Sciavicco is a former car owner in what is now the Xfinity Series. He owned SR² Motorsports, which fielded the Nos. 00 and 24 Toyotas. He had a revolving door of drivers in the cars over the slightly more than two years that the team was active. Both Angela and her twin sister Amber drove for the team. Amber’s run-in with Kevin Harvick at Loudon in 2012 occurred while driving for SR² Motorsports. Is it possible that Mike introduced Angela to Sciavicco? Yes, but that would have to had happened a long time before 2018.
Also, Mike says on the show that he’s been with Angela for nine years. That’s long enough ago that he’s been there for every one of Angela’s forays into NASCAR, yet it’s like he doesn’t remember the other ones.
You’d think that the episode that shows Angela racing to an eighth-place finish in last year’s NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona would have the most views. You would be wrong. It would be the next episode, where Angela races for NEMCO at Las Vegas and her adopted son King is born … eventually.
It also features a crossover with Pawn Stars where Mike and Angela check out some of the goods at their store. Here’s a blatant continuity error. While Rocco is describing some of the goods (including a “Knuckle Duster”) to the Ruchs, there is a small bag on the counter that seemingly belongs to Angela. After showing the wares, Rocco gives her the same bag from behind the counter. That is a relatively obvious editing fail. Nowhere near as bad as the intentionally bad editing in the 1994 episode of The Simpsons entitled “Homer Badman” that was designed to implicate Homer in a sexual harassment case, but it’s blatantly obvious.
The deal with Niece Motorsports is actually described here as a deal that they don’t have to pay for. Al Niece was willing to foot the bill. Interesting.
The series ends with Angela’s debut with Niece Motorsports at Texas. That resulted in an early crash, but Angela had done well in practice leading up to the race. Ultimately, the Ruchs have to decide whether or not Angela is going to keep racing. Mike doesn’t appear to really be into it, but Angela wants to keep going. At the time the show was being shot, Angela was describing her 2019 schedule as being her final chance in NASCAR.
Technical-wise, the show looks pretty good, but starting with Episode No. 4, I started having some freezing issues. However, this wasn’t an internet issue. It appeared to be the show itself. Not swell.
I feel like some of the storylines on the show aren’t very well explained. What got Angela so big on trying to adopt a baby in the first place? How did the deal with NEMCO Motorsports come about? Where did the sponsors that Angela has that are (partially) paying for her rides come from, and how did she get them? I don’t know. It isn’t explained well. Airing the episodes out of order doesn’t help the situation. I don’t know what’s what half of the time.
The 12-race Niece deal ultimately became eight races after Ross Chastain declared for Truck points and went for the title. It seemed like her confidence dropped as the season went on, something that you can see toward the end of the final episode.
Now, she’s full-time for Reaume Brothers Racing. The equipment isn’t as good as she had last year. We’ll see what happens.
The question that comes to mind here is, can I buy this kayfabe? To a certain extent, I can. The road Angela has chosen for herself is not easy, as she would likely tell you. It’s stressful, and it shows here at times.
Is the show enjoyable to watch? At times, yes. At others, no. I didn’t come into this show as a reality show fan, and I generally don’t watch them. Do I think some fans will get something out of this show? Possibly. I got a little out of it. There were some humorous moments and others that I found irritating.
Going in, I thought that it was going to be quite a bit more gratuitous than it actually was. It comes off as quite a bit more real than most reality shows are. Do I think some aspects were staged? Yes. Specifically, part of the episode in the Bahamas. Outside of that, it seemed to be on the up and up.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the sim racing continues. The eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series moves on to Bristol Motor Speedway for the first short track race of the season. The move comes just as iRacing has updated the Cup cars to allow for the new lower downforce rules on short tracks and road courses. Should be an interesting watch. Meanwhile, the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge will race at the virtual Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. TV listings will be in the TV tab.
We’ll have a critique of next weekend’s virtual racing at Bristol in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here on Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex will also return to the Frontstretch Newsletter on Monday. That column will cover the first two INDYCAR iRacing Challenge events.
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About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.