Prior to a recent change to the NASCAR Pro Invitational Series on iRacing, Gander Outdoors RV & Truck Series rookie Ty Majeski was getting his chance to shine on a national stage.
In the first two NASCAR Pro Invitational races, held at the sport’s virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway, the lineups featured 31 NASCAR Cup Series drivers. But four other slots in the 35-car field were made available for drivers from NASCAR’s lower tiers who advanced from a Last Chance Qualifier race. Majeski, who is the No. 1-rated iRacing driver in the country, easily advanced to the feature race both times.
Many oddsmakers listed Majeski as the odds-on favorite to win the events, thanks to his winning iRacing reputation. But what those experts didn’t know was that it was Majeski’s first two races in a Cup car on iRacing.
“I do a lot of short track racing on iRacing. That’s what all of my successes have stemmed from,” Majeski said. “When I heard about the Pro Invitational, I actually had to go on iRacing and purchase the Cup car. My first race with the Cup car was at Homestead. So everyone thought I was the odds-on favorite, but I really wasn’t.
“I wasn’t going to say that, obviously. But I was not the favorite in my eyes. Not even close. There’s a lot of guys who have more experience iRacing and being in the Cup car. But I took it, and we ran decent at Homestead.”
Majeski finished ninth in that race. He climbed from shotgun on the field into the top five at Texas before a pit road speeding penalty ended his bid for the win. Majeski eventually crashed out for 30th place.
“We were running really good at Texas,” Majeski said. “[I] sped on pit road, but I thought we were gonna have a chance to contend for the win with those guys.”
With more Cup-car experience, Majeski was likely going to become a huge threat for the win in the coming weeks of the Invitationals. And Majeski was relishing the opportunity to race against NASCAR legends such as Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Bobby Labonte and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“It’s a great opportunity for myself, obviously,” Majeski said. “I haven’t gotten to do that to this point. Obviously, my goal is to make it to Sundays. But that obviously hasn’t been a reality yet. It’s really cool to have that opportunity. Just to have those guys come to my world, so to speak.
“I’ve been on iRacing for many years. They’ve been a longtime supporter of mine financially and as far as me using their product and getting better from it. It’s been a great relationship, and it’s been really cool to have those guys come to my world for a little bit and race with them — get some recognition on the big stage.”
Had to upgrade my @iracing cooling system for today’s race! The “cool down” unit is hooked up and ready to do another mock run! In all seriousness, this should be an awesome event today! Tune into @FS1 and look for my CMR Construction Chevy! pic.twitter.com/k2DJLPhCXi
— Ty Majeski (@TyMajeski) March 22, 2020
But now, Majeski will no longer have that opportunity. NASCAR announced Wednesday (April 1) that it will have a separate race for lower-tier drivers on the Saturdays before the Pro Invitational, which will now exclusively be for Cup and former Cup drivers. There will no longer be a Last Chance Qualifier, and the top finishers of Saturday Night Thunder will not transfer to Sunday’s race.
It should be noted that is what a large portion of NASCAR’s Xfinity and Truck series drivers wanted, so the sanctioning body responded in kind.
We need to have a separate @XfinityRacing and @NASCAR_Trucks combined race. I know our fans would be all for it, as well as our team sponsors. What do you say @NASCAR @FS1 and @iracing? Too much at stake to only have 2-3 spots with 30 plus guys trying to race their way in! https://t.co/i57PxFwyFm
— Justin Allgaier (@J_Allgaier) March 28, 2020
“I have mixed feelings about that,” Majeski told Frontstretch prior to the announcement. “I’d love to be just locked into the big race, but no, obviously that can’t happen. I understand that. It’s all about getting those Cup personalities on the big stage to attract viewers. At the end of the day, that’s what this is all about, right? And keeping fans engaged.
“I would like to have the opportunity to race with those guys because I think it’s cool to kind of see the virtual world meet the real world. And I feel like even though I’m a real life NASCAR driver, some of my roots are in the virtual world on iRacing. So I think it’s cool to see those worlds meet to compete at the high level.
“On the Sunday Pro event, I would not like to see where it only gets locked down to Cup drivers and we don’t even have a chance to race our way in, to have separate races. Because I highly doubt those will be picked up by FOX. And it’s cool for myself to have that opportunity to race myself on a big stage.”
Majeski’s prediction was correct. Saturday Night Thunder will instead be broadcast on eNASCAR.com where it won’t get the same type of viewership as a major network. Having success in the Pro Invitational Series likely wasn’t going to lead to a Cup ride for Majeski, but it did allow him to pick up a new sponsor.
“I don’t think anyone, like if I was to go out and win Bristol, I don’t think Joe Gibbs is going to say, ‘Oh, we’ve got to sign this Ty kid,'” Majeski told Frontstretch when he was still Pro Invitational eligible. “That’s obviously unrealistic. However, I do think it opens opportunities to meet new people, to create new partners with yourself.
“I got a sponsor, CMI Roofing & Construction, and they sponsor some of Ryan Sieg’s Xfinity stuff, some of GMS Racing’s Truck stuff, and they kind of came on board for me for Homestead and Texas — the rest of the season as well. That’s a relationship I would’ve never gotten without this. As we know, the marketing side is the toughest part of NASCAR racing today — the business side and finding funding to go racing. So that opened a relationship for me with a new company that could translate to the real-life world. That’s the biggest benefit I’ve seen from it.”
More so than just a new business relationship, Majeski is appreciative of the escapism that iRacing has provided during these hard times dealing with COVID-19.
“Once this whole crisis happened, I [expected this], but never in a million years if you had asked me a year ago if we would be racing on regular TV and FOX would be streaming it from iRacing, I would never have guessed it,” Majeski said. “But to have iRacing take this horrific issue and turn it into a positive and the racing community… and it even stretches beyond that.
“With there being no sports in general, it gives a general sports fan something to watch, right? It’s great for iRacing. They deserve it. They put out a good product. Racing is different from any other sport in that way. We can actually do it, a true simulation of the real thing.
“You can’t be a basketball player and play NBA in a simulator. But you can in race cars.”
Currently, iRacing has the full focus of the sporting world with stick-and-ball sports on hiatus. It remains to be seen as to whether popularity sticks once regular sports, along with traditional racing, come back.
“I think it’ll be great if FOX can find time to continue to broadcast these races on live TV,” Majeski said. “That would be awesome. Obviously, the viewership is really high right now … To continue that momentum, even when the real racing starts, is a different way that fans can stay engaged.
“And what’s really cool about iRacing is that it’s different from other sports in that the fans can actually go online and race against their driver, Kyle Busch or Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano. Hopefully, this gets some of the NASCAR drivers a little more deeper integrated into iRacing and they can continue doing it on a weekly basis and the fans are able to be more a part of their driver’s racing world, I guess.”
If the opportunity for fans to race real NASCAR drivers were to arise, then many would likely sign up for the program. It’s a chance of a lifetime that could even be used to springboard a driving career of their own. After all, many have a misconception that Majeski got to where he is based on iRacing success alone.
That, of course, could not be further from the truth.
“I was racing a long, long time before I started iRacing,” Majeski said. “I started racing go-karts in 2005, I was nine years old. And I didn’t get iRacing until 2011. At that point, I had already been in a late model for two years.
“iRacing was certainly a huge part in my development and getting better, and I guess it shortened my learning curve a whole lot. But it certainly was not the reason that I got into real racing or got a ride with Jack Roush in 2017-18. iRacing had a part in my development and creating the driver I am, but I got that opportunity because we had so much success at a short track level and super late model racing.”
Majeski scored three top 10s in 15 Xfinity races for Roush Fenway Racing, but failed to finish one-third of his starts with the team. He moved down to the ARCA Menards Series last season, where he won three of his six starts and had a worst finish of fourth. That improvement landed Majeski a full-time ride with Niece Motorsports this year, taking over a Truck Series ride that Ross Chastain nearly won a championship in last season.
But just two races into 2020, the Truck Series was suspended.
“This hasn’t been an ideal situation for myself specifically,” Majeski said. “Finally get a break in a full-time ride that I feel is race-winning equipment, race-winning people. I haven’t had that opportunity, I feel like, until this point. To have that opportunity and then have this happen is certainly a bummer for myself.
“I really want to get back out there. I felt like we were going to use this stretch of races, meaning Atlanta, Texas and Homestead — mile-and-a-half races. A bulk of schedule is on mile-and-a-halves. That would’ve been a good opportunity for us to catch our stride. Racing three weekends in a row, that would’ve been big for us. So hopefully, when we get going here, we can find our groove and dig out a good stretch of races.
In the meantime, the Seymour, Wis., native has gone back home to spend time with family. He’ll earn some side money assembling units and doing odd jobs in his dad’s powersports shop.
“A lot of it is trying to think of ways to keep yourself financially stable, because we’re not racing, right?” Majeski said. “A lot of us get paid on a per-race basis. Obviously, if you’re not racing, you’re not having any income.
“My dad opened up a new business [in Wisconsin], so I’ve been helping out a little bit there to keep busy. I make a little bit of side money while this whole thing is happening. … My fiancé is up here, so we’re getting to spend some quality time with family. It’s boring at times, for sure, but hopefully, we can get back on the real racetrack soon.”