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2-Headed Monster: Does Drivers’ Lack of Respect on iRacing Hurt Credibility?

iRacing has been on every race fans’ minds over the last three weeks as it’s the closest thing we’ve gotten to racing since the COVID-19 pandemic. The races have brought on a lot of attention and while some fans have yet to take  the computerized, virtual racing seriously, others think that iRacing is the next big thing.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been a big proponent of iRacing for over a decade and he believes the translation between the virtual racecar and the real racecar are similar enough to where some things will carry over.

Others are skeptical. There’s no doubt however, that the racing has been seen. Fox Sports 1 has shown three races so far and an average of 1.5 million fans have watched the virtual races. One thing that has been tossed around is the lack of “respect” drivers have for each other with virtual racing.

Both Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson were parked by iRacing officials last Sunday for an altercation on the racetrack. The Bristol race also featured a large amount of caution flags. It felt like most of the race was spent under the yellow flag.

With the ability for drivers to hit a reset button to repair their cars and basically no consequences for being in a wreck, wrecking seems to be a common thing in virtual racing.

Does that hurt iRacing? Our writers Clayton Caldwell and Adam Cheek discuss.

No One Will Take It Seriously Unless Things Change

My opinion on iRacing has been simply that I feel like it’s for fun and there’s really nothing else to watch. I put on the race this weekend because at that point, anything seemed better than another rerun of “Say Yes to the Dress.”

I’ll admit my experiences with iRacing is very limited. I’ve never done it and I’ve never really concerned myself with it until this pandemic has forced me to.

So these last three weeks have been an introduction into the world of virtual racing. It’s been entertaining from the standpoint of learning a new medium. That’s it for me. If you like crashes, well then iRacing may interest you from that standpoint as well. Sunday’s race at Bristol looked like a demolition derby out there with cars spinning and crashing almost every lap.

Part of my problem with the racing is the fact that the drivers can’t change their setup. iRacing has given each driver a standardized setup and there is no adjusting (aside from some brake bias changes that is allowed with each car). Each driver has a set of skills that is a little different. One may be an aggressive driver, the other may be a finesse driver. The differences in those two styles may mean that two completely different setups are needed for a driver to be successful. They don’t even get the option.

I hate that. It’s been part of my criticism of real-life NASCAR racing. The only way cars can pass each other is if the cars’ setups are different. If everyone is running the same set-up on the same tire with the same car, most of the drivers will run within a tenth of each other. That means one straight line with very little passing going on.

I believe that fact has hurt the credibility of it. The standard setup has created an atmosphere of drivers being super aggressive to try and pass one another. Basically, a driver running in 27th that has an opportunity to try and pass someone for 26th cannot wait to do that. They have to try and capitalize on that chance immediately because the reason for the pass isn’t because you are faster than other driver, it’s because of a different reason.

It also creates super aggressive restarts. Just like in the real-life Cup Series, restarts are the best way to pass someone. At line sensitive racetracks, that is an even bigger deal, which virtual Bristol was on Sunday. The high lane was the preferred lane by far.

This creates a no-holds-bar attitude during restarts and has drivers blocking and being overly aggressive to try and get around a car. In a virtual setting, there is no major consequence for wrecking. Sure, iRacing officials may penalize you a lap or so but the element of injury or the cost element is completely eliminated. No driver is going to get hurt and there is no cost to the car. Destroying a $700,000 racecar doesn’t exist. Plus, iRacing gives drivers two free “resets” when their car is wrecked to come down the pits and fix their car.

In the end, race fans like racing. It’s that simple. All the other nonsense that people try to fluff up as important isn’t to a race fan. A setting which induces aggressiveness and forces drivers to take their heads off their shoulders is not a good strategy for something that is trying to gain some momentum with the racing community.

The more realistic the racing is, the better off iRacing will be. Until that mantra changes, iRacing will be looked at as just a video game and rightfully so. – Clayton Caldwell

Boys, Have At It

What’s a better substitute for real racing than virtual racing with realistic action and damage that costs … nothing? Nothing, indeed.

Over the past few weeks of iRacing’s popularity surge thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s been a lot of fun watching NASCAR Cup Series drivers take to the virtual track every Sunday and still have some sort of racing consistency in our lives.

However, as all sports lead to strained tensions between competitors, there’s been some of that in the past few weeks in NASCAR, particularly this past Sunday at Bristol.

For starters, Bubba Wallace and Clint Bowyer tangled multiple times within the span of a lap or two as the race got underway, leading Wallace to effectively “rage quit” the race, which would later that day cost him his sponsorship. Blue-Emu backed both Wallace and Landon Cassill for iRacing, and they dropped Wallace after his actions and a brief Twitter exchange between the two parties.

Later in the race, just before halfway, Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson had some virtual issues with each other, and wound up trading paint and fenders a few times as the caution came out. iRacing eventually parked both drivers for the remainder of the event.

Some might say this lack of respect or caring hurts iRacing’s standing in the racing community, that it might detract from the integrity of the series.

And it absolutely could, but I feel that this only heightens the entertainment factor. Additionally, the Pro Invitational Series is all we have for now, so I’m willing to ride it out until real racing returns.

To be fair, there are regulations in place regarding intentional wrecking during an iRace. Most notably, former NASCAR driver Scott Speed (who raced in just about every series one could imagine) was suspended about two years ago from the service for attempting to intentionally wreck a fellow competitor.

So, for better or for worse, there are already rules that govern payback and its consequences.

I’m perfectly content with that attitude being taken for iRacing, to a point. For the sake of argument, if Larson had appeared to let his issue with Suarez go or vice versa, then rode around in the back, waited for the other to come around and intentionally crashed them, then I’d probably have a problem – their virtual car-jawing at each other was under caution and they were parked, much as they likely would have been in a real race.

Did all of that make both drivers look bad? Absolutely, and the pair tangled about three or four times within a lap or two. However, it doesn’t seem like the penalties should be the same for virtual races.

Besides, it’s fun! No driver wants to absolutely trash his equipment, so iRacing gives an outlet for that, I suppose, with reservations. I think applying “boys, have at it” to iRacing might increase viewership and expand the audience.

I don’t believe it’s a lack of respect for each other that the drivers displayed so much as the chance to go at it without any real-world monetary consequences. Sure, they got parked, and to an extent I support that choice from the sanctioning body. However, that’s probably the most extreme measure that should be taken – this should be fun. It’s not for points or anything, so hopefully the rules continue to be relaxed to some degree.

It’s a completely different environment than an actual race, so I’m content with seeing drivers occasionally go after one another in a virtual setting, and I know the drivers wouldn’t act the same way when the racing world is set back in motion.

Again, though, this is all we have for now. I can live with that. iRacers, have at it. – Adam Cheek

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About Clayton Caldwell

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Clayton has been writing NASCAR for the last seven years and has followed the sport for as long as he can remember. He's a Jersey boy with dreams of hoping one day to take his style south and adding a different kind of perspective to auto racing.

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11 comments

  1. Avatar

    Face it. iRacing is a poor substitute for the real thing. I’m not sure where ‘integrity’ came into this, since the whole idea of this was to give race fans something…ANYthing to watch. Frankly, the most entertaining part of it for me is listening to the drivers banter back and forth, and Clint Bowyer who is always entertaining. I know ther are ‘real’ series for iRacing drivers with money on the line. Worry about integrity there. These races are purely for entertainment. Have you forgotten why Bristol used to be the hottest ticket in Nascar?

    • Avatar

      Was I racing to give the fans something? Or, was it to give the powers that be something to appease the networks, and keep the highly paid drivers in the public eye, so that the gravy train doesnt run completely dry.

      Somhow I dont think the fans were at the top of the list.

  2. Avatar

    Questions of respect and credibility? This is a kid’s COMPUTER GAME! A high tech version of Mario Cart for adults to waste money on a $1500 gaming console! Look out for those mean Twitter exchanges between drivers! Rules that govern payback and consequences, what?? Did I mention that it’s just a game?

    Where we are as a society today is really scary and what passes for entertainment is just pathetic.

  3. Avatar

    I refuse to watch.

  4. Avatar

    I enjoy watching the old classic races on TV.

    • Avatar

      I have been enjoying watching the classic races (as long as they are 10 years or older) more than I enjoy the average new races. Of course the classic races they show are usually the best/most notable ones and not the average ones, so that might explain why enjoy them more than the current races. I have been very disappointed that Front Stretch hasn’t been making an effort to let their readers know when these classic races are on. It wouldn’t be that hard for someone to do it and it would be a real benefit to their readers.

      I also agree with Bruce. I refuse to watch the stupid iRaces. I watched about a half-hour of one of them and thought it was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. I don’t get how everyone acts like it is a real thing. As I said once before, it’s a modern day version of the Emperor’s New Clothes…. HE’S NAKED AND THAT AIN”T RACING.

      • Avatar

        Call me bored or whatever but had the following observation when they ran the 2001 Atlanta spring race a couple weekends back. More drivers in that race have left us(3-John Andretti, Bobby Hamilton Sr, and Jason Leffler) than are still active (2-Kurt Busch and the race winner Kevin Harvick). The other added treat was that Boogity, Boogity, Boogity hadn’t surfaced yet.

        • Avatar

          I saw the last lap of the Darlington race with Busch/Craven and after the had the rundown and you are right there was only 2 or 3 drivers still around today. I didn’t realize how the landscape changed so quick.

  5. Avatar

    Wire the I-drivers seat to 110 volt and give it a measured jolt determined by severity of the contact. This might make it interesting.

  6. Avatar

    To me you are sitting around watching someone place a video game, no thanks.

  7. Avatar

    Fun to watch Timmy Hill-be super competitive with a $300 package vs all the big money being spent.