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
About the author
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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