Simulation Racing Takes Centre Stage During COVID-19 Outbreak

In an uncertain time, most of the motorsports community has turned virtual.

By Tim Terry

We have written about sim racing, more specifically iRacing, in the past in this space. Last year, we documented Halifax, Nova Scotia drivers Keegan Leahy and Dylan Duval, who compete in the top level of oval iRacing, the eNASCAR Coca Cola iRacing Series. Leahy came within virtual feet of winning the $40,000 winner-take-all championship finale at Homestead Miami Speedway and in 2020, Leahy kicked off the season winning at Daytona International Speedway for Denny Hamlin Racing. Yes, that Denny Hamlin, the 2020 Daytona 500 winner. Duval now drives for Stewart-Haas eSports, the gaming division of Stewart-Haas Racing. 

iRacing is the leading motorsports simulation. With multiple forms of racing from road to oval, dirt to asphalt, there is something for everyone. iRacing scans cars and tracks down to the millimeter for precision accuracy, replicating as close to the real life look without having the “seat of your pants” feel of actually being in the race car or truck. With a computer up to the system requirements for the simulation, a stable internet connection, a wheel and pedal set and a subscription to iRacing fans can go from the grandstand to the driver seat with a few clicks. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the world, canceling social functions left and right including all major sporting events in North American, most of the motorsports community turned to virtual racing. 

NASCAR led the way, producing the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series. A majority of the NASCAR Cup Series full time drivers and some special guests along with a slew of NASCAR Xfinity and Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series drivers came together for the opening race of the series at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race was picked up on network television by Fox Sports 1 in the United States and brought in over 900,000 viewers. The NASCAR on FOX crew, including Mike Joy, Jeff Gordon and Larry McReynolds, called the action, bringing race fans a sense of normalcy within a world that was seemingly all but doing so under the circumstances. The race finished on a last lap pass, with Hamlin making the move on Dale Earnhardt Jr coming to the checkered flag to capture the win.

With the questions on when life will return to normal as of press time, the Pro Invitational iRacing Series continues on. FOX has picked up the remainder of the races to broadcast while TSN will show the races on their network in Canada. In fact, the Series of virtual races will be shown in over 125 countries worldwide, bringing NASCAR action to fans looking for new content in a time when the cars are not on the track.

Several real world racing organizations have also jumped on to iRacing and given their drivers a place to keep sharp during the downtime with COVID-19. IMSA, IndyCar and the World of Outlaws are all among those that have stepped up to give fans something to talk about throughout the month of March. Formula1 has also provided their drivers and personalities a place to congregate through their own virtual motorsports title.

Locally in Atlantic Canada, the trend is the same.

Maritime drivers on iRacing have had the Maritime iRacing League to race throughout the off-seasons on Wednesday evening for almost ten years now. The league was founded by Tim Terry and Kirby Myers with Ricky Arbeau taking over control of the Series in 2017. While car counts have stayed stable, a small influx of cars brought the car count to almost 30 for the first race during the COVID-19 outbreak on March 18th. 

With the interest beginning to show in iRacing again, we decided to host some fun runs on iRacing through Tim’s Corner Motorsports. The first hosted session on March 23rd, an open setup Legend division race at the virtual Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine, filled 40 pit stalls within five minutes. Two days later, 57 drivers logged on to qualify for 26 spots in a Super Late Model race at Five Flags Speedway. A Saturday evening race to cap off the week at Southern National Motorsports Park drew another 47 entries. In total, over 100 different drivers have expressed interest in competing in the short track based special series. 

In the five races that had been run, four different winners had emerged. Ethan Miller won the first, followed by former McLaughlin Roof Trusses 250 champion Ryan Messer, four time eNASCAR Coca Cola iRacing Series winner Kevin King and multi-time four cylinder winner Matthew Barkhouse each held a checkered flag in the first week of open competition. Barkhouse was the first repeat winner in the fifth race. With the COVID-19 pandemic and the situation being so fluid, Tim’s Corner Motorsports is expected to field races a few times a week to keep those occupied until life returns to normal and race cars hit the real tracks in Atlantic Canada. 

Simulation racing, and video games for that matter, bring people together especially in a time where they cannot gather face to face. Take the iRacing example for instance, in a time where racing teams and fans have either just experienced a taste of racing season or are nearing the end of their off-season only to see that sport they love taken away or put in limbo, it tests a community. In this instance, those folks are able to log online and partake in their favorite activity. Sure, the smell of burnt rubber and race fuel is absent and those race track cheeseburgers might not have the same taste that the ones at home do but you still get to spend time with like minded people that share the same passion you do. It might be behind a screen instead of behind a windshield or a fence but it is still motorsports. 

It also brings together drivers and fans from all skill levels and experience on the track at the same time. Some fans that are in the grandstands on a Friday night at Scotia Speedworld or a Sunday afternoon at Lake Doucette Motor Speedway might not be able to afford a car or have the space to work on a race car in order to go racing. iRacing allows fans to hop onto the track and race against some of the names they watch during the Summer. Whether that is a Kyle Larson or a Bobby Labonte in the upper echelons of the sport to local Pro Stock heavyweights like Ashton Tucker, Cole and Jarrett Butcher, Nicholas Naugle or Shawn Pierce, it gives a chance for drivers to mix it up while keeping their skills sharp for the season. To that end, you’ve got a mix of divisions when it comes to drivers. Example, Bandolero drivers like Owen Mahar, Ayden Christensen and Caden Tufts get to mix it up with Late Model drivers like Byron Bartlett, Mike Alexander and Ryan VanOirschot when they might not get to on the Maritime circuit. 

Video games, whether it is a simulation, first person shooter or Farmville, ultimately give a release from everyday life. With the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems that it is needed more than ever with that normal life not existing. Simulated racing gives motorsports enthusiasts a chance for those to release enjoying a sport they are passionate about, even if the pixelated smoke doesn’t have the same effect as the real smoke that comes from the tires in victory lane. 

Want to hop onto iRacing yourself? Be sure to check them out at iRacing.com and start your new racing career today! Who knows, we may see you on the track duking it out with your favorite short track or NASCAR driver soon! 

**Note; you can watch Keegan Leahy and Dylan Duval race for their share of a $300,000+ purse every second Tuesday in the eNASCAR Coca Cola iRacing Series. Visit eNASCAR.com for their schedule, broadcast and all the information you need to cheer on your fellow Atlantic Canadians!

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