Fox and its sibling channel, FS1, are going to broadcast a “season” of digital races that pit present, previous, and the rising stars of NASCAR in opposition to one another on the sim racing platform iRacing. The races will air on Sundays at 1PM ET, just about the identical time slot that NASCAR ran its real-world races earlier than the novel coronavirus pandemic hit. They’ll even be obtainable to look at within the Fox Sports activities app.
Fox didn’t go into element about what number of races will probably be held, doubtless as a result of it’s nonetheless unclear how lengthy the real-world season will probably be suspended. And drivers aren’t racking up factors in direction of the real-world NASCAR championship or taking dwelling massive paychecks. It’s only for enjoyable, for now.
That is all occurring as a result of the world’s largest motorsports sequence are on pause in the course of the pandemic, and so professional drivers have taken to competing in sim racing video games like iRacing, rFactor 2, and F1 2019. On the identical time, varied esports groups, sim racing broadcasters, and real-world crew members helped spin up a handful of particular races final week with massive NASCAR, F1, and IndyCar stars that drew a whole bunch of 1000’s of viewers who out of the blue had no real-world racing to look at.
That profitable patchwork effort has already impressed extra official occasions. This previous weekend, Method One hosted its first “Digital Grand Prix,” which featured present driver Lando Norris, former driver Nico Hülkenberg, and a roster of YouTubers and professional sim racers, a few of whom compete in F1’s personal esports sequence.
NASCAR went even additional. On Sunday, the highest inventory automobile sequence hosted its first digital “Professional Invitational” race, a 100-lap affair held in iRacing that featured retired stars Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Bobby Labonte; a number of championship-winning drivers like Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Jimmie Johnson; and rising abilities like William Byron and Christopher Bell. The race was even introduced by Fox’s normal broadcast crew of Jeff Gordon, Mike Pleasure, and Larry McReynolds.
The race was an enormous success, all issues thought of. It introduced in more than 900,000 viewers, based on Fox — far off the mark of the tens of millions who watch NASCAR’s hottest occasions, however not that a lot decrease than the viewership of a few of the least common races.
One cause it was doable for the motorsports world to shortly flip this swap to sim racing is that there’s been a thriving neighborhood competing on these platforms for years. Sim racing has grown so prevalent that many professional drivers are already deeply aware of the likes of iRacing. Most have sim racing rigs — a seat, steering wheel, pedals, and large, typically wraparound screens — arrange of their houses, or on the very least, at their workforce’s headquarters.
What’s extra, these video games (iRacing particularly) supply such true-to-life element that sim racing has change into a vital piece of the puzzle of discovering success in a top-tier racing sequence. They provide drivers the possibility to observe nearly as a lot as they need without having to undergo the expensive, if not unattainable means of reserving time to check at a real-world monitor.
The draw back of this new NASCAR Professional Invitational Sequence is that, because it’s been scooped up by Fox, it gained’t be live-streamed on YouTube or Twitch. One of many causes these first few post-pandemic sim races drew a lot consideration final week was as a result of they had been freely obtainable, and since a few of the drivers themselves hosted their very own streams as effectively. There have been no broadcast networks to tangle with over TV rights.
NASCAR had already started streaming its personal “eNASCAR” iRacing esports sequence on YouTube, which signaled a significant step ahead in bringing sim racing into the mainstream. Broadcasting the brand new digital season reveals NASCAR and Fox are prepared to make even greater bets throughout what’s a really unsure time for everybody. Right here’s hoping they don’t cease pushing that envelope.