Until Thursday night, J.J. Yeley hadn’t raced at Williams Grove Speedway for nearly 20 years.
On Friday, the USAC Triple Crown winner will return to the virtual Grove for the Inaugural Lucas Oil American Sprint Cars iRacing Invitational Series, hosted by RacinBoys.com.
The race marks the first time Yeley will pilot a 360 winged sprint car on the historic half-mile dirt track in Central Pennsylvania.
“It will be exciting, to say the least,” Yeley told RacinBoys.com via phone. “I’ve made a few laps with a midget, with a winged sprint car, but it’s so realistic to the real Williams Grove that it’s hard to put into words. Awesome race track. Awesome fans. One of the most iconic dirt tracks to exist.
“Racing at Williams Grove—the real thing—is a paper-clip, fairly flat, very narrow race track, and the sim from iRacing definitely mimics that. It’s almost difficult making it down the straightaway by yourself. Two- or three-wide is going to create some havoc, which it did even for me last night (Thursday). I got crashed at the start the C-Main. Literally, made 300 yards, and I was done for the night. It will be cool to see how it goes, but I’m just having fun with the virtual side of sim racing while we are all cooped upon in our houses.”
There are 50 drivers scheduled for Friday night’s battle, including four-time ASCS champion Sam Harertepe, Jr., and Carson Macedo, who won the Wiliams Grove season opener on March 15, before the lockdown.
“This is without a doubt one of the biggest wins of my career,” Macedo said after the event. “I never thought it would happen.”
Yeley has participated in a variety of sim racing events since the Covid-19 pandemic temporarily shut down traditional racing this season. From NASCAR to open wheel, the 43-year-old Phoenix native has balanced his sim racing with family time while sheltering at home with his wife Kristen and daughter Faith.
For those unfamiliar with iRacing setups—Yeley says there’s a distinct difference in the feel between wing and non-wing racing. It just depends on the sophistication of each system.
“The feedback that you get back through the steering wheel is pretty realistic, comparing wing to the non-wing,” Yeley said. “With a wing car you can feel the steering wheel as the car sets down on the left-front down the straightaway or the loads, the way the Ackermann feels in the steering.
“You can go and change all those settings—which is something I’m learning to do, which is equivalent to changing the setup from the crew chief to the driver. Just looking for a feel that the system gives you back.
“Some of the drivers have more of an arcade feel (in their systems), where you don’t get that feeling back through the steering wheel, and it’s more just a visual of what you’re working with. I felt it’s a little bit easier for me having that feedback through the steering wheel, just because I don’t have the regular motion that I’m used to that are some of the key things I rely on when I drive a race car.”
When the post-coronavirus crisis ends and life evolves into a new normal, Yeley will continue to compete full-time for Rick Ware Racing in the No. 52 Ford in the NASCAR Cup Series. He’ll also run limited races in the Xfinity and Truck series, as well as campaign part-time for his own race team. In the meantime, he’ll participate in the virtual racing landscape.
“As a race fan sitting at home, you can only watch so much Netflix,” Yeley said. “I’m a racer. I’ve always been a racer at heart, and not being able to watch it, it’s kind of tough. It’s definitely something you miss and you crave.
“It was easy to see, even as recently as a month ago, as parts of the country shut down that Pennsylvania was still racing sprint cars. They had standing-room-only day races—which is amazing. The fans definitely miss it. They want to get back to watching it. We all want to get back to normal life or what’s going to be the new version of normal life when things start to release and get back to normal.”
While Yeley also misses live motorsports on TV, he can appreciate the diversion iRacing provides for race fans.
“Fans want to watch racing,” Yeley said. “It’s still their favorite drivers. It’s still them maneuvering the cars and trying to figure it out. Guys that are the superstars of the sport, they struggle a little bit more because, obviously, not all of us sit around on and have been on iRacing for years and have that feel and have those laps. Those laps still equate to speed and being comfortable.
“Even on the NASCAR side of things, it’s easy to see the guys that spend a lot of time sim racing have a pretty big advantage over the guys that are just still trying to get acclimated to the system and the feel that the sim rigs give them.”