Clint Bowyer isn’t necessarily the philosophical type.
The driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford is better known as the life of the party.
But Bowyer summed up the recent iRacing phenomena brilliantly.
“It’s the perfect storm,” Bowyer said. “It’s as if iRacing had been started and built 15 years ago for this very moment, for this very situation. All these guys have been doing this for a long time. That time is now.
“The iRacing itself, I’ve watched these races and the series races. We all have professional drivers that drive for us. I have drivers that run in the series with my Bowyer Dirt brand, and Denny (Hamlin) does, all my peers, the manufacturers do, the organizations do. Stewart-Haas has a team. Everybody has teams that compete week in and week out in their series.”
From World of Outlaws to IndyCar, all forms of motorsports are getting into the game and offering fans and industry insiders a respite from the COVID-19 pandemic. Last Sunday’s inaugural race drew 903,000 viewers on FS1 prompting the network to move this week’s race to big FOX (where available, FS1 and FOX sports app). With no other live sporting events at present, the Dixie Vodka 150 was the highest viewed telecast on FS1 since the coronavirus shutdown—and the top-rated esports show ever.
“This series was perfected for this very moment, so it’s just the perfect storm and it comes at a great time where everybody is quarantined, there’s not much to do,” Bowyer added. “Heck, if you can’t get a simulator yourself, you can certainly watch one heck of a race.
“Last weekend, you couldn’t ask for a better race. I’m telling you right now, it’s a struggle to put that good of an ending and a finish on a race in real life. That’s how realistic this thing is.”
Hamlin won last Sunday’s inaugural eNASCAR event at virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway. Tuesday, the World of Outlaws debuted its Invitational Tour with Logan Seavey taking the checkers at virtual Volusia Speedway. The tour will tackle the virtual Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday at 7 p.m.
Sage Karam won the first virtual NTT IndyCar iRacing Challenge on Saturday at Watkins Glen. IndyCar awarded Karam with a virtual trophy and ring for his victory in the American Red Cross Grand Prix. But race spectators were the true winners. IndyCar offered fans a virtual autograph session prior to the race and views of Watkins Glen which are seldom captured during traditional broadcasts. Having champions Jimmie Johnson and Scott McLaughlin—both aspiring IndyCar drivers—added to the field was simply a bonus.
While the eNASCAR races aren’t nearly as true-to-life as WoO or IndyCar, for long-time gamers the evolution is stark.
“iRacing has perfected the thing,” Bowyer said. “The production is good and it keeps getting better. The camera angles are good. It’s pretty damn realistic and pretty damn good. They have their own series. You have to understand that. Their series races each and every week just like ours does. They have a hell of a race. I mean, it’s awesome to watch some of these races.
“You think we’re good? We’re terrible. You ought to watch some of these iRacing guys that do this each and every week. They’re literally professionals…So, it didn’t surprise me one bit. I think this weekend will be even bigger.”
This weekend, NASCAR Cup Series was originally scheduled to be racing at Texas Motor Speedway. Through iRacing, the show will still go on. The O’Reilly Auto Parts 125—the second race of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series—is scheduled to roll off at 1 p.m. NFL Hall of Famer and FOX analyst Troy Aikman will serve as the race’s grand marshall. Grateful Dead frontman Bob Weir will belt out the national anthem.
Thirty-four qualifiers will battle for four spots on Sunday morning. The qualifier can be viewed at 10:55 a.m. ET at eNASCAR.com/live.
Bowyer will return as the in-car analyst for FOX. He’s scheduled to compete from a simulator in the FOX NASCAR Charlotte studio. Bowyer believes the true-to-life aspects of iRacing is why the sport has become so popular.
“First of all, it is extremely realistic,” Bowyer said. “The difference between all of this is with iRacing you’re using the same mechanics, the same forces, the same movements as you use in real life to make your car go fast and that is your hand-eye coordination, your feet. You drive these things so much with the pedals, with the gas, the brake, the steering input. All of those inputs in your mind are the exact same thing and the same tools we use to put your car to the front of the field on any given Sunday.
“That being said, the only sense that you don’ t have in a simulator is the feel from the seat of your pants. We kind of call it the butt dyno. You balance a race car kind of like if you put a plate on the end of an ink pen. That’s how you balance a race car. That thing wants to go on all four different axis, whether it’s the right-front, left-front, right-rear, left-rear, you can feel all those things and that’s how you balance a car is through the seat of your pants.
“In iRacing, you don’t have that. All you have is your visuals, so once you have the hang of that and your mind finally catches on, it’s kind of like riding a bike. It’s a struggle for a little while, but once you catch on to that and realize what’s going on with the movements of your car and the movements of the track and things like that—when to pick up the gas, your timing—once you get all that set it’s exactly like what we do in real life.”
With no other live sports competing at this time, iRacing provides a safe vehicle for programming. Sunday’s race will be available to 25 countries outside of the U.S. and 400 million households worldwide.
The ability to continue racing is also a great diversion for racers and fans alike.
“We’re all in this together,” Bowyer said. “Obviously, I’m fortunate enough to have a farm, but there’s no amount of acreage, no size of a house that makes it pleasant for anybody. We’re all in this together. We have to keep in mind we’re protecting the people that have paved the way and made it possible for us to even be here—our very existence, our freedoms, everything. That’s who we’re trying to protect, one another, looking out for one another.
“Quarantine, if I have to do that for a month, it’s worth it and I’m signed up and we’re in this together just like everybody else. The neat thing about all of this is there is something that came along called iRacing and we’re all able to give me something else to do. Everybody knows, man, I think I’ve got massive amounts of ADD. I’ve never been diagnosed with it, but I’d say I’ve got plenty of it. If anybody knows me, they probably understand that and agree, so iRacing for me is the perfect getaway under this quarantine and certainly, for a fan on Sunday it’s gonna be even better.”