As the world awaits the return of live sports, NASCAR and iRacing are here to ensure fans enjoy the next-best thing.
NASCAR, iRacing and FOX Sports teamed up this past Sunday to deliver the first-ever eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series event. Denny Hamlin walked out as the winner, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. finishing as an incredibly close runner-up.
The nationally televised virtual race provided motorsports fans and gaming fans with a bright light amid the dark uncertainty associated with the coronavirus pandemic, while also potentially gaining new viewers for both NASCAR and iRacing through its overall uniqueness.
“One of the neatest things was how into it the drivers got,” Kevin Bobbitt, iRacing’s Director of Marketing, told NESN.com on Thursday. “They were into it, they were practicing. They were looking for every edge they can get. These guys are Class-A competitors and they’re competitive in everything they do in life. They don’t want to do this if they don’t think they can win.”
For those who watched the race, you saw the exciting finish that went down between Hamlin, Earnhardt and iRacing pro Tim Hill on the final lap. Here’s a look at the stunning last-second conclusion:
“To come down to two drivers like that,” Bobbitt said, referring to Hamlin and Earnhardt. “Two of the biggest names in the sport to be battling to the last corner and they finished 1-2. I don’t think we could have scripted it any better if we had planned it that way.”
Sunday’s inaugural event not only was entertaining. It also could be an avenue for bringing in a younger generation of fans to the racing world.
And while racing initially can be difficult to understand, with some young supporters unsure how to possibly break into the business, iRacing offers aspiring racers of the present and future an opportunity to learn and craft themselves in a whole different way.
“We’ve long been part of the stepping stone in motor racing,” Bobbitt said. “Motor racing is one of the more unique sports where to make it big, you need both an immense amount of talent and you also need money. If you’re the best quarterback in the country, you are going to get picked up. If you’re the best basketball player, you’re going to get picked up. It doesn’t cost anything to go play ball at college, you get a scholarship and off you go and the NFL signs you. iRacing allows you to practice and get to a certain level on a much lower budget. But in a very realistic way.
“It can also bring fans closer to the sport. I think that’s why we have such great relationships with NASCAR, Indy 500. Because they realize it’s a great way to engage with their fans. Instead of just watching what goes on track, they can experience it in some degree for themselves from their home.”
The reaction to Sunday’s race was nothing short of spectacular for both NASCAR and iRacing, winning over fans who might have been skeptical when the event was first announced.
FOX Sports has committed to coverage of the remainder of the season, beginning this coming Sunday, after the first race drew 903,000 viewers on FS1, according to Nielsen Media Research.
“The iRacing members and fans obviously thought it was amazing to get something like that broadcast on television like that,” Bobbitt said. “More importantly, I think we won over a lot of fans.
“It’s a unique situation where we are able to provide something. But it’s really a testament to the team that has worked on iRacing for the past 15 years or so of building this, building the infrastructure. Building the relationships with NASCAR. With the drivers. With the hardware partners. Building the studio we have and the office. That’s what we do. We provide racing all the time. This was just an opportunity for more people to see it. And if it provided some entertainment and, you know, some chuckles and excitement to people who were kind of in this weird state of being kind of locked down in their house, out of their normal routines, we’re happy to be a small part of that if we can provide something that’s enjoyable for people on a Sunday afternoon.”
For those wondering about joining iRacing, it’s as simple as visiting the website.
“Our website, iRacing.com, explains what we do, talks about the different racing we offer — NASCAR, Indy car, Grand Prix, dirt cars, off-road trucks, sports cars — you name it, we’re probably doing it,” Bobbitt said. “What you need to get started is a computer, internet connection, controller of some sort.
“Sign up on our website and then you can start racing almost immediately.”
The next eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series event is scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. ET, live from (virtual) Texas Motor Speedway.