By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Pro Battle made history for the sim racing platform. Sitting beside the crowd at the Carolina eSports Hub on Tuesday night, I got a glimpse of what in-person eNASCAR events could be like. Normally, I simply live-Tweet from home, watching the action from enascar.com/live and then join a post-race zoom with other media members to interview the top finishers.
Both before and after the Pro Battle, the four competitors from Charlotte Phoenix and JR Motorsports mingled with the crowd. JR Motorsports’ Briar LaPradd even set times on the extra iRacing rigs that were available for hot laps. Future eNASCAR hopefuls Conor Horn and Tucker Minter were among those that made laps, along with current NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers Will Rodgers and Ryan Vargas.
The event overall gave the appearance of a hometown feel for both teams even though JR Motorsports’ Michael Conti was the only North Carolina native. The crowd cheered for Charlotte Phoenix’s Graham Bowlin and Kollin Keister, as well as the two JR Motorsports drivers.
The cheering, and occasional jeers, of the crowd, gave the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Pro Battle an electric feel. Though the crowd noise hyped the drivers up, it also served as a minor distraction through the peripheral of the curved monitors.
While the crowd gave the four drivers a small distraction and extra motivation, they also caught a glimpse of what makes each driver unique. Though he lives further away, near Nashville, TN, LaPradd brought his entire iRacing rig to the event. The audience could see his Gaming PC, triple monitors, and he also streamed to his Twitch account during the Pro Battle.
Bowlin meanwhile was the only driver that was competing without the grandstand graphics turned on. Those graphics are an optional feature that some use for reference. Others turn them off for the aesthetic of computer performance purposes.
In my first foray into iRacing, and while I wrote for iRacingNews, I often had the grandstands turned off. The computer I had at the time struggled with graphics. At some tracks, the FPS (frames per second) dipped as low as three to a max of 62. When frames dip below about 40-50 FPS, it becomes nearly impossible to see what you’re doing on track.
Another observation included Keister opting to run with the in-sim steering wheel turned on. The Charlotte Phoenix driver explained that the visual of the tape on the virtual wheel helps to keep him from overcorrecting when racing on track.
The other three drivers on stage, Bowlin, Conti, and LaPradd each had their in-sim wheel turned off. Some professional drivers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., also make use of the option of turning the ‘extra wheel’ off.
Overall, the audience had the opportunity to watch four of the best eNASCAR sim racers compete live on stage. Those on stage were not kids that are simply good at video games, or in this case, computer racing.
Rather, they showed similar skills in working the draft, tire wear, damage control, among other skills on track that drivers in the real world have. Granted, they are not at risk of being injured and nothing can truly replace the ‘seat of the pants’ feel.
That being said, iRacing and other sim racing platforms have become a breeding ground for some of the future stars of the real-world that have pushed the concept of ‘Sim 2 Reality,’ such as Anthony Alfredo, Rajah Caruth, and Parker Retzlaff.
It’s impossible to know if another driver that competed on stage in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Pro Battle, or in the Monday Night Racing Season 4 championship race, could become a ‘Sim 2 Reality’ star.
When the next Pro Battle takes place, it could be four different stars of eNASCAR’s top level competing on stage. This one event, combined with the Monday Night Racing season finale earlier this year, could lay the groundwork for a LAN (Local Area Network) event for NASCAR and iRacing, similar to those from other major eSports competitions, such as Fortnite, League of Legends, Rainbow Six Siege, Rocket League and more.
Potentially, this future LAN iRacing event take place at a real-life NASCAR track such as Charlotte Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, or another eSports arena near you.
— Charlotte Phoenix (@CLTPhoenixGG) May 11, 2022
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Seth Eggert / Kickin’ the Tires.