By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
The eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series will return in 2021 after filling the gap during the COVID-19 shutdown last year.
Created for entertainment, NASCAR and iRacing collaborated to put drivers from the NASCAR Cup Series in simulated races. The races were broadcast on Fox Sports. The partnership saw record-breaking viewership numbers for televised eSports events.
“The success of our eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series was underscored by an industry-wide effort to entertain fans during the early months of the global pandemic,” explained Tim Clark, NASCAR senior vice president and chief digital officer. “This year the Pro Invitational will return with a schedule of midweek races that will bridge the gap between our real-world races each weekend.”
In 2021 the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series returns for a 10-race schedule. The first five races will be aired on FS1 with the latter half on NBC Sports. The Pro Invitational races will take place on select Wednesday nights. The series compliments the NASCAR schedule due to practice and qualifying limited to only eight race weekends this season.
The eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series provided an opportunity for drivers to engage with NASCAR fans virtually. Some drivers like Landon Cassill, Garrett Smithley, and others streamed the events on Twitch.
The collaboration also saw a spike in membership for iRacing. The Pro Invitational Series also inspired the creation of several leagues. Those leagues include the Kickin’ the Tires Lower Half Dash and Monday Night Racing presented by Tufco Flooring.
“After last year’s Pro Invitational success, we’re proud that our partners at NASCAR, FOX, and the race teams view the series as an integral part of their marketing and fan engagement strategies for 2021,” said Steve Myers, iRacing executive producer. “It’s even more fulfilling that the industry has rallied around our platform not only as the most authentic re-creation of the sport, but also a terrific tool to help grow NASCAR’s audience and generate revenue to strengthen the entire ecosystem.”
In the seven eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series events last year, William Byron dominated. The Hendrick Motorsports driver won three races at Bristol Motor Speedway, Richmond Raceway, and Dover International Speedway. Denny Hamlin bookended the series, winning at Homestead-Miami Speedway and North Wilkesboro Speedway. Timmy Hill showed his iRacing prowess winning at Texas Motor Speedway. Meanwhile Alex Bowman earned a surprise win at Talladega Superspeedway.
“FOX Sports embraced the eNASCAR iRacing Invitational Series in the spring as a way to keep race fans entertained, but we quickly realized it was a product and collaboration that we would continue to explore,” said FOX Sports Executive Producer, EVP/Head of Operations and Production Brad Zager. “The product is best-in-class, it delivers NASCAR to an even broader audience and, let’s face it, it’s a heckuva lot of fun.”
The 2021 eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series will start with the debut of the Bristol’s dirt configuration on Wednesday, March 24. That will be followed by Talladega, Darlington Raceway, Circuit of the Americas, and a track to be determined. Details about the fifth race and second half of the Pro Invitational Series season will be announced later.
Last year, the series was complimented by the eNASCAR iRacing Saturday Night Thunder Series. It featured competitors from the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Camping World Truck Series, ARCA Menards Series, and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. The five-race season saw five different winners in Anthony Alfredo, Josh Berry, Landon Huffman, Ty Majeski, and Logan Seavey.
Featured Photo Credit: Justin Melillo / The Racing Experts