iRacing Profile: Learn about eNASCAR’s Malik Ray

Photo by SETH EGGERT for KICKIN' THE TIRES / iRacing

By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer

There’s more than meets the eye when learning about drivers on iRacing, also known as iRacers, as Joe Gibbs Racing’s eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series driver, Malik Ray, understands.

First NASCAR Interest

Like many NASCAR fans, Ray first discovered the sport on TV. The first race that the driver of the virtual No. 51 Rowdy Energy Toyota Camry watched was the 2007 Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The winner of that race was Jeff Gordon.

The four-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion quickly became the favorite driver for the Laurens, S.C. native. After Gordon’s retirement from full-time competition in 2015, Ray opted not to find another favorite driver.

Ray reminisced about first discovering NASCAR:

“I was flipping through the TV channels and saw Jeff Gordon’s car on the TV. It was during the 2007 Bank of America 500,” said Ray. “I’ve watched NASCAR regularly from 2007 through 2015. Jeff was always my favorite driver to pull for, I always liked his personality and how he raced other people. Always stood up for himself.”

Other Interests

Outside of NASCAR, Ray can usually be found playing in a pick-up game of basketball or soccer with his friends. He has also dabbled photography on occasion.

Before Ray found his way to the iRacing motorsports simulation, he played the EA Sports console game NASCAR 07. It wouldn’t be until 2011 that the 21-year-old discovered iRacing’s allure. What encouraged Ray to pursue iRacing was the fact that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was competing in what is now the Coca-Cola Series, then known as the iRacing Driver’s World Championship (DWC).

(Photo by Malik Ray)

Journey to the Coca-Cola Series

While Ray joined iRacing’s service in 2011, he didn’t have the speed, or the iRating high enough to make the Coca-Cola Series until 2014. iRating is the skill point system iRacing uses to rank its members. However, it wasn’t meant to be. After failing to qualify for the Coca-Cola Series in 2014, the frustration continued until the 2019 season.

“I knew I had the speed for it in 2014. However, I wasn’t allowed my license in 2015 and 2016. I made the series once again in 2018 and raced my way through the Pro Series and was finally allowed my license in the beginning of 2019.”

The reason Ray failed to make the Coca-Cola Series in 2015 and ’16 was a complicated one. He made it to the iRacing Pro Series, the final qualifier before the Coca-Cola Series. However, he failed to finish inside the top-20 in points to advance to iRacing’s Premier series.

In 2016, he was 259 points shy of making it to the big show. Ray was 796 points short in 2017.

The iRacer admitted the journey was frustrating:

“The journey to be allowed into the series was very difficult for me. I had made the qualifier series twice and had not been allowed in, so to have to make it three times just to be allowed in is very stressful for anyone. Seeing that you have the speed, but the admins continue to say no to your allowance into the series is very frustrating, but I am now in the series so that’s the good part.”

To date, Ray’s favorite moment on iRacing was the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Series opener in 2018. In his first series race, he won at the virtual Daytona International Speedway.

The Big Time

Although Ray competes in the Coca-Cola Series for Joe Gibbs Racing, his iRacing-proper team is Deadzone Racing. Between the various iRacing Oval Series, the JGR driver has 5,424 starts with 1,544 victories. Ray has finished inside the top-five in just under 60 percent of his starts. Currently, his iRating is 5,839.

Despite being third on the all-time win list amongst all iRacing Oval Series drivers, Ray is still looking for his maiden Coca-Cola Series victory. He spent his rookie season with Richmond Raceway eSports. Ray earned one top-five finish with the team, a third place effort at the virtual Pocono Raceway.

At season’s end, Ray was 18th in the points standings and earned an invite back to the series in 2020. During free agency, he earned an opportunity to compete for an powerhouse NASCAR Cup Series team, Joe Gibbs Racing.

The moment was conflicting for Ray as he relished the chance with JGR, but made sure not to burn bridges with Richmond Raceway:

“It was bittersweet. I was happy I had an opportunity from a real NASCAR team, but I was also wanting to make sure I didn’t upset anyone from Richmond during my process of leaving. But, I wanted to make sure everyone at Richmond was on good terms with my departure and didn’t want to burn any bridges with them.

“I was also very excited that Joe Gibbs Racing and Kyle Busch had enough confidence in me to take a shot on me. It means a lot more than they can imagine I’m sure. To say that I’m a driver for Joe Gibbs eSports team is great. It’s not a feeling most people will get to experience so I always will cherish that.”

(Photo by Seth Eggert for Kickin’ The Tires / iRacing)

Practice, Practice, Practice

Similar to NASCAR’s drivers in the Cup, Xfinity, and Gander Outdoors Truck Series, iRacers like Ray put in multiple hours of practice and testing each week. Not only does the JGR iRacing driver practice with his JGR teammate, Graham Bowlin, he also practices with his 10 Deadzone Racing teammates (of whom includes Bowlin).

At minimum, each Deadzone driver puts in between 10 and 15 hours into the setup for each race. Combined, that is a minimum of between 1,000 and 1,500 hours that go into the set-up that Ray and others use.

“They put in several hours (well over 10 to 15) into the setup in order to try to prepare us for the next track in the series,” explained Ray. “Us drivers will usually turn hundreds of laps, for example, at Auto Club Speedway, I turned over 300 laps on the sim at the track prior to the race.”

On occasions, Ray has found himself practicing with the real-life pros as he competes in various races. While none have surprised him, he and his fellow Coca-Cola Series drivers often find themselves competing with real-life drivers. Those drivers such as Timmy Hill, who is a former Coca-Cola Series driver himself, Garrett Smithley, William Byron, and others.

eNASCAR’s Future

The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series is only in its 11th season. Over the past 10 years, the Series has grown from humble beginnings. Most endemic teams, such as Joe Gibbs Racing, JR Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, among others only joined the series in the past two years.

The 2019 season also marked the first time that the series was broadcasted live on national TV. It was included as a part of NASCAR America on NBCSN. That brought new observers to the series, and in turn more sponsors and team interest.

One of the new sponsors is the company that Ray represents, Rowdy Energy. Another is Coca-Cola itself as it replaced PEAK Antifreeze as the entitlement sponsor of the Series.

Currently, none of the iRacers make a living competing on the service. Much like competitors in other eSports iRacers, some make money by streaming the various game or sim content. Other iRacers earn a living from jobs that they may hold. JR Motorsports’ duo of iRacing drivers, for example, both work for the team.

While that is the current situation, Ray is hopeful that one day, eNASCAR drivers can make a living competing in their Series, much like their real-world counterparts.

“Hopefully one day we’ll all be able to live off of this. The Series is only getting bigger and that’s one of my main goals, to be able to eventually do well enough in the Series (and also the Series continue to grow how it is) so that way one day if it ever does reach an audience as big as Fortnite, or Call Of Duty etc. I’ll be one of the top drivers, so I want to be able to take full advantage of when the Series (if it ever does) hits that far.”

At the same time, while the current eNASCAR drivers may not make a living competing in NASCAR’s only officially sanctioned eSports Series, they do have an opportunity that other eSports competitors do not. The eNASCAR drivers competing on iRacing could potentially translate their online sim racing skills into a real-world opportunity.

iRacing holds seasonal contests that occasionally offer opportunities with racing schools. The champion of the Coca-Cola Series will a test in both a US Legends Car and Late Models. Those opportunities could allow Coca-Cola Series drivers to make a leap to real-world competition at some level.

Ray believes that, with practice, any of his competitors could translate their skills into the real-world:

“I believe any of us in the Coke Series (given seat time) can translate over into real life. I’m not saying all of us can make it the Cup Series, but I do believe any of us, if given the right equipment, we could do fairly well.”

How to Follow Ray’s Journey

Between the amount of time Ray spends in practice, spending time with his friends away from iRacing, and journey to the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, there is more than meets the eye. To follow Ray’s journey, be sure to follow him on Instagram, Twitch, and Twitter.

One Comment

  1. Pat

    May 23, 2020 at 7:26 am

    I know I’ve heard of Malik Day’s name before as a competitive iracing driver. Could it have been during this year’s NASCAR iracing ProInvitational Series? I wish I could remember in what respect he was mentioned. I do remember it was a positive reference. I wish him luck and I look forward to hearing more about him. Good Luck!

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