Virtual racing isn’t the real thing but it’s helping fill the void until NASCAR gets back on track.
Last Sunday’s iRacing Dixie Vodka 150 at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway was a rousing success by any measure. At one point the computer simulated race – #ProInvitationalSeries – was the top trending Twitter topic in the world. Television ratings estimated more than 900,000 people tuned into the FS1 broadcast and with streaming numbers added in close to a million watched the 100-lap race.
I had family members, who wouldn’t normally be tuning into a race on a Sunday afternoon, reaching out to me simply fascinated by what they were watching. Media friends and colleagues that cover other sports, all of them obviously idle, sent text after text asking how this was possible and how realistic it all appeared.
"I think it’s good for everyone involved right now." race winner Denny Hamlin said on MRN’s "NASCAR Live." "I think there’s a lot of people talking. I looked on Twitter, I go through like the verified, you know mentions and whatnot. I look at media outlets that are talking about this that never talked about NASCAR. So I think there’s definitely a lot of positives to be drawn about this and especially like I say, it’s the only thing that kind of is remotely relevant to real life."
But there was more than just generating attention and a television audience accomplished on Sunday by NASCAR. In a time when the country is frightened, unsure and confused about the COVID-19 Pandemic and what lies ahead, the race was a welcomed two hour respite to forget about the outside world.
"You know, I mean, I think it’s a success no matter what," Hamlin said. "People are talking about it. If we got five new fans that were just sitting at home watching TV today that thought it was exciting and is willing to tune in next week or willing to tune in to a NASCAR race or go to a NASCAR race because they got introduced to racing today by iRacing, it’s a success.
"There’s no number that makes it a success. If you made positive gains in your audience, whether it be one person or 1,000, it’s a good thing."
The next event will be held this Sunday at the virtual Texas Motor Speedway, where NASCAR would be competing in real life had the schedule not been interrupted. More drivers are expected to become involved and a live television broadcast will be produced. FOX Sports announced yesterday that they are committing to coverage of the remainder of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro invitational Series schedule.
See Also: More on iRacing Pro invitational Series
It may not have the same novelty factor as the inaugural race and attract a smaller audience. But none of that matters right now. The only thing that does is in a small way, NASCAR racing – even in a virtual world – can bring a little distraction and entertainment into lives.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.