Snydersville Raceway was scheduled to wave the green flag on its season on Saturday.
Thanks to the now-too-familiar COVID-19 pandemic, the eighth-mile dirt track’s De-Icer racing event is canceled.
But Alex Greenzweig, promoter of the facility, didn’t want competitors or fans stuck idling. So he took a page out of NASCAR’s book – hold an iRacing event.
After iRacing got a massive boost when real NASCAR stars participating in the inaugural eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series event on the simulator at a virtual iteration of Homestead-Miami Speedway, Greenzweig decided to plan a virtual race in place of Saturday’s cancellation.
It may be computerized, but simulated racing is the closest anyone has to the real thing right now. And from the local ranks in Stroudsburg to the national high banks of Homestead, all racers want a place to race.
Keeping the racing community together
Those in racing know how communal the sport can be.
Today, that community is rallying together from the comfort of their own homes while the country tries to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
NASCAR’s iRacing event on March 21 may have been a virtual exhibition, but the small sense of normalcy, if only for a two-hour window on FS1, proved critical for fans, drivers and media members alike.
Steve Myers, executive vice president and executive producer of iRacing, said his favorite part was reading the social media posts from typical detractors of virtual racing and video games and seeing them come around and watch for a day.
"It made the long hours and impossible odds of pulling this all off, it made it all worth it," Myers said. "Because it doesn’t even matter if those people ever even come to our website. The fact that we presented even a little sense of normalcy and some entertainment and some fun for them for two hours meant the world to everybody."
The community atmosphere hits home for Greenzweig at Snydersville Raceway, where many returning and new drivers were scheduled to hit a new clay surface this weekend.
"It’s not really a community; it’s a racing family," Greenzweig said. "Whether we are miles apart or it’s our next-door neighbor or somebody across the country, we’re all one. And our main goal in racing is to support each other."
What makes iRacing so special?
Denny Hamlin earned his third Daytona 500 victory in February. About a month later, he was racing for yet another win, this time alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr., side by side off the final corner before edging Earnhardt at the line.
The cars, track, pit stops – all simulated. But the driver inputs were all real.
That is, in part, what Hamlin believes separates iRacing from sports video games.While a basketball player cannot work on their actual shot by jumping on NBA 2K, and a quarterback can’t perfect their passing motion in Madden NFL, drivers are using steering wheels and pedals to input controls, some in elaborate rigs like Hamlin’s $40,000 computer cockpit, others with a laptop, chair and wooden desk to mount their wheel.
"This is something that really can gain a lot of traction simply because it's as real as it gets," Hamlin said. "I'm excited that this was just a first step and hopefully something that builds for years and years to come."
Thanks to the level of immersion in the sim, Myers echoed how the program mirrors reality more and more since launching in 2008.
"It’s the details. We don’t compromise," Myers said. "We laser-scan the tracks. We work directly with the manufacturers and the race teams. And we’ve been doing this long enough that we’ve built a reputation that people want to work with us because they know that we’re going to put every effort we can to make it as authentic as possible, which in turn becomes a tool for their drivers and for their fans of their sport, their series or a particular car."
Hamlin earned his first two NASCAR Cup Series victories at Pocono Raceway as a rookie in 2006 and credited iRacing’s predecessor, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, for his success.
"I basically didn't know anything about Pocono," Hamlin admitted. "I went and got on NASCAR Racing 2003 and started running Pocono and I saw the billboards and I was like, all right, well, this is my let-off point. And when I got out there in the real world, I saw the same billboards and the saw the same caution lights in the same place, so it just helped me be familiar with my surroundings even though I was there for the first time."
That realism has only bettered through iRacing, Hamlin said, as he is still able to apply knowledge from the simulator to the cockpit of his No. 11 FedEx Toyota.
"The way that I qualify like on mile-and-a-halfs is a technique I learned through iRacing, there's no doubt about it," Hamlin said. "I take that to the real world. I think it works. I'm not the best qualifier in the world, but I think I've gotten my fair share of poles simply because it's all about how do you keep the momentum going, especially in today's world where you've got the 550-horsepower package on these big tracks. Like it drives so similar to iRacing."
After becoming the most watched eSports event in United States television history with its debut, he eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series is scheduled to continue on Fox and FS1 throughout the indefinite hiatus, featuring NASCAR drivers from the sport’s top three series, with the series mimicking the true Cup Series schedule.
The next iRacing event is set for Sunday at 1 p.m.
Connecting at home
At Snydersville Raceway, Greenzweig saw the cancellation of the De-Icer as an opportunity to connect.
An avid iRacer since 2012, as well as a go-kart racer at Oreville Speedway, Greenzweig realized quickly he could host an iRacing event for the track virtually, even if Snydersville isn’t scanned into the simulator.
Karts, champ karts, microstocks, slingshots, sportsman modifieds and quarter midgets usually sling dirt at Snydersville.
For Friday’s event, titled the iRacing COVID Cure 50, entrants will use dirt street stock cars around the virtual Lanier National Dirt Track. Greenzweig said 70 people have already registered for the track’s inaugural iRacing endeavor.
"People are going stir-crazy, as I’m going to say, so this is a good way to get everybody together that wants to do some racing."
Competitors, who range from real drivers to fans to officials, are encouraged to just have fun.
"There’s no money, there’s no prize," Greenzweig said. "Just have a good time. Do some racing and race like we were running on our normal schedule even though we’re going to be sitting at home running a completely different car than what we normally run."
The National Racing Network will broadcast the event through a Facebook livestream, which can also be found through Snydersville Raceway’s Facebook page.