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Thursday, February 29, 2024

NASCAR and the Importance of Esports

From iRacing to NASCAR Heat, esports have helped drivers and sponsor alike.

iRacing is even featured on NASCAR.com (Image via NASCAR.com)

Since 1996, NASCAR has explored technologies and put gaming ideas onto the market. With racing games such as NASCAR Thunder, Chase for the Cup, Total Team Control and NASCAR Heat Evolution, players everywhere are able to play head-to-head and online.

However, simulation games have shifted the tide in the gaming community. These games allow users to simulate real environments and advance in rankings. iRacing, NASCAR’s eSport’s licensee through the PEAK Antifreeze Series is no different, but has taken off exponentially since its initial creation in 2004.

“Esports is somewhat a misnomer,” said Blake Davidson, Vice President of Licensing at NASCAR, “With iRacing, one gets the real experience first hand of the sport.”

A true innovation like no other, iRacing has set the bar.

“iRacing was designed to be the ultimate esports platform,” said iRacing’s Director of Sales and Marketing, Otto Szebeni. “The business model was to create the most precise model for the public with millimeter accuracy.”

It branches the broad audience between the simulation racer and gamer.

iRacing allows racing enthusiasts and even sanctioned drivers across multiple racing series’ to compete in modes such as dirt racing, sports car racing, NASCAR and IndyCar among others.

The product is all online and relatively inexpensive, warranting a steering wheel and appropriate software. Users are able to simulate the real racing experience, develop skills, earn bragging rights and even compete for cash.

Image via YouTube

iRacing’s momentum picked up rapidly in 2010 as it partnered with NASCAR. Since then, they have never looked back.

“When you partner with people with larger reach, everyone can promote. NASCAR has been great through seven years.” -Otto Szebeni, iRacing.

“NASCAR is the pinnacle and highest quality of racing in the US,” said Szebeni, “You always want to partner with the best. For us it just made sense. It adds a lot of credibility to iRacing.”

iRacing’s NASCAR partnership features all three top series’: the Camping World Truck Series, Xfinity Series and Monster Energy Cup Series. Each sanctioned racetrack used on the real circuit is included with its individual idiosyncrasies that add to realism and uniqueness.

“[We are] working very hard with NASCAR, talking with teams and partners. A lot is getting people to understand what you do, and we have the complete platform on motorsports.”

PEAK Antifreeze, an official NASCAR partner since 2016 realized the mammoth branding opportunity in simulation. PEAK has claimed sponsorship of the sanctioned NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series — the most elite, World Championship series.

Szebeni says many NASCAR followers are do-it-yourself guys that understand Peak’s brand. iRacing also understands PEAK’s presence — “Peak is finding value in the new platform.”

But, without credibility, the expansive processes would be much tougher.

“[It’s] important to get real world sponsor that legitimizes what you are doing,” added Szebeni. “They wanted to get through the noise, and there are so many ways to reach people.”

Szebeni also added “It’s all about reaching people outside your sphere of influence.”

The gaming notion has been broken and replaced as a playground for virtual reality and skill enhancement.

“There are actual teams that analyze real information in the game about tire wear, aerodynamics with spotters and crew chiefs making the calls.”

Processes as such and experience directly translate to real world talent such as future Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron who essentially began his career behind the screen.

Byron, with the help of money made his racing worth on iRacing as he caught the eyes of real race team owners. Since, Byron has won seven Truck Series races in 2016 plus three Xfinity Series races in 2017.

The 19-year-old will join Hendrick Motorsports driving the №24 Chevrolet with teammates Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman in 2018.

However, iRacing isn’t the only gaming experience for NASCAR fans. NASCAR Heat Evolution 2 was released in September as a NextGen console game aimed at getting the fun of NASCAR into anyone’s hands.

Next Generation console game footage of NASCAR Heat Evolution 2. (Image via Polygon)

“It’s like night and day from NASCAR Heat [1],” said Davidson comparing NASCAR’s 2016 game. “NASCAR Heat laid the foundation.” NASCAR Heat Evolution 2, produced by 704 Games features 40 car online play and a revamped multiplayer experience.

The largest change in play however revolved around the inclusion of the Truck and Xfinity Series’. Players can now run the ranks and excel in a realistically modeled career.

The inclusions bring back the old school NASCAR video game style of moving up.

“The overall experience is richer,” added Davidson, “Adding the Truck Series and Xfinity Series certainly adds a deeper career.”

This piece has been presented to you by SMU’s Master of Science in Sport Management.

Front Office Sports is a leading multi-platform publication and industry resource that covers the intersection of business and sports.

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