Friday, 19 July 2019 15:14

COLUMN: Bring back the Rock — virtually

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With talks of NASCAR changing up its Monster Energy Cup Series schedule in 2021, fans have been buzzing about the sport bringing back tracks from the past. Perhaps at the very top of that list for many, including here in Richmond County, is Rockingham Speedway.

But with recent comments from NASCAR President Steve Phelps about “wholesale changes” not happening, and Rockingham Speedway owners saying they’re “not quite ready for primetime,” The Rock may have to take a backseat for a little longer than we all have anticipated and hoped for.

But why wait years to bring NASCAR back to the 45-year-old facility when it can be done now — virtually?

NASCAR doesn’t just sanction real-world motorsports series. There is also an eSport: The eNASCAR Peak Antifreeze iRacing Series. And it’s pretty close to the real thing.

iRacing is a racing simulator for NASCAR, Indy Car, ISMA, and even dirt racing series that is nothing like a video game. It is simulating driving a real race car, except you are probably much more comfortable than the guys on Sundays.

NASCAR started the virtual series a few years ago with real-life drivers competing in Cup Series cars at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks. It’s a shorter schedule and though the drivers do not have the stardom that the Cup regulars do, some have got their start in this simulation.

William Byron, driver of the legendary 24 car in the Cup Series, came out of sim racing as a teenager and is now competing at the top level for one of the best teams. Drivers in the Cup Series today even use these sims at their team facilities to practice for upcoming races and drivers in the lower series use it to prepare themselves for the next step.

So if one of the reasons NASCAR cannot come back to Rockingham is due to the conditions of the speedway, why not bring it into the eSport Series? The track is already on iRacing and has been scanned with lasers to be just like the Rockingham we all know and love. The current track in the sim is based off of when the Gander Outdoor Truck Series (called the Camping World Tuck Series at the time) raced in 2012 and 2013.

And why stop with Rockingham when you could add other historic tracks to the series? North Wilkesboro and Nashville have also been atop the lists of fans to bring back to NASCAR.

Obviously, this won’t nearly be the same for viewers than it is in real life. For one, you cannot attend the race and get that race-day experience. You also have to go to YouTube to be able to watch it rather than flip on your TV to a sports network channel, and you will likely not recognize any names in the series if you only follow the Cup drivers.

But the positives are that NASCAR and The Rock are back together, you can virtually watch the race for free over YouTube rather than pay for a cable subscription and perhaps you may come across an up- and-coming driver that will find his or her way to the big leagues one day. The next Jimmie Johnson could be out there on a simulator for all we know.

Of course, there would have to be deals made between NASCAR and the owners of all of these decommissioned tracks to make it happen, but one would think this way is much easier and nowhere near as expensive to do. And perhaps this could even snowball into bringing these tracks back in real life as popularity increases.

And having these older tracks would benefit the iRacing series because the appeal would be that these guys are racing on different and unique tracks as compared to the same old tracks we see on a regular basis. Since they use the Cup cars, it would make for much more interesting racing at these tracks that have never had the gen 6 models race there (or even the future gen 7).

We have no idea when NASCAR racing can return to The Rock in real life, but we can bring it back virtually.


Russell Parker is executive producer of Live at 5, co-host of the ROSS Racing show, and a racing fan.


Last modified on Friday, 19 July 2019 19:44