Texas Virtual Speedway — March 27, 2020
While the rest of the sports world must rebroadcast previously recorded events, NASCAR is airing the only live sporting competition this weekend. If you missed last week’s Dixie Vodka 150 from the Homestead-Miami Virtual Speedway, this is must-see TV for race fans.
Watching a video game on television is not as much fun as viewing the real thing. But, considering the circumstances, it is a great diversion to endless sports reruns. Fox Network’s broadcast last Sunday was a huge rating success with fans and drivers alike talking about how they enjoyed the virtual race.
Veteran NASCAR announcers Mike Joy, Jeff Gordon, and Larry McReynolds provided commentary. The video quality was exceptional, the sense of competition was real. The atmosphere was casual and entertaining. Denny Hamlin outdueled Dale Earnhardt Jr. to capture the win in an exciting finish.
It was interesting to watch as some of the sport’s greatest stars struggled to adapt to the nuances of digital racing. The only injuries suffered were to driver’s pride as virtual race cars repair themselves at the push of a button.
Tune in Sunday at 1:00 pm on Fox for this weeks race and enjoy the real competition of virtual racing. Are the driver’s taking this seriously? Clint Bowyer was featured as a live in-race reporter during the Homestead race, here is what he had to say about in a virtual press conference prior to this week’s race.
Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers Ford Mustang, was part of a special NASCAR teleconference to talk about this weekend’s eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series event from the virtual Texas Motor Speedway. (Transcript provided by Ford Performance.)
CLINT BOWYER, No. 14 Rush Truck Centers Ford Mustang – CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW FUN iRACING HAS BEEN? “Yeah, what a wonderful opportunity for the sport, for racing in general. iRacing has been around a long time and it’s just something that keeps evolving and they’ve perfected. Man, the timing couldn’t have been any more right for a perfect storm situation. Here we all are, just longing for some sports action, some competitive action that we can broadcast and show a fan and, boom, here it is in our lap. It was a great race last week at Homestead. I mean, you want to talk about a perfect storm, Dale Jr. taking the lead and Denny Hamlin passing him literally in the last corner of the race was just incredibly awesome. I can’t wait to get it going on again this time on the big brother station. We’re gonna put it on the network on Fox. I can’t wait for that and can’t wait for the viewership and everything else. The opportunities that Fox has created for all of it, they took a chance. They didn’t exactly probably know everything about iRacing and jumped in the deep end and it worked and it’s gonna be even bigger and better this Sunday at 1 o’clock. I cannot wait.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT DENNY HAMLIN’S ROLE IN THIS AND PULLING GUYS TOGETHER? “Certainly, he’s one of the contributing factors. I would say the force behind it all, and he doesn’t want any recognition, but it would be Dale Jr. He’s been the voice behind this the whole time. He’s the one that literally each and every night jumps on and runs around and asks people, ‘Hey, do you want to follow me and get the hang of it?’ So many different things. After a race, he’s calling and asking if anybody needs any help or what they can do. I would definitely say that Dale Jr. was, if anybody deserves credit, it would probably be him. Obviously, Denny winning the race last week was huge. It would probably have been even more huge if Dale Jr. could have won, but nonetheless what a race it was. I literally wrecked my car watching the screen because in the broadcast studio I had obviously my sim rig there, but on the wall, I had a big screen to where I could watch the broadcast as well and I was kind of down and out as was a lot of guys trying to figure this thing out for the first time and I caught myself just not even paying attention and watching the end to see who was gonna win. It’s like, who would have ever thought that this would have become a reality and then on our televisions, and then even more so who would have ever thought that it would have created a situation that had us all jumping up and down on the edge of our seats. It’s an incredible opportunity for all of us to try to bridge the gap right here while we all wait to get back on the race track. I couldn’t be happier. I was extremely happy for our industry, happy for everybody involved, all parties involved, whether it was iRacing, NASCAR, Fox that provides us all this entertainment. Everybody is in this together. Everybody is struggling through these times. Our partners, each and every partner, every sponsor within the industry of NASCAR, everybody had an opportunity to be seen on Sunday because of this situation and being aired on Fox. It’s gonna be even bigger this weekend. We all learned. That was the guinea pig, right? We took a chance and everybody buckled down and did the best they could, and it had a little bit of everything. It was super-competitive. It was still light-hearted and fun. I think it was the perfect atmosphere for the situation and I think Fox seeing the viewership and getting more involved and excited about it, putting it on the old big brother station, going to the network is going to be even bigger for everybody – again, all parties involved – whether it’s the industry of NASCAR, a driver and his brand, and all of his partners that back him. This is all an opportunity to create some exposure for all of us until we get back on the race track in front of our fans.”
ARE YOU PRACTICING A LOT? “As much as I can. I haven’t been able to jump on as much this week as I did last week, but I got on – man, this is the weirdest thing about this quarantine, what day is it? (laughing). I think it’s Thursday, so I was on there Tuesday night. I jumped on after I put the kids to bed and that’s the thing everybody is different, everybody has different lives that they lead. For me, I owe it to my family to try to keep the kids entertained, keep my wife sane. She’s got three kids, I only have two – try to keep them entertained until they go to bed and then I went over and jumped on and I’ll be damned if I didn’t go to the top of the board and was pretty happy about my speed. I had a heck of a race with Parker Kligerman, again a guy that you look for. There are certain guys when you get on in any given week, whether it’s the day or the evening, that you look for because you know that they’ve got the experience and track time and seat time in the sim and on iRacing, and those guys showed up last week. A Parker Kligerman, that Garrett Smithley kid, I was following him and trying to learn as much as I could from him. Timmy Hill, I mean these are all guys that have a ton of experience. William Byron, Alex Bowman, Denny Hamlin, Dale Jr., when they get on the race track, trust me, you need to get out there with them and learn as much as you can, follow them and everything else. But that’s what’s cool because we’re all in this together. We all need it to go. We all know that we need it to be a great thing for everybody involved and that’s why we’re all trying to help each other out to make it as good as possible.”
DO YOU THINK THE COMPETITION LEVEL WILL BE RAISED THIS WEEK COMPARED TO LAST? “They’re certainly all across the board. Everybody always asks over the years, ‘What do you do to stay in shape to be a race car driver?’ And I’ve always said this, I grew up racing motocross and I think the best thing you can possibly do for any given sport is to do it. There’s nothing that replaces seat time when you’re racing cars against your peers and the competition that we see at the Cup level. It was the same way when I raced dirt modifieds in the Midwest. The more you did it, the better you were. Trust me, these iRacing guys it’s no different. It reminds me of a rookie coming into the Cup Series. You’re up against guys who have been doing it for years, decades, and you’re expected to jump right into the deep end and compete with them and run door-to-door with them and beat them. The pressure is on for all of us to gain that almighty seat time as much as we can. In the meantime, during these evenings and during the day, whenever you can jump on it, we’re all doing it. The neatest thing about iRacing is you can get on there and kind of see how many laps or how many hours people have logged and it’s pretty staggering to see the dedication that some of my peers have been putting into this because it’s such a big deal.”
DO YOU THINK THIS IS A WAY FOR PEOPLE TO GET THAT SAME RACING FEEL BY WATCHING OR COMPETING IN THIS KIND OF SPORT? “Absolutely. There’s no question. It was almost like this was in preparation over the last decade for this very moment. iRacing has been around a long time. We’ve mentioned it. Everybody knows that Denny, Dale Jr., all these guys have been doing this for a long time. That time is now. iRacing has perfected the thing. The production is good. The camera angles are good. They have their own series. You have to understand that. Their series races each and every week just like ours does. I mean, it’s awesome to watch some of these races. If you think we’re good? We’re terrible. You ought to watch some of these iRacing guys that do this each and every week. They’re literally professionals and we all have them now, whether it be our organization – Stewart-Haas, Gibbs, Hendrick – we all have our drivers who represent us. Heck, my dirt team, Bowyer Dirt, has two drivers that drive for us and compete in this series. This series was perfected for this very moment, so it’s just the perfect storm and it comes at a great time where everybody is quarantined, there’s not much to do. Heck, if you can’t get a simulator yourself, you can certainly watch one heck of a race. Last weekend, you couldn’t ask for a better race. I’m telling you right now, it’s a struggle to put that good of an ending and a finish on a race in real life. That’s how realistic this thing is.”
HOW SIMILAR DO YOU FEEL SIM RACING IS TO THE REAL CAR, AND HOW MUCH DOES IT HELP DURING THIS TIME LIVING ON A FARM AS YOU DO? “First of all, it is extremely realistic. The difference between all of this is with iRacing you’re using the same mechanics, the same forces, the same movements as you use in real life to make your car go fast and that is your hand-eye coordination, your feet. You drive these things so much with the pedals, with the gas, the brake, the steering input. All of those inputs in your mind are the exact same thing and the same tools we use to put your car to the front of the field on any given Sunday. That being said, the only sense that you don’ t have in a simulator is the feel from the seat of your pants. We kind of call it the butt dyno. You balance a race car kind of like if you put a plate on the end of an ink pen. That’s how you balance a race car. That thing wants to go on all four different axis’, whether it’s the right-front, left-front, right-rear, left-rear, you can feel all those things and that’s how you balance a car is through the seat of your pants. In iRacing, you don’t have that. All you have is your visuals, so once you have the hang of that and your mind finally catches on its kind of like riding a bike. It’s a struggle for a little while, but once you catch on to that and realize what’s going on with the movements of your car and the movements of the track and things like that – when to pick up the gas, your timing – once you get all that set it’s exactly like what we do in real life. That being said, the second part of your question, quarantine, man, we’re all in this together. Obviously, I’m fortunate enough to have a farm, but there’s no amount of acreage, no size of a house that makes it pleasant for anybody. We’re all in this together. We have to keep in mind we’re protecting the people that have paved the way and made it possible for us to even be here – our very existence, our freedoms, everything. That’s who we’re trying to protect, one another, looking out for one another. Quarantine, if I have to do that for a month, it’s worth it and I’m signed up and we’re in this together just like everybody else. The neat thing about all of this is there is something that came along called iRacing and we’re all able to give me something else to do. Everybody knows, man, I think I’ve got massive amounts of ADD. I’ve never been diagnosed with it, but I’d say I’ve got plenty of it. If anybody knows me, they probably understand that and agree, so iRacing for me is the perfect getaway under this quarantine and certainly, for a fan on Sunday it’s gonna be even better.”
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO BE ABLE TO TALK TO YOUR COMPETITORS IN iRACING AND WHAT WOULD IT BE LIKE IF YOU COULD DO THAT IN YOUR REAL CAR? “If we could talk to each other like we do on iRacing, it depends on what happens (laughing). If you crashed, it would be pretty epic. I would say that Radioactive on Tuesdays when it comes out I would say that would be even bigger and a better show, but that’s something that’s unique to iRacing and a lot of fun. Because of the seriousness of it. I mean, is it serious? Absolutely. Do I want to win? You darn right. I want to beat these guys something terrible bad – huge bragging rights and not to mention this thing, look at the viewership. I want to win this thing not only for myself but everybody involved, iRacing and everything else. I mean, Denny Hamlin, he had an interview on SportsCenter for crying out loud. Everybody wants a piece of this thing, so I want to win for my partners and myself, everybody involved. I’m super-excited about Sunday and the biggest thing about me doing the broadcast is I can’t hear what those guys are saying in there. The only thing I can hear is Jeff and Mike Joy and the producer, Mark, in my ear. I’m listening to the broadcast and trying to chime in and add as much as I can from the seat of the car from my perspective. I can see on the board that like Dale Jr. chimed in, Bubba Wallace when he wrecked, Chase Elliott. I could see that he chimed in and said something because when you hit push-to-talk it puts your domain up there, but I didn’t know what they said or anything else. That was one thing that I was hoping that I could see and it just isn’t that way, but, man, this thing is bigger than any one person. It’s an opportunity for our industry and that’s why I didn’t care about any of the small things, just trying to make the most of it for everybody involved, any driver, any partner, any manufacturer. I mean, we’re all in this thing together and we’re trying to make some entertainment and some value for our fans, so that’s what it’s all about.”
WILL THERE BE LESS PATIENCE FOR SOME OF THE FUN STUFF LIKE WHAT BOWMAN DID WITH HIS DOG? WILL IT BE MORE SERIOUS? “First of all, Alex Bowman and that, that was clearly not the situation. His dog wasn’t driving that car. It was funny. It was great. A guy like Alex Bowman has iRaced a long time and he knew there was a window there that he could do that. That’s something that, again, as we were learning that we didn’t know that. We didn’t know any different than a fan. The cautions, if there’s one glitch right now that we have is the inability to just say green next time by. It’s part of the format. It’s in I guess the software or whatever, that’s iRacing. They can take one away, in other words, if we’re still in a commercial break, they can go one more lap, but they can’t take one away. The can add a lap, but they can’t take one away. That’s something they’re working on, but, right now, it is what it is, so that’s an opportunity to have some fun. It gives an opportunity for Jeff and Mike in the booth to answer some Twitter questions. This thing, again, is it serious? Hell yes, it’s serious. Did you see the viewership? One million viewers. I want to win this thing big-time for myself, for my partners, for everybody. You want to be the man in front of a million viewers. You start putting it on the big brother station over there on the network, airing on Fox, this is gonna be even bigger this weekend. Everybody is practicing big-time. If you question that, all you’ve got to do is get on iRacing each and every evening, during the day, it doesn’t matter what time of day it is, you get on there, log on, and there will be people on Texas racing and practicing for this weekend. So it would be an understatement to think that it’s not serious, but that being said, I think it needs to be entertaining. We’re all quarantined. Everybody is looking for some entertainment. Certainly, the racing aspect was alive with Dale Jr. and Denny coming down to the wire, the last corner pass. That’s a tall order to ask in real life. That was one hell of a race. In fact, I wrecked my car at the end of the race because I was watching the TV on the wall of the finish to see who was gonna win the thing. I was kind of limping around in 16th place and wasn’t gonna win anyway. I was watching the race because I could hear Gordon and Mike Joy in the booth going through the roof. I was like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ So I look over and watching this thing and run right into the wall. That being said, it needs to have some fun, some light-heartedness too. I think there’s room for everybody. I think it’s a wonderful thing. I hope that you enjoyed it and I think the fans did. Obviously, the ratings showed that, but, again, just a perfect storm to bridge this gap until we get back on the race track. I think it’s a great thing for everybody.”
WERE YOU SURPRISED BY THE REACTION OF HOW BIG THIS HAS BLOWN UP? “No, absolutely not. You look and it’s the perfect storm. It’s as if iRacing had been started and built 15 years ago for this very moment, for this very situation. The iRacing itself, I’ve watched these races and the series races. We all have professional drivers that drive for us. I have drivers that run in the series with my Bowyer Dirt brand, and Denny does, all my peers, the manufacturers do, the organizations do. Stewart-Haas has a team. Everybody has teams that compete week in and week out in their series. Production-wise, I’ve known that it was good and it keeps getting better. The camera angles, everything, it’s pretty damn realistic and pretty damn good, so it didn’t surprise me one bit. I think this weekend will be even bigger.”
HOW SENSITIVE IS THE SOFTWARE IN TERMS OF MAKING CHANGES TO THE CAR AND HOW DO YOU COMPENSATE FOR NOT HAVING THE PHYSICAL FEEL FOR THE ELEMENTS? “Let’s start with that. You do hear all of that in the simulator. The only one you don’t have is the seat of your pants, the feel. That’s the one that you have to teach your mind to learn. Everything is visual and it’s no different than the simulators, the big simulators, the high dollar simulators that all of the manufacturers have, that everybody goes and works on our setups for any given weekend. That’s where this thing has evolved. Everybody – F1, NASCAR – everybody evolves and betters their program in the simulation at any manufacturer, whether it’s Ford, Chevy, Toyota, they all have them. I’ve been with all of them and I’ve been in every single one of them working on my setups for any given race track any given weekend. That being said, you have to teach yourself the sense of visual because you can’t feel that car sliding out from underneath of you with the old butt dyno as they say. Once you get that learned and you teach yourself it’s just like riding a bike it becomes natural and then it’s all your same tools. You’re holding the steering wheel, you’re pushing the gas and trying to stay off the brake, but your mind is telling you you need the brake. Within the race, the only thing that I do like about it is it kind of reminds you of the old IROC series in the sense of all the setups are the same. It’s a common setup, which knowing what I know of iRacing, is a good thing. If everybody was all across the board and this is why you have professional iRacing guys that are helping all of us, whether it’s me, Denny, Dale Jr., anybody, experience levels are all over the place. If you opened up the setups it wouldn’t be a good race. This has got us all bunched up in great racing. The other good thing about iRacing is it doesn’t know air. That’s the one thing that’s not realistic but is even better than what we have. Our cars, you have that aero tight, you have clean air, all of that stuff is so much more important in real life. This, the only thing you have, which, again, in my opinion, is even better than what we have, is the tire fall off. You can make those tires mad and what that means is you lean on that thing and pull on that wheel and make that car tight, drive a push into it, it keeps building temperature in the right-front, it keeps getting tighter and tighter and tighter, you didn’t do a good job managing your tires. Managing your tires is what it’s all about. It’s what it was all about at Homestead, and then everything I’ve practiced at Texas it’s what it’s all about there. You’ve got to keep your car neutral throughout a run and if you do that, you’ll drive up through them no matter where you’re at, so in some areas, I think it’s even better than what we have and in some areas, obviously, it’s a little bit different. It is what it is. It’s the best we have, which is a hell of a lot better than any other sport right now.”
WOULD YOU LIKE TO DO THIS ON A ROAD COURSE? “Actually, it was the first thing that I said. So everybody gets on and you’re not only racing like what we have at Texas with my peers, I like racing other things. That’s what I love about iRacing and the thing that’s a challenge right now for me. For the most part, all of my peers and stuff didn’t come from a dirt background, so when they get on iRacing they race what they know – Cup racing and asphalt. I came from a dirt background. When I got on iRacing or get on iRacing I do not want to race what I do week in and week out on any given Sunday. I want to get on there and have the ability because of iRacing to race a sprint car, to race a late model on dirt, a modified, a street stock for crying out loud – how I started in this sport, and F1 car, and Indy car, trucks, a Rally car – every different kind of race car, a USAC midget, on all of these different race tracks and feel what those are like and, for the most part, it’s extremely realistic and gives you a taste of what it is like. I mean, we’ve seen so many guys, I witnessed it first hand, there was this 16-year-old kid that won the late model championship last year in iRacing. I have a two-seat late model and part of our iRacing program that sponsors my car is whoever the champion is comes to Charlotte, we go over to the Dirt Track, I put him in, run him a couple of laps, and they get to run the real thing. This kid wasn’t even old enough to drive, never drove anything before, didn’t jump in with the old dad and get in a parking lot and drive, never drove, never drove a stick, never drove anything. He got in this race car because of iRacing, because of his background, and I mean within three laps was ripping laps within tenths of what I could do. It was super-impressive and really opened my eyes to the realistic values of iRacing.”
HOW MUCH EXPERIENCE DO YOU HAVE IN VIDEO GAMES IN GENERAL? “I don’t. I’m not a gamer. To be honest with you, I’ve always made fun of gamers. I mean, I could tell you going over to my brother’s house and there he was sitting in the basement, he’s got a headset on, he’s talking to some maniac who knows where. I think he was playing that Fortnite game or whatever the hell that is, and I’m like, ‘What in the hell is wrong with you?’ And I’ll be darned here I am the other night at 2:30 in the morning in one hell of a street stock race with a bunch of my buddies, got a headset on, we’re on the mic, we’re talking. I had a blast and I’m telling you I drove my rear off. It was unbelievable how challenging it was to get that car around the race track and, more than that, keep it going around the race track for a long time.”
WHAT MAKES A GOOD iRACING DRIVER? “Seat time, no different than what makes a good race car driver. You cannot beat experience and it’s no different on iRacing.”
IS THERE ONE SKILL YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU NEEDED? “No. Again, we all watched the seven-time champion in Jimmie Johnson struggled last week, but I will say this, in all fairness, what he tried to accomplish last week was pretty much impossible. I mean, he came in and within an hour or two signed up and tried to run, so much that we were having trouble getting him on the thing just to compete, let alone try to figure out how to race. Trust me, from what I’ve seen already of his practice time and his effort his week, I think he will be way better.”
DO YOU THINK THIS iRACING WILL APPEAL TO THE YOUNGER DEMOGRAPHIC NASCAR IS TRYING TO PULL IN? “I think. Here’s the thing, it’s sad in today’s day and age of how many people try to pick apart everything. You’re sitting here watching our government and all the officials try to figure out how to help us all. I pray for everybody. Those guys, they’re standing there and they’ve got a pretty terrible hand of cards and they’re trying to figure out how to play it as good as possible for all of us. This being no different. We’re all in this together. We’re all quarantined. It’s almost as if the iRacing thing had been built and designed in the past for this very moment. I think it’s a perfect bridge to gap this situation we’re all in. It’s entertainment. Is it real? No, it’s not. It’s virtual, but it’s what we have and I’m telling you right now it provided entertainment that literally had you jumping up and down and on the edge of your seat at the end of that race. I had so many people call and tell me, A, first and foremost, I can’t tell you how many people are on Twitter saying, ‘Man, it took me a lap or two to figure out that that wasn’t real.’ That’s how realistic the production is, how realistic it is in the cars driving them. These things are arguable sometimes harder to drive than our cars. It is extremely challenging to run these cars as fast as we were, as close as we were all across throughout that 100-lap race. Can it be better? Of course. Is it good enough? You’re damn right. I think it is and I think the viewership showcased that.”
DO YOU SEE NASCAR ADDING A FOURTH NATIONAL SERIES WITH THIS? “They already have that. iRacing has a series that races every week and it’s extremely competitive, it’s extremely entertaining. You think our deal was entertaining, you ought to see these guys that do this for a living. We all have teams that race. I have my Bowyer Dirt brand that has drivers that drive for us. Stewart-Haas has drivers. Denny has drivers. Dale Jr. has drivers. William Byron and Alex Bowman, I saw that Garrett Smithley kid and Timmy Hill, one of those two had like 600 iRacing wins. This has been going on for a long time. This is no just show up and try to make the best of it. It’s evolved over time and it keeps getting better and better and it’s gotten so good that it creates an opportunity for our industry to put on a good show for our fans to bridge this gap.”
COULD YOU PUT IT ON TV ALL THE TIME? “It’s been online. Every race, every week is that way. You need to watch some of those series and follow them. It’s extremely entertaining and very, very competitive.”
HOW COMPETITIVE ARE YOU GUYS AGAINST EACH OTHER? “It’s just racing, man. It’s the mentality. Everybody says a football player, he doesn’t want to lose either, but racers are just different. Racers have always somehow someway been at the race track. When all odds are against them racers figure it out. I can tell you, there’s not a racer in existence that ever meets a budget. It’s always over budget. It’s whatever it takes to be competitive to be at the race track and to win races at whatever cost, and they always seem to figure it out. It’s always been that way.”
WHAT ELSE HAVE YOU BEEN DOING DURING THIS DOWNTIME? “Just trying to keep the kids sane, trying to keep my wife sane, trying to help her. We’re all in this together. Everybody is doing the same thing. There’s no magic button to push. There’s no secret ingredient. We’re quarantined. It does suck. It sucks for everybody, but we’re doing this for a reason, we’re trying to protect one another and trying to keep everybody alive and healthy, and doing what our president and the government asks us to do. This is the right step. It is extremely damaging to everybody anywhere you look, you feel bad for restaurant owners, business owners, everything, but we’re gonna get through this. We’re all longing for something to do and, boom, here comes this iRacing thing right in our lap. It has been there for a long time and it’s almost as if it was built and formed for this very moment. I cannot wait to get back on the track this Sunday and continue to sell our sport and it’s a different way, it’s a different model, but it’s still racing, it’s still extremely competitive, it’s still exposure beyond belief, it still shows the strength of our fan base. You can’t lose sight of that. We had one million viewers on FS1 last week with something that had never even been tried before. Yes, obviously, everybody is at home, it’s a perfect storm, nothing else to do, but it was so big that Fox took the chance again and put it on the big boy station, on the network. It’s gonna be on Fox this weekend and it’s gonna be bigger and better than its ever been. We’ve learned a lot. I literally watched Jeff Gordon, Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds sit in a production meeting with iRacing, with Fox officials in a matter of an hour, maybe two hours, and write every note, ask every question they knew to ask, learned as much as they possibly could to try to make this a production. I think they did a hell of a job. I’m not kidding. They learned about what you saw last Sunday within an hour or two and nailed it, and I think they’ll be even better this week having a race under their belts.”