NASCAR, like a number of other corporations keen on attracting a younger audience, thinks e-sports could be a successful tactic. Two different bodies within the stock car racing association are separately developing e-sports championships that aim to commence this year, one of them perhaps in time for the season-opening Daytona 500 on February 18.
In early January, Sports Business Daily reported that Blake Davidson, the sanctioning body's VP of licensing and consumer products, was working on an e-sports championship that would take place at tracks during race weekends. Tournament players could choose to play in either NASCAR Heat 2, a more casual, entry-level racing game for the Xbox and Playstation, or opt for the deep-end seriousness of iRacing. Overhauled tracks like Las Vegas Motor Speedway might use their own screening areas to host virtual racing events, but it's more likely that specially equipped trucks would travel between tracks.
As a work in progress, it isn't yet clear how many tracks will host events, but International Speedway Corp and Speedway Motorsports Inc., which together own 20 NASCAR tracks, had signed on to the campaign. Involvement by the three independents, including Indianapolis Motor Speedway, isn't clear. Nor are we clear on details like how the championship and payouts would work. NASCAR hasn't announced a start date yet, but the digital flag could drop before the season.
Three weeks after revealing Davidson's work, Sports Business Daily reported that Rob Kauffman, chairman of the Race Team Alliance and co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing, was working with iRacing on a separate, team-based e-sports championship. Targeting far more skilled entrants, teams would draft racers to compete in team-liveried cars, each driver competing for some share of a six-figure purse. Races would take place either during the week or perhaps on weekends, and be streamed online. As a team-backed initiative, this RTA push has a likely shot at getting the pro drivers involved.
NASCAR's might appear to be a latecomer to gaming and big virtual events, but the sport sanctioned Bill Elliot's NASCAR Challenge PC and console game in 1990, and 1993's NASCAR-like Daytona USA is one of the highest-grossing games of all time. Pro drivers used NASCAR Racing 2003 Season to train for tracks, iRacing itself was founded on the base code for that video game, and NASCAR and iRacing collaborated on the NASCAR Peak Antifreeze Series Powered by iRacing.com in 2010. The 2017 Xfinity Series champion William Byron got his start on iRacing, and at 19 years old is now a rookie in the top flight with Hendricks Motorsport. Last year, Richmond Raceway hosted NASCAR Heat tournament. This year, NASCAR wants to make it permanent.
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