*Editor’s note: This is a special one-off op-ed from long-time sim racer Shane Lake. Lake took exception to the criticism placed at the feet of sim racers this past weekend by Brian Keselowski (a former NASCAR National Series competitor and older brother of Brad Keselowski) and Doug Coby (six-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Champion).
The evolution of NASCAR this past decade has been unbelievable.
The sponsor changes. The rule changes. Even the drivers coming and going. But the biggest change has been the fan base.
It’s gotten younger and younger.
As a result, NASCAR has chosen to capitalize on it by getting involved in eSports.
Wait. You mean the kids who play like Fortnite and Call of Duty? Yes.
EMotorsports has taken off through the last decade. Everything from console (Gran Turismo, Forza, NASCAR Heat 4, etc.) to PC (iRacing, rfactor2, Assetto Corsa, etc.) has exploded and brought new eyes to the world of motorsports.
I’ve personally been involved with sim racing since 2006 when EA Sports had the contract for NASCAR (Yes EA sports made NASCAR games, but sadly they faltered near the end of the contract but that’s another story) and have loved every minute of my ride in sim racing.
I have made friends that I’m sure will last a lifetime and one of which has welcomed me to his eMotorsports team 13 years after we first started racing against each other.
But the point of this is to discuss the war that broke out this past week on if “Sim Racing is real racing” or not.
For those who have missed it, here are the comments posted by Keselowski and Coby on Twitter that sparked this situation:
Today on social media @JBonsignore and I saw people who drive race cars on COMPUTERS having “media days”, announcing “sponsorships” with @JRMotorsports, and hanging out with @dennyhamlin on Lake Norman. Makes real race car drivers. Want. To. Puke. 🤮#nascar @NASCARHomeTrack pic.twitter.com/SROVUqqj7g
— Doug Coby (@doug_coby) January 11, 2020
Parker Kligerman made a comment on reddit after NASCAR modified champion Doug Coby and Brian Keselowski snapped at the thought of sim racers getting a taste of what the pros get.
“It’s funny,” Kligerman said in the reddit post. “I understand the animosity but unfortunately it’s not 1999 anymore. The world has progressed and through many short-sighted mistakes by people who no longer run motorsport series. Motorsports as a whole never developed proper financial models, budgetary constrictions, ladder systems or prepared itself for a world where the Internet/ influencer culture has more power than it ever will.”
Therefore, eSports is the latest attempt at widening the base of this sport – correctly. All the while real-world motorsports try to fix themselves.
If eMotorsports are successful it can be a success in its own right while being a gateway for new drivers to make names and lead to chances for them in real cars.
Also allowing young sponsors, owners, and fans to experience the sport before going into the real – more expensive — thing.
Will eNASCAR ever be larger than real NASCAR? No.
Will eNASCAR become a standalone league like a COD or rocket league? No.
But I believe eMotorsports is the most unique of all eSports because it’s the only one that you do the same action as drivers do in real life. It’s connection to the real thing is undeniable and if we do this right it will continue to break the massive barrier of entry into motorsports (cost to ever drive a go kart or car) and bridge the gap from eMotorsport world into the real world.
Lastly, I’d say every single guy or woman in eMotorsports wants a chance in a real car. That’s why they do it in the first place. However, wants and financial reality are not always aligned.
I take offense in others (Coby and Brian Keselowski) saying eRacers are not “real race car drivers,” because they are racers.
By this definition kids in go karts who desperately want to be a race car drivers are, in his opinion, “not real race car drivers.”
In this sport, although it’s done ad nauseam, labeling a person by their current series is short sighted, because of the terrible financial situation in this sport.
If I did that, you could say that Doug Coby is simply a regional weekend gentleman racer, who wasn’t good enough to move up and not “A real race car driver”. See what I did there?
I don’t believe that, but that’s the danger with blanket labeling.”
This war has seen a very ugly side of people come out. But the drivers (yes people, sim racers are DRIVERS) have kept a head about them that should be applauded, but let’s get down to what this seems to be about and thats money.
Not everyone in this world can afford a street stock car or even a flying four 4 or (insert lowest class car at your local circuit here). So, what do less fortunate racers do? We fire up the computer and go racing.
This generation of racers had it easier than when I broke in because of streaming services (Twitch/mixer/youtube) and building a base from all of that.
Sponsors take notice. And when sponsors take notice people get paid.
By no means does it equal multi-hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars but it’s enough to make an impact in the lives of those involved. And trust me, if the prime focus of online racing was for money, a lot of us wouldn’t have been around long.
But again, sponsors take notice of people who have a serious following or are connected to a big-time team. Williams eSports (owned by the same people who own the formula 1 team) have cars in GT and NASCAR eSports divisions. Look at the top NASCAR division in iRacing. Each driver entered has ties and sponsorship from either the actual team or driver involved or track in the case of Richmond International Raceway eSports.
Personally, I have a partnership with an energy drink company (Wraith Energy) out in europe but I have had other deals with people inside of all places the WWE including AJ Styles, former divas and women’s champion Melina, former divas champion Paige, and former women’s champion and current musician Mickie James.
James’ car that she and her music label Big Show Music Co helped design just about broke my twitter page.
Even car manufactuers take notice of things.
I was in a DTM title series using 1990 style cars. I was running the Mercedes Benz 180. I tweeted MB about it and they wished me luck with their car. Sim Racing is a viable place for one word that is key to getting business done – EXPOSURE.
We don’t care about the money. It helps, but we got into the world of sim racing because we love actual racing.
I was hired back in 2012 to crew chief a friend’s car because of my experience in sim racing building my own setups and being able to translate what the driver wanted in his car.
When I returned to driving full-time in 2016, I had a deal with a guy who owns a podcast and is an Advocare distributer. Counting product that I received, I was paid roughly 200-250 bucks a month. I was THRILLED.
I have done favors for people in this to help them get their name out on my cars because I LOVE TO RACE. That’s the thing. We aren’t trying to take anything from anyone. We are just here to race.
If sponsors want to offer us a slim percent of what you would get as an actual racer then by all means we aren’t going to turn them down because we put in as much work as the pros. We just do it differently.
We build setups. We test at each track. We have to maintain equipment. Some of us even train our bodies (not me. I’m like Tony Stewart, a big boy racer). We even talk to other pros about our cars and what we are feeling.
I know I’ve personally talked to Tommy Kendall about how to make myself a better road racer and what the Viper was doing when I was testing a sim one ages ago. Parker Kligerman has joked with me about the fact I wear sunglasses when I race.
Where else can you get that?
I’m going to wrap this piece up by saying this: We need to support each other and not tear each other down.
We aren’t trying to steal from anyone. We aren’t trying to piss people off. We want everyone to be able to make a living doing what they love. So, don’t twist what we do as a move against you.
You want a bigger slice of pie? Don’t harp at us. Harp at the track promoters and sponsors and tell them why you deserve a bigger chunk. And don’t be short sighted and close us off. People watch what we do. It brings attention to every division because if we put a show on, people will want to see how the pros do it.
So, let’s end this war and embrace each other for what we all are — RACERS.
Signed a 13-plus year vet of sim racing – The Big Dawg Shane Lake