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How the Monday Night Racing iRacing League came to fruition

Nick DeGroot, editor of Motorsport.com, beats Kyle Busch in a photo finish at Auto Club (PC : Nick DeGroot)

When NASCAR’s on-track action was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March, fans were left empty handed.

Sundays would become bare, the daily dose of news would cease, and the smack-talk leading up to the upcoming race would be silenced.

When NASCAR and FOX announced the solution to the silence, the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, it became a temporary solution for the lack of action on-track in favor of the virtual grounds.

However the roots of iRacing at FOX in Charlotte and that idea can be traced back to Ford Martin – a Digital Content Producer at FOX Sports in Charlotte, and the producer behind the Waltrip Unfiltered podcast. Ford is also the son of former NASCAR crew chief Gil Martin.

“I brought iRacing to FOX with the simulator that we have there,” Martin said. “We did our little features that we started with Regan Smith, Austin Dillon and Blake Koch.”

When the pandemic gripped the nation, Martin proposed the idea to his higher-ups. While he doesn’t take full credit for kickstarting the entire idea of the Pro Invitational Series, he felt his influence in bringing attention to iRacing played a part in the idea of FOX broadcasting iRacing.

“Next thing I know, here’s Eric Shanks (CEO and Executive Producer at FOX Sports) saying ‘hey we’re going to do this iRacing league!” Martin explained.

After the popularity of the Pro Invitational Series, iRacing saw a spike in popularity, and new members. The success triggered Martin to look into something brand new.

“I thought that it would be really cool to start something myself,” he said. “I talked to a few people, and I wanted to have something where it was just NASCAR media, and maybe grow and do a couple races.”

After the first Monday Night Racing event drew some attention, another race was held – only this time, Martin took the idea to one of the biggest stages in all of racing.

“I said ‘Let’s do a big Indianapolis 500 event’ in a couple weeks.”

The league itself has a standout feature – the series does not stick to a singular avenue of racing. During one week, the drivers will race Porsche 911’s at Daytona. Then the next, head to Eldora for some Dirt Street Stocks, and then hit Texas Motor Speedway to race Radicals.

That idea of a consistent change can be traced back to another league – The Lower Half Dash by Cody Ware and Ryan Ellis.

“You have those people who want just a league for IndyCar, or just for street stocks – why don’t we just rotate it every week?” Martin explained.

Suddenly, an immaculate idea dawned on him. After having NASCAR broadcasting icon Bob Jenkins on a Waltrip Unfiltered podcast, Martin wanted Jenkins on the broadcast for the event.

That move alone would send the series into a spike in popularity – both from the fans and from the drivers who wanted to participate. Kyle Busch was one of the first drivers to email Martin and ask to participate in the race. Landon Cassill, and Parker Kligerman  joined the field.

The field spread beyond NASCAR, bringing in former Chicago Bears player Kyle Long, and Houston Texas quarterback A.J. McCarron. The league has even attracted a news reporter from FOX46 Charlotte – Brett Baldeck – who even brought a familiar personal scheme to the series.

“It has gone from not being broadcasted and doing it for fun, to a whole big league and NASCAR drivers wanting to be on.” Martin explained with a smile.

But it was when NHRA driver Ron Capps joined the foray that Martin really started to realize how big the series was becoming. An interview with the NAPA driver gave Martin a reality check that the league he created was being taken much more seriously than he ever thought.

During the interview, Ron had told Martin that following an NHRA race and his flight home to San Diego, Capps was laser focused on the MNR league race that was that evening.

“He said that he was putting as much effort and concentration into the iRacing races as his NHRA race,” Martin said.

The league has had an overwhelming demand for more entries into the series, and more races – so much so that the league has been renewed for a second season. A vast majority of the races will broadcast on Podium eSports.

But before the second season can begin, an inaugural season champion must be crowned. Following a similar format to NASCAR’s – the league has found its championship four drivers.

  1. Justin Melillo – Managing Editor of The Racing Experts
  2. DJ Cummings – Digital Platform Manager of NASCAR Digital Media
  3. Michael Rossi – Manager of Corporate Sales at Racing Electronics
  4. Nick DeGroot – Editor of Motorsport.com

The race and broadcast itself will set itself apart with a special pre-race and post-race show planned. The race will also have a title sponsor in Tufco Flooring, who has spent time with JD Motorsports and Jesse Little in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

As if the pressure wasn’t high enough, a racing icon will join the championship race in Mario Andretti.

This race is something that Martin has been eyeing and preparing for over the last month with his own team including members over at Podium – to give it the best presentation it can be.

“It all comes down to this one event – and it’s alot of pressure,” Martin explained. “Im racing in it too – just because its fun. I’ll probably pull over half way to make sure everything is going well. If it does, you’re going to see a lot of people want to come in and join the league.”

You can catch the Monday Night Racing championship race from Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 7:30PM EST on Podium eSports.

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