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Fox Sports Taps iRacing to Fill NASCAR Void; Real-World Drivers Face Off in Virtual World

20/03/2020

Fox Sports Taps iRacing to Fill NASCAR Void; Real-World Drivers Face Off in Virtual World By Ken Kerschbaumer, Editorial Director

Friday, March 20, 2020 - 3:57 pm

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Fox Sports, NASCAR, and iRacing are giving NASCAR icon Dale Earnhardt, Jr. a chance to once again race on FS1 (as well as the Fox Sports app) alongside a number of other legends as they jump in a virtual car to race on a virtual version of the Homestead-Miami Speedway. And the virtual competition will help feed a real hunger for sports fans longing for live competition on TV in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.

iRacing competitions feature it all, including digital wrecks that can knock drivers out of the race.

For Steve Myers, president of iRacing, the opportunity gives a company that has been around for 16 years a chance to take its PC racing simulation software and make a difference beginning at 1:30 EST on Sunday.

We've been working really hard to be in this position so that we can step in and provide not only NASCAR fans but also drivers a sense of normalcy, he says.

The deal with Fox Sport came about after Fox Sports NASCAR analyst Jeff Gordon called Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who has been a great friend to iRacing over the year, to try and connect Myers with Fox Sports PCEO and Executive Producer Eric Shanks to discuss the possibility of getting iRacing onto big-time TV.

We sketched out an idea and they loved it right away, says Myers. Dale has been a big advocate and I can go on and on about how he has helped us. And now the entire industry has bought into this as we actually had to change the format to have two heats because we had too many drivers and we only wanted 35 cars on the track.

iRacing is well versed in the production of a broadcast-quality virtual show vas it has streamed out Tuesday night racing for 11 years. Competitions like the NASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series sees 40 of the best simulation racers compete for $300,000 over 20 races, including $100,000 for the season points winner. The Tuesday night race this year averaged 280,000 live views this week compared to 248,000 last year.

The iRacing headquarters in Chelmsford, MA features a new $200,000 control room that was built last November and contains all of the racing computers, a production switcher, and more.

We hired people from the broadcast world like producers and then have some of the remote in for things like cameras and spotters, says Myers. We can connect and do everything remotely, but we host all of the stuff ourselves, create the Website, software, and have our own servers and database.

On Sunday all of the drivers will race from their homes and all that is required is a typical videogame racing system that can be picked up at Best Buy (although some pros do have full racing cockpits with wraparound screens while others wear VR goggles). iRacing has laser scanned all the tracks to make sure all the bumps are accounted for (as well as light poles and other features).

The most unique aspect of the race on Sunday is that it will feature real drivers competing in a simulation that can make use of some of their skills but not all of them.

Some are going to be doing this for the first time this week and those guys will be fun to watch as they will realize there is a reason guys in the Esports series get $100,000 because it's a hard skill to master, says Myers. And the first timers will struggle at first because they have to get used to racing without all of their senses. But if they treat it with the same patience they do racing in the real world they will be fine.

FOX NASCAR broadcasters Jeff Gordon, Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds call the action from the iRacing virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway. Bowyer, who expanded his role with FOX Sports earlier this year, serves as the in-car analyst, competing in an iRacing simulator in the FOX NASCAR Charlotte studio.

The race production is done at our headquarters and then the signal is sent to Fox in the same way a signal leaves from a production truck at a regular event, says Myers. Then Fox will add in the talent while we do all the cameras and graphics.

The race is expected to last around 90 minutes depending on things like crashes and wrecks. Race control will determine how wrecks that might occur at the back of the pack will impact race stoppages.

Myers says that regardless of whether or not iRacing is on TV he and the team will be offering up NASCAR racing every Sunday until real-world racing returns.

This is a unique opportunity to offer competitive and entertaining racing to our viewers as we all work through these challenging times together, says Brad Zager, FOX Sports Executive Producer, EVP/Head of Production & Operations.

Adds Myers: We are establishing a trustworthy relationship with Fox Sports and if we do a good job there are some opportunities down the road.

Of course, it wouldn't be a sports event this weekend without taking some extra precautions. It's taken the world about a week to understand the importance of following CDC guidelines and Zager says the well-being of all involved is paramount.

We are following CDC guidelines to maintain a safe work environment, as the well-being of all those involved is paramount, says Zager. We value our relationships across the NASCAR community and appreciate all of the effort that it took in bringing this project to life.

Myers says the iRacing office is down to essential personnel only and cleanliness guidelines are being followed. The only wrinkle in plans for the rest of the season would be if the government prevents essential personnel from getting to the office.

Other competitors include NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Bobby Labonte, two-time and defending NASCAR CUP SERIES champion Kyle Busch, 2012 NASCAR CUP SERIES champion Brad Keselo
LINK: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2020/03/20/fox-sports-taps-iracing-to-fill...
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