Thank god for gamers. In a time in which live sports have completely shut down, we're left with a few scant options for something that resembles the sports world just a few short weeks ago.
That brings us to iRacing, which is exactly what it sounds like. Or, more specific, we're talking about the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitations Series, which pits your favorite drivers against each other on virtual tracks. It's video game auto racing.
And, frankly it's pretty darn good. In fact it's entirely possible that were you to be flipping channels and land on a race and see the cars working their way around the track, and the usual announcers doing their thing, you might not even realize that what you were watching wasn't 100 percent real. (OK, it is real, just really virtual, and not the usual sort of NASCAR with the usual sort of jeopardy.)
The difference, of course, comes down to physics. It's not that video games — we really should call what's going on here more of a group simulation, though — haven't figured out the physics, because any who's played any sort of racing game the past five or 10 years knows just how good things have gotten. It's just that once you know you're watching a virtual car driven by a real driver, the hits and the slides and the skids just aren't quite the same. There's something just enough off about it to remind you that your'e watching a computer do its thing, instead of man.
That said, you have to appreciate the fact that they didn't fill the stands with virtual spectators. And while there are still cautions — which on its face seems silly since any damage is virtual and any debris on the track could be cleaned up with the click of a mouse — the rules have been changed a bit to allow the yellow flag to be waved off. More racing is always better.
What else is different?
We'll start with a two-lap qualifier to determine the lineup for the heat races. Odd finishers will be in Heat 1, and even finishers will be in Heat 2. Each heat race runs 50 laps. Nobody's eliminated, but the heat races will set the grid for the 150-lap main event.
VIrtual pit stops are, of course, virtual. But where things get interesting is that drivers will get "resets" — one in the heats, and one in the main event. A "reset". means the driver goes back to their pit stall and comes to a complete stop, which basically reset the car, giving the driver a new ride.
How to watch the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series
This week's race is the Food City Showdown at the virtual (but still iconic) Bristol Motor Speedway. The green flag drops at 1 p.m. Eastern time (that's 10 a.m. on the West Coast), and you'll be able to watch the race on Fox, FS1 and in the Fox Sports app.
Fox and FS1 are available on every major streaming service. The Fox Sports app is available on Android and iOS platforms, as well as major gaming platforms.
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