Tim Clark, senior vice president and chief digital officer for NASCAR, was well aware of skeptical fans and stakeholders when NASCAR began putting resources into the development of virtual racing leagues like the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series and NASCAR Heat Pro League.
“No one could predict the future,” Clark told Motorsport.com, “but look what we have now.”
Since NASCAR announced last month the postponement of all races through at least May 3 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NASCAR and iRacing put together a virtual Pro Invitational Series that is averaging over 1 million viewers weekly on network television.
On Wednesday, the NASCAR Heat Pro League will hold its draft of xBox and PlayStation4 players as it prepares for the second season of competition, in which 14 NASCAR teams will once again participate.
While real NASCAR racing remains on hiatus, more fans, media and even sponsors have taken a second look at the virtual motorsports alternative.
William Byron, Axalta Chevrolet
Q: The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series announced Monday it was starting its own virtual racing league, but it will also feature some real-word ramifications in its racing series when it starts up this season. Do you foresee this being utilized elsewhere?
We were aware of it but not something we were not directly involved in putting together. I don’t think we’ve had discussions and I don’t think it is something we would do, having some crossover from our esports endeavors to what’s happening on-track. But I also think we’re all in uncharted territory and people are looking to do things their stakeholders and fans engaged. While we weren’t involved in the decision, I understand what they’re trying to do, which is do something a little different.
Q: In what ways do you see NASCAR taking advantage of the exposure and success of esports this year once real races begin?
That’s definitely at the top of the discussion right now. The eNASCAR series pulled together pretty quickly and under pretty extraordinary circumstances. I think we’ve learned things in the first three weeks that we would never have anticipated otherwise. I think we’ll have a couple of options to keep an iteration of what we have going forward. We’re not in a position to make final decisions right now but based on the response that we’ve seen, we definitely believe there is a long-term play here. (Is an off-season series an option?) It’s certainly an option on the table. It’s too early to tell one way or the other. While the vision of an off-season series is an interesting one, I also think that we have to be careful not to overburden the drivers and oversaturate the market. We see some value in it but we’re going to have to be smart about these visions. It’s a long season as is.
Timmy Hill and Ryan Preece