Last week, we here at PRC.net ran an article on iRacing’s lengthy Terms of Service agreement; one that doubles as an official rulebook for the online-only racing simulator boasting over 100,000 subscribing members. We pointed out that on the second page of the massive rulebook, iRacing Rule 2.1.1 states that:
- It is expected that each member will treat other drivers, iRacing officials, employees and the community with respect and class on and off the race track and will not bring the sport or iRacing into disrepute via their actions including but not limited to those that iRacing.com/F.I.R.S.T official deem prejudice the integrity of fair competition in any series or special events within iRacing.com.
- “Disrepute” – The state of being held in low esteem by the public
In short, anyone who publicly criticizes iRacing for the standard reasons you’d criticize any video game, or runs afoul of iRacing administration in any way, shape, or form, is subject to an immediate suspension or ban, with no rules governing how long said suspension or ban should last.
Reception to the article was split directly down the middle. Readers on KotakuInAction, a SubReddit devoted to issues in the gaming industry that screw over the customer, felt it was an absolutely ridiculous measure taken by a developer in an effort to somehow legitimize virtual race cars to the extent of the real thing you see on Sundays. Readers on the SimRacing SubReddit claimed iRacing doesn’t randomly ban people for ridiculous reasons, and that PRC.net is “garbage”.
PRC.net readers know exactly how this article is about to play out.
Papyrus, the team being extremely popular PC racing sims Grand Prix Legends and NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, lost the license to develop NASCAR titles to the mammoth corporate entity known as Electronic Arts in early 2003. When the dust had settled and NR2003 was on it’s way to becoming a virtual encyclopedia of Stock Car racing, John Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox and an avid online sim racer, put down the cash to resurrect Papyrus and gave them the task of developing the ultimate racing simulator for the PC – one which would be online-only and focused primarily on structured competitive play.
To oversee the competition aspect of iRacing, an environment where users could protest on-track incidents and receive punishments for dangerous driving, Henry needed real people in charge of the game’s numerous online community elements. Obviously, you need forum moderators, and you also need someone to sift through the hundreds of on-track incidents each week and determine who was at fault. Ideally, these are positions for folks who have gone through a bit of post-secondary schooling in a field that directly deals with managing large groups of people, and hopefully out of that group, you’ll find a few that follow auto racing.
The last thing you’d want to do is just give away these positions to random guys you’d met racing NASCAR Racing 2003 Season online who seemed like nice enough people. With that approach, if the game took off as planned, you’d have an amateur hobbyist with no prior training in how to represent a large company tasked with managing a herd of 100,000+ sim racing geeks. Sounds like a bad idea, right?
That’s exactly what happened. Instead of finding the right people to place in what are essentially Community Manager positions, administrators of prestigious NASCAR Racing 2003 Season Online Leagues were recruited to join the iRacing team as a reward for their dedication to older Papyrus sims. Regardless of what racing sim you’re playing, private leagues go hand in hand with favoritism and drama, so not only are the guys placed in meaningful positions inexperienced when given an operation of this size and scale, there’s also a good chance they’re incredibly biased.
Essentially, this was like putting high school football referees on the field for an NFL game, and praying they don’t screw up. We all know how that went down.
As you can see in the picture above, John Henry, Shannon Whitmore, and Nim Cross are all available as drivers in the default Trans-Am mod carset for NASCAR Racing 2003 Season under the FIRST Racing banner – later renamed to iRacing.com Motorsport Simulations.
Over a decade later, Whitmore and Cross are names most iRacing members are very familiar with. Cross has been the guy looking over each protested on-track incident during your standard iRacing sessions, and Whitmore is one of the community managers in charge of keeping the peace both within the highly active message boards and on-track during NASCAR Peak Anti-Freeze Series events.
It’s a good ol’ boys club.
Before we get into the stuff you came here for, unfortunately we’re going to come out and say that names have been changed to protect the identities certain individuals involved. Despite Reddit’s claim that people aren’t banned from iRacing for simply voicing their opinion, like it or not, this is what actually happens. A few weeks ago, when iRacing’s new surface model was about to debut and concerns were being expressed over whether the thing would actually work as intended, the person who brought the concerns to the attention of Reddit straight up said he was worried about receiving a ban from iRacing, and that’s why he was using a temporary account. People who aren’t us are operating with the ban hammer in mind when speaking publicly about the game’s shortcomings, and that says a lot.
Now, why are a lot of people in the know hesitant to stick their necks out and draw attention to this, and why is that idiot who runs PretendRaceCars the only person saying anything about it in the first place?
Simple. To a lot of people, iRacing is a hybrid between Facebook and Xbox Live, built specifically for auto racing fans. This environment allows for online friendships to flourish, and speaking out would jeopardize being able to come home after a shitty day and run laps with your buddies. It’s the equivalent of being in High School and hating every last one of your teachers who constantly find new ways to send you to detention, but at the end of the day, refusing to change schools because all my friends are here. Given how much of a desolate wasteland online lobbies for other racing sims have become, it’s a trade-off that customers shouldn’t be having to make, but they’re forced to.
As a result, some of the crazy happenings going on behind the scenes, such as a potential Drivers Union to combat ridiculous steward rulings that display obvious favoritism, and Breakaway Series from iRacing’s own Peak Anti-Freeze $10,000 Championship, with an equally big prize pool, are only spread by word of mouth.
While iRacing is intended to be an officially sanctioned and structured world of virtual motorsports, a large draw of iRacing has been the huge list of amateur oval racing cars and locations that can’t be found in any other racing sim on the market. As a result, this attracts a metric ton of teenagers from family-owned race teams looking for some extra practice before the main event on Saturday Night.
His name isn’t Fred Jones, but it will be for this article; a late model driver from the Southern portion of the United States, Fred joined iRacing at an extremely young age as a real world racer with an already long list of accomplishments. Conducting himself in the exact opposite manner as I did at seventeen years of age, Fred was kind to other members on the forums, respectful on track, and fast as fuck. He was the embodiment of what all iRacing members should strive to be.
The year was 2013, and with iRacing’s physics still largely a work-in-progress, the undisputed king of online oval racing was none other than Ray Alfalla. A sponsorship with ProGeekConsultant and a dedicated crew chief put Alfalla at the very top of the iRacing totem pole, running each race with pinpoint accuracy and amassing copious amounts of iRating with each victory.
Basically, if someone consistently beat Ray and other high ranked drivers, they were either cheating, or a real life race car driver.
Fred, however, figured out how to beat him, and everyone else as well. Fred was part of the next generation of sim racers, ones who were young enough to swap back and forth between reality and video games while fully understand what it took to go fast in both dimensions. It also helped that Fred wasn’t just a scrub riding around at the back of the pack in his dad’s old car. An accomplished Late Model driver in the southern United States, Fred was well on his way to bigger and better things, and iRacing was his way of being a fucking teenager and playing video games.
Those carefully watching some of the high ranked races noticed this Fred kid had came out of nowhere and was making a mockery of the entire field, to the point where drivers at the top of the metaphorical totem pole were struggling to keep up. Given the relationships the stewards mentioned above had developed with other longtime online racers, the combined group of elder statesmen of Papyrus online racing sims came to the conclusion that this punk kid was blatantly cheating, as it was simply not possible to show up and dethrone a large amount of high ranked drivers in such a short amount of time.
Nobody sat down for five minutes and figured out the kid was phenomenal on iRacing because raced in real life and had the accolades to back it up.
Every Spring for the past handful of years, iRacing hosts a large seminar in Texas called iRace4Life. Doubling as a press event and charity fundraiser, the event serves as a way to showcase upcoming content to be released for the game in the months ahead, and for fellow sim racers to meet up and have an awesome nerd party together. Fred showed up for what was originally supposed to be an extremely laid back event, ran a few demonstration laps that didn’t actually mean anything in the grand scheme of things, generally enjoyed himself, and upon returning home, was promptly banned from iRacing for cheating based on the testimony of Michael Main alone, one of iRacing’s sponsors.
Was there any proof Fred was cheating? No, because iRacing did not have any form of anti-cheat software until earlier this year. There was simply no proof the guy had done anything wrong – only suspicions from other drivers who couldn’t deal with a new guy showing up out of nowhere and giving an already established group of drivers some serious competition. In iRacing’s eyes, Fred simply being an active member was causing them enough problems to warrant a ban, due to the rampant false allegations of cheating other members were making towards him.
To make matters even more bizarre, iRacing admitted they had been monitoring his computer in an effort to determine whether Fred had been cheating in previous iRacing online races. Now I’m not an IT guy so bare with me here, but there are a very limited number of meanings behind the phrase “we will continue to monitor his computer”, and all of them point to a gross invasion of privacy. So not only has this kid been banned for allegations of cheating just for being good at a game that helps him practice for the real thing, now he’s got a random company keeping tabs on his PC activity.
Wait what? That’s not cool…
Fred was given a full refund of all money spent on iRacing, with staff essentially admitting that it was too troublesome to deal with the witch hunt against him to continue to allow him to be a member. This was perfectly within iRacing’s Terms of Service.
Being a dedicated sim racer, Fred attempted to return to the service several times, sometimes under fake names (which isn’t against the rules, most high ranked drivers have a second account to continue racing without tanking their XP level), in an effort to continue racing and enjoying the thrills of driving against others in a competitive format. Fred always conducted himself with the utmost level of respect towards others, and eventually, iRacing found out that Fred was back. When Fred had quickly progressed up the ranks again and had a shot at competing in the Peak Anti-Freeze Series for $10,000 in his spare time, iRacing steward Shannon Whitmore shot him down.
The joke is on them. iRacing won’t allow Fred to compete for a championship on their virtual circuit, yet away from the confines of the iRacing servers, Fred recently won a Super Late Model track championship at a very prestigious speedway, and there is a chance NASCAR fans will see him competing on Fox Sports 1 within the next few years.
The exact person to represent precisely what iRacing hopes to accomplish when blending the real world with the virtual one, was instead chased away from it in an effort to appeal to a nerd clique.
Are there other examples of this ridiculous behavior behind closed doors that iRacing fanboys with 1500 iRating and 20 starts over 2 months will continuously deny? Yes.
I could bring up Australian iRacer and real life K&N Series driver Brodie Kostecki, as well as his buddy John Gorlinsky, who were banned/suspended (someone clarify this for me please lol) for demonstrating to iRacing in private that it was incredibly easy to run a RAM Hack in the background and dramatically change your car’s performance to your benefit. I could bring up Chris Miller, who spurred an equally profound witch hunt among the game’s IndyCar community for aggressive driving, and like Fred above was forced to take a breather by iRacing and return under fictional names to keep the community at bay…
But it’s all futile in the end; changes won’t be made anytime soon because iRacing’s staff is structured in a way that promotes a good ol’ boys environment, and those new to the service, as well as those who haven’t run afoul of those in charge of policing it, will act like this is all just a tin foil hat conspiracy led by someone with an irrational vendetta.
Believe what you want, but to paraphrase something my favorite driver once said, eventually the facts will get a bit too strong.