Unless you’ve been living under a metaphorical rock these past few days, or intentionally ignore any sim racing news related to iRacing, the team from Bedford, Massachusetts have unveiled their first major teaser trailer for dirt oval racing, the service’s newest motorsports discipline to be released for subscribers later this year. While these cars may not cater to the European sim racing audience in the slightest, and in recent times the real life equivalents have rarely manage to land cable television deals, the absolute insanity that is Saturday night short track racing creates a spectacle unlike any other, mixing the bottled chaos of NASCAR racing with the challenges of a dynamic racing surface typically seen in rally cross.
Oh, and the horsepower figures have received an enormous boost as well, with top level Sprint Cars sending nearly a thousand horsepower to the rear tires despite weighing only 623 kilograms. It’s all sort of absurd.
Obviously, iRacing have pushed out select promotional bits to compliment the progress they’re making on dirt oval racing behind the scenes, so you’d think I’d eventually talk about those here on PRC.net to kick off the weekend. Now, indeed I have the option of ripping on them for uploading a trailer without bothering to get the track mesh aligned so the cars sit on the ground properly, and I can also sit here and laugh at the irony of paid iRacing staff members mindlessly praising the experience in a fluff piece like the drones they are, but instead I’d like to address a topic that our boy Chris mentioned to me in passing a short while ago.
Though I love dirt oval racing, on select occasions I have walked out of events at Castrol Raceway prior to the checkered flag dropping because the on-track product was absolutely atrocious to sit through as a spectator. Events involving Sprint Cars, Dirt Late Models, or any number of support classes have a very real tendency to descend into absolute carnage at any given moment; sometimes the result of just one driver making a bad choice behind the wheel. Dirt oval racing is the closest form of real life auto racing that resembles a public lobby in Forza Motorsport 6 or Assetto Corsa.
I cannot possibly see how this will go over all that well on the iRacing service.
Since its very inception, iRacing has required all members to register for the service under their real name as an additional form of on-track accountability. Rather than showing up to each session and driving against a pack of users with names such as xXStonerSnip4r420Xx and Ernhardt_Died_LOL before promptly junking the field and shouting inane garbage over the voice chat functionality, iRacing’s goal with forcing members to use their real names was to create an environment that genuinely felt as if there were real people in the virtual cars alongside you, in an effort to establish a base level of respect among the field of competitors.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t done shit to improve the on-track experience.
It may be too anecdotal for some expecting an intelligent argument on this front, but very rarely during my time on the service have I seen a competitive environment coming close to what iRacing has advertised to the outside world. My most active years on the service were back in 2012 and 2013 – years where the service was big, but still in a “growing” phase of – and most of what I saw out my virtual front windshield was really no better or worse than what a group of talented drivers on Xbox Live could produce in, say, a private DiRT 2 lobby. This is fine if you’ve purchased DiRT 2 used from Blockbuster at a discounted price, but not if you’re paying several hundred dollars for the pinnacle of sim racing.
During the peak of my iRacing “career” (God that sounds awful to say), I managed to attain an iRating of 5000 points at a period when this number genuinely meant something within the community – so before you start screaming “that number is shit”, factor in a little something called ELO inflation over a period of four or five years. To sim racers who aren’t familiar with how iRacing operates, attaining this iRating would place me in the highest skill level split of each oval event I entered on the service, supposedly pitting me against the best sim racers in the world. In fact, a lot of the personalities iRacing currently parade around as part of their Peak Anti-Freeze Series, I’ve raced against and beaten.
Or gotten wrecked by.
These races were typically complete shitshows of the highest order. Let me make this incredibly clear, the use of real names did precisely nothing to clean up the otherwise horrid online racing standards. Drivers would intentionally not play iRacing for an entire week just to avoid the inevitable clusterfuck that was a restrictor plate race at Daytona or Talladega. Events at longer tracks such as Indianapolis, Pocono, or Michigan would be infuriating to participate in, as hyper-aggressive drivers would spin someone out for fifteenth place on lap three, forcing the entire field to ride around under caution for ten minutes segments at a time, only for a completely different pair of drivers to do the exact same thing when we went back to green flag racing.
This was against what the ELO system claimed to be the absolute best drivers iRacing had to offer. Though a lot of my acquaintances poke fun at me for doing so, there’s a reason I made the choice to spend a lot of my time in iRacing prowling the lesser-known K&N series, which made use of an outdated NASCAR Busch series car. In every race across the most prominent oval classes, there was nothing to distinguish the experience from an Xbox Live public lobby, even against the best sim racers in the world.
While you’d think the aggression would be toned down in lower split events, as inexperienced sim racers were more prone to giving up spots and racing in a much calmer manner simply to make it to the end in one piece, sim racing YouTube personality Joe Nathan notes the exact opposite – mentioning a race at Auto Club speedway where a major crash would occur on average, every eight laps, and nearly half of the ninety-minute online ordeal was spent following a pace car. All of this occurred on one of the widest tracks on the NASCAR calendar, which offers six entire lanes (if not more) to position your race car.
The reality is that the use of real names has done nothing to clean up the overall racing experience on the iRacing service. The overwhelming majority of sim racers currently subscribed to iRacing still drive like complete fucking retards in series where setups are purposely designed to be as noob-friendly as possible, the cars generate the most amount of downforce ever by a NASCAR Monster Energy Series race car in the history of the sport, and on circuits where there can be a good thirty lateral feet between you and another racer when completing a pass. Making everyone register for a service under the name they’ve given to their credit card company obviously hasn’t done shit.
So what has it done?
iRacing has now given all of the closet autistic man-children within the sim racing community – the ones who will report your Facebook pictures for porn after an on-track incident, write songs about you, or call your employer in an effort to get you fired for shitposting on the forums – full access to your personal details at a moments notice. Fantastic.
It’s no secret that our comments section here at PretendRaceCars.net can be full of complete nutters on a daily basis – indicating a portion of the sim racing community have serious mental issues – but the key thing is that these people are relatively harmless if everybody’s posting as anonymous or under a semi-bullshit username. The most one of these users can do in our neck of the woods is click the reply button and call you an asshole in some sort of delusional rant that everybody else will get a kick out of and forget about an hour later, which really isn’t a big deal. This isn’t the case on iRacing, as the service essentially gives these people who otherwise lurk in the shadows as harmless PRC trolls, unprecedented access to information that’s incredibly dangerous for the wrong person to have. A lot of people probably wonder why the three of us write under bullshit call-signs here instead of our real names, and a good portion of the reasoning is to keep this select group of mentally unstable sim racers who will go through the effort to fuck shit up at an arms length – right where they should be.
Yet on iRacing, these motherfuckers are free to find you at a moments notice, and it’s not like you have a choice on how these people will treat you.
Now, let’s re-visit the underlying theme of this post; dirt oval racing. Regardless of the class currently on the track, dirt oval events can descend into complete brawls with a field of professional drivers with decades of auto racing experience. Even if, by some act of God, iRacing manage to absolutely nail the loose surface physics they’ve been working on for the better part of a year, there are zero guarantees their hardcore American users will enjoy it. Despite advertising a highly competitive and respectful online environment, requiring all members to sign up under their real names for an added level of accountability, the absolute one hundred percent truth is that this has done nothing to clean up the sub-par driving standards on the iRacing service.
Dirt oval racing, at least in real life, requires the utmost of respect towards other drivers, as some classes even prohibit the use of a rear view mirror. If iRacers cannot go more than eight laps without crashing at a NASCAR circuit that is six lanes wide, piloting cars generating the most downforce ever recorded in the history of the sport, how in God’s name are they going to hold their composure behind the wheel of a car generating almost a thousand horsepower yet weighs only six hundred kilos, and is intended to be driven sideways?
This is why dirt oval racing simply won’t work on the iRacing service, and will instead be a gigantic waste of time and resources when all is said and done. The entire discipline revolves around on-track respect and working as a unit to put on a clean race, and on iRacing, those are two concepts that have been completely lost on the community despite the staff’s best efforts to foster that kind of environment.