So earlier this morning, Logitech proudly announced that Darrell Wallace Jr, driver of the #23 DoorDash Toyota Camry for 23XI Racing in the NASCAR Cup series, will be the “cover athlete” for all major Logitech sim racing products going forward. The details of this endorsement deal are obviously scarce at this time, but we can probably expect a couple of Logitech decals on Wallace’s firesuit, a potential neon-blue Logitech night race scheme later in the season, and for the next round of wheels, Wallace’s face and car to adorn the box.
Is this exciting news?
For NASCAR fans, absolutely.
In fact I think it’s one small piece of a much bigger picture. This deal is really a throwback to Thrustmaster’s stint of officially licensed wheels in the late 1990’s featuring prominent NASCAR branding; a beloved memory from back in the day that displayed the sheer reach of NASCAR at it’s peak popularity, and one of many small signs that NASCAR is pivoting back towards their hardcore fans after years spent chasing a largely apathetic casual audience. This is the kind of stuff that gives us hope for the future, and that NASCAR has our best interests in mind; stage racing and animated cartoons before each race, not so much.
However, lost in the excitement of the announcement and the hundreds of zoomers on Twitter stoked that a once struggling, underfunded driver is now getting a huge amount of backing and recognition, is a question that arises once I look at this through a critical lens:
Why Bubba Wallace?
You see, Wallace isn’t typically a name I think any of us would associate with sim racing, let alone a potential candidate as ambassador for the hobby.
In a motorsports landscape that now sees a sizeable chunk of NASCAR, IndyCar, and Formula One drivers all participate quite regularly in their sim of choice, Wallace demonstrably isn’t one of them.
Aside from contractual obligations with the eNASCAR Pro Invitational series hosted by FOX, Wallace’s personal Twitch account is almost completely blank and devoid of any recent activity. Though he boasts just over eight thousand subscribers, past broadcasts of his haven’t been archived, and most of his activity appears to be from three years ago. While there are indeed iRacing clips sprinkled throughout his history, the guy seems to have more of a passion for battle royale games.
And that’s before we get to the elephant in the room; this was the same guy who lost one of his sponsors for “rage-quitting” an iRacing invitational event. For the record, I unironically stand with Wallace in this regard – multiple drivers very obviously did not practice and made it their sole intention to cause chaos in what was supposed to be a serious event – and everyday sim racers would have bailed on the event under the exact same circumstances.
But for those reasons, it’s really weird that Logitech chose this guy out of the forty available drivers on the grid. Wallace seems to be generally uninterested in sim racing and is one of the select few drivers to have gotten into pretty serious career ramifications for displaying that said apathy on a public stage. Before Kyle Larson dropped an n-bomb a week later, Wallace’s spat with Blue Emu was all the NASCAR world could talk about, and resulted in serious questions regarding sim racing’s shotgun marriage with professional racing series. Personally, it’s hard not to ask what Logitech hopes to accomplish here.
Especially when there are better options.
Let’s start with the obvious.
Dale Earnhardt Jr, though out of the driver’s seat full-time for a few seasons, has been all but addicted to sim racing – admitting as much on his talk show. He’s been singing the praises of racing simulators since his first trip to Watkins Glen in the late 1990’s during his time competing for championships in the NASCAR Busch Series, and has taken it upon himself to act as a sim racing ambassador. He introduced the hobby to SPEED Channel’s Wind Tunnel talk show as well as ESPN. He’s worked hand in hand with iRacing for over a decade to both promote the game, as well as give feedback. The moment he had an opportunity, he started his own eSports team, and guys he used to race online with late at night are now scattered all over the sport, with many having wins or even championships under their belts.
Still the sport’s most popular driver despite his last win coming seven years ago, it’s hard to understand how Logitech didn’t pursue what would be a very natural fit, and pay for his yearly one-off excursion at either Darlington or Richmond.
If you’re more interested in active drivers, anyone under the Joe Gibbs Racing banner seems like an equally natural progression.
The team’s involvement with sim racing goes back to Bobby Labonte acting as a technical advisor for NASCAR Racing 2 back in the mid 1990’s, a tradition continued some twenty five years later as Christopher Bell would find himself as a tester for iRacing’s dirt content. Kyle Busch‘s Rowdy Energy brand can be seen on cars within the eNASCAR Coca-Cola series, whereas Denny Hamlin’s 23XI co-ownership venture with Michael Jordan features an eSports equivalent. Hamlin himself happens to be quite a prolific sim racer and openly credits NASCAR Racing 2003 Season for helping him learn – and dominate – at Pocono in his rookie season. Hamlin’s still seemingly retained some of his skills nearly twenty years later, as he proceeded to win the inaugural Pro Invitational race at Homestead last spring.
And then of course, we can’t forget Martin Truex Jr. in this discussion. Like Earnhardt Jr, Truex at one point was binging on these games, helped in no small part by essentially living with Earnhardt Jr and partaking in his sim racing addiction alongside him.
It’s definitely strange you don’t see Logitech branding on a team of sim racers turned championship winning drivers and multi-time Daytona 500 winners.
Lastly, we look across the aisle to IndyCar’s Josef Newgarden.
This guy is quite possibly one of the best race car drivers in North America, he’s already won two IndyCar championships, and hosts lengthy Forza Motorsport sessions on a semi-regular basis. Is Newgarden partnered with Forza? Sure, and that probably makes him look “less serious” in the eyes of hardcore sim racers, but that’s not really Logitech’s gameplan here – their goal is to sell wheels to all audiences who might be interested in this stuff.
Newgarden’s clean-cut persona and his proficiency in Forza – seriously, his hotlap challenges are nothing to scoff at – make him a pretty awesome candidate for being some sort of sim racing ambassador on behalf of Logitech, and to carry those colors into the next generation. This is a guy who genuinely loves the developer he’s partnered with, is genuinely knowledgeable and good at the game he promotes, and would probably bring that same passion into promoting the hardware side of things.
And that’s all on top of being a genuine threat to win on the IndyCar circuit, each and every weekend.
I don’t know how they missed this guy.
These are all just names I pulled off the top of my head, as a sim racer who only casually pays attention to the exploits of pro drivers turned impromptu sim racers. I honestly don’t watch a lot of streams or follow the Pro Invitational side of things that attentively; most of this info is relayed to me second-hand or just observed by casually browsing Twitter.
If I can pick up on this, it’s really strange to me how Logitech – a company whose entire existence centers around analyzing this and other video game genres – somehow missed not one, but six eager, keen professional drivers, and settled on the one guy who not only seems kind of apathetic to the hobby, but is one of a select few who has actually gotten in fairly serious trouble for not giving enough of a shit about it.
And yet, this situation is actually par for the course with Darrell Wallace Jr., who seems to find himself in circumstances where brands he doesn’t care for, or people he doesn’t particularly get along with, suddenly want to work with him.
An altercation after the 2018 Daytona 500 saw Wallace not so subtly make jabs at Hamlin’s alleged use of Adderall as a performance enhancing drug, with Dale Earnhardt Jr’s podcast accidentally revealing the pair had gotten into a private brawl that was not captured on video.
Hamlin is now his boss.
So in that sense, the Logitech deal is a perfect fit.