It’s simply not for me.

The obvious caveat here is NASCAR, Fox and iRacing should all be commended for giving motorsports fans — casual sports fans, even — something, ANYTHING, in this dearth of live athletic events in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. March Madness is gone. Opening Day is delayed. There’s no professional or college sports anywhere at any level to whet the appetite for the sports-starved.

So last Sunday, NASCAR drivers and iRacing got together with Fox Sports to broadcast a virtual event, with professional stock car drivers using simulators to compete in a 100-lap race around a virtual recreation of Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. Were NASCAR not on hiatus like every other sport anywhere in the world this month — we see you, La Liga — the Cup Series would have competed at the 1.5-mile Homestead oval last Sunday.

The drivers raised money for charity. Sponsor Dixie Vodka got some unanticipated bang for its buck as the title sponsor of the race. Fans got something resembling a normal Sunday afternoon during the NASCAR season.

iRacing enthusiasts are everywhere, but the platform’s biggest supporters are undoubtedly those in the motorsports industry. Its realism is lauded, particularly among race drivers who want to get a feel for a track before they ever get on it themselves, and the massive amount of research and development iRacing has put into mastering tracks and realistic cars from short tracks to super speedways is impressive.

It is more than a video game, though just barely. For me, with all of its mechanical setup options and variables, it’s only marginally more complicated than trying to play the popular football video game franchise “Madden” from EA Sports.


I’ve been called old. Out of touch. Behind the times.

Those accusations are — more often than I care to admit — accurate. But in this case it’s not about whether or not I embrace eSports. eSports wildly popular across many disciplines, colleges and universities have their own eSports teams, and the boom in the gaming industry over the last 20 years is far from over.

But asking me to sit down and watch a virtual race on television is too much of a stretch, even if I understand the allure of last Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 150.

Personalities fans have connected to competed against one another. Aching for sports and a taste of normalcy this month, it was an oasis in the proverbial desert to find “auto racing” on television for a couple of hours.

Here’s the rub: It’s not auto racing. It’s eSports.

Auto racing is the deafening engines and screeching tires. The smells of gasoline, rubber and concession stands. The flirtation with disaster, to rob a line from Molly Hatchet. An iRacing demonstration on television is none of those things.


In this year’s Daytona 500, Ryan Newman’s airborne No. 6 Ford was plastered by a charging Corey LaJoie as the field roared to the checkered flag. The scene that followed was at once horrifying and visceral. Newman, feared dead by many, spent time in the hospital after and still has not returned to racing.

Jimmie Johnson causes a multi-vehicle accident on iRacing? Everybody hits the reset button.

No harm no foul.

I’m not that auto racing spectator who only goes to see the crashes, but we can hardly avoid the idea that the danger — that taking a risk behind the wheel, whether it’s at Daytona or Wiscasset Speedway, potentially comes with very real consequences — is sewn into the very fabric of auto racing. I will never forget the day Kenny Irwin Jr. was killed in a practice crash at New Hampshire Motor Speedway — I was covering the event for a newspaper in Rhode Island in 2000.

In the aftermath, Tony Stewart talked about safety innovations in motorsports and was blunt in his assessment. If crashing didn’t hurt, he said, then anybody could become a race car driver.

That’s at the heart of my problem with watching iRacing on television.


It’s a close proximity. But it’s still not auto racing.

In the same way watching a “Madden” tournament during Super Bowl week isn’t the National Football League. Or a home run derby isn’t baseball.

I’m sincerely glad the sports world was offered a reprieve last Sunday afternoon. But the experience left me wanting “normal” to return more than ever.

Because, like you, I miss sports. And an iRacing event isn’t NASCAR.

It’s not even close.

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